In many ways, the 900-pound gorilla we ignore in this town is Robert Zemeckis, perhaps because he’s not as visible as other famous auteurs like Andrew Davis (The Fugitive, Holes) and Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Dave). But in many ways, Zemeckis seems similar to any of them. All made gigantic popular entertainments that have helped define movie-going pleasures since the late 1970s-though Zemeckis has been the most successful at the box office (i.e. Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Back to the Future, Forrest Gump). One reason he seems distant to us-even though he had an office near the Riviera Theatre for years-is because his work itself has become distant. Since the odd, reactionary Gump, which recast the 1960s as conformity’s heyday, Zemeckis has been making increasingly clunkier, computer-assisted films. In some ways worse than George Lucas, Zemeckis’s Polar Express and Beowulf are enough to exhaust viewers from the art of cinema altogether.
Here again, Zemeckis indulges his odd obsession with motion capture animation, a process that often cruelly mimics humanity, to tell the millionth version of Charles Dickens’ very humanistic A Christmas Carol, a story so irresistibly adaptable that most sitcoms have made versions of the tale.
To be fair, computer animation provides Zemeckis opportunities to picturesquely fly over London circa 1846. And for all I know, it’s accurate. On the other hand, the rendered “people” (particularly bulbously bad is Bob Cratchit) meant to reinforce the tenderness look more like characters in a Grand Theft Auto video game. The ghosts are occasionally scary, but Zemeckis adds nothing to a Dickensian onscreen cannon that includes Albert Finney and Michael Caine. Even Mr. Magoo was more heart-warming than Jim Carrey’s cackling.
The reason we don’t think much of Zemeckis any more is because he obviously doesn’t think much of us. He’s rebooting a warhorse for the CGI age, cashing in on a public domain sure bet. Tiny Tim would be appalled.