Robert Zemeckis is a leading force in cinematic innovation, and its evolution as an art form. With each new film he continues to push the boundaries of the medium. And that is certainly true with his upcoming holiday film Disney's a Christmas Carol, a high-tech 3D retelling of Charles Dickens' classic novel that utilizes the latest in motion capture technology. Starring Jim Carrey as Ebenezer Scrooge, as well as all three ghosts that came to visit him on that fateful Christmas Eve so long ago, this new take on the age old morality tale will fully delve into the darker depths of the source material, offering us a unique, never before seen perspective on screen. The film doesn't hit theaters until November 6th, but those eager to get a taste of this upcoming holiday treat are in luck.
In an unprecedented move, Disney is bringing Christmas home a little early this year. To support the film's release, the studio is launching a six-month whistle-stop train tour aboard Amtrak that will hit forty cities throughout the US. In tow will be a multi-car exhibition that showcases different aspects of the film's production. Attendees will be able to see original production artwork, face sculptures, and tutorials involving the magical motion capture experience. Once they reach the caboose, they will then be able to morph their own faces into one of four characters from the film. It's an exciting experience that will fully emerge audience members into this fantastical new take on Dickens' literary masterpiece.
The official tour was launch today in downtown Los Angeles. Both Robert Zemeckis and Jim Carrey arrived in front of the retrofitted Christmas CarolAmtrak train decorated in artwork from the film. After being serenaded by a quartet of carols singing "It's the most wonderful time of the year", the filmmaking duo proceeded to entertain the audience while fake snow fell from the unblemished blue sky. Zemeckis explained to those seated around him, "The thing that is amazing about this train is that it showcases storytelling in both its most classic form, and it's most modern. It is a wonderful exhibit."
Standing behind the director, Jim Carrey accidentally let his gum fly out of his mouth and onto the carpet. He then snuck it onto a nearby podium before praising his collaborator; "I am thrilled and honored to be doing anything with the great Robert Zemeckis. This is absolutely my dream come true. Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is one of the greatest Christmas stories ever told. I don't know about you guys, but when I hear that Christmas train coming around the bend, I feel a little 'humbug' rising up in me. And every time I hear this story, or see it being depicted, it puts my heart in a better place. And I say, 'Hey, Ebenezer!' Climb aboard! The spirits of Christmas will not be adored. I feel it coming. Rolling to you." At this point, the comedian began to sing, "Like a freight train running through you-oooooh-ooooh!"
After this very funny song and dance number, Zemeckis and Carrey donated a check for $100,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of America in the name of Walt Disney Studios. In every city, Disney will be extending a special invitation to club members, offering them a first-hand look at the exhibit. As a giant check was presented to a group of Boys and Girls club members on stage, Carrey joked, "One hundred million dollars!?!" Fanning disbelieve, he cried out. "Oh, my God! This is incredible." Head of Disney Dick Cook, who was also in attendance, quickly shot back, "We just deducted it from your pay." To which Jim smiled, shrugging, "Touché!"
Shattering a bottle filled with water from both coasts, Jim Carrey ended the launch by christening the Amtrak train engine. He then settled into a Q&A from the audience:
What are kids going to learn from this train experience?
Jim Carrey: They are going to learn not to touch anything. No. Actually, they are going to get to touch everything on this train. I don't know what they are going to learn. They are going to have a good time. They are going to love the interactive nature of this. They get to put themselves in the movie. That was the most fun for me. I got to see the transformation. How this project came to life. And they will get a little glimpse of that. It is Hollywood on wheels, going out to the world. It is a floating museum. It is very cool. The bottom line is, when you are a kid, you need to have something to do. This will keep you off the streets.
It looks like you have really kept some of the darkness that is in the original Charles Dickens novel. This is truly a bitter incarnation of the character. Can you talk about taking Scrooge all the way to the darkside?
Jim Carrey: All I have to do is drop the act. Honestly, one of the things I wanted to capture was this guy's bitterness. The effects of a life without love. It forms you. It forms your face and your body. I figured that back then, health care wasn't the best. Scrooge was probably suffering from some inflammatory diseases, like arthritis. I felt the effects of that in my own body. I figure Scrooge had to be living with a chronic case of acid reflux. The bitterness could even be tasted in his mouth. He couldn't get away from it. He was just full of vile feelings. The bottom line is that he is screaming for help. Which is true of everyone in that position. They just don't know how to love, because they never felt love. It is a beautiful character to play.
How do you feel about true redemption in relation to this character?
Jim Carrey: I don't believe in bad people. I believe that people, somewhere inside, have the potential to realize themselves. That is what this story is really about. It's not so much about transformation as it is about unveiling the soul that was already there. That is what remains so beautiful about it. It's his own psyche coming back in the form of these spirits. They are here to remind him what life and love are really about.
How does the Motion Capture experience change the way you work with certain actors?
Robert Zemeckis: The thing that is great about working with Mo-Cap is that it becomes about doing the acting. That is all we concentrate on. We don't have to do things out of continuity. We don't have to break things up for coverage. The cast does the scene from beginning to end. Its almost like they are doing theater. The pacing and flow is all up to them. It is really great. I don't have to worry about the cinema technique. I can just concentrate on what the characters are doing. It is a beautiful process.
Jim Carrey: There are advantages to the production process that are much easier. You don't have to move around so much, and it's all about getting the work done. For an actor, there are other challenges to it. People may look at these movies and think, "Wow. He did a voice over." But it's not that simply. In some ways, these are complete performances by the actors. You have no references around you. You are on a Mo-Cap stage, and there are grids and outlines of furniture. But you have to create the mood in your head. That is a little bit more difficult than doing a normal film, where you are helped by the scenery and the costumes. Gary Oldman and I were doing some acting face to face, and it was like acting on Mars. You have dots all over your face. You have pinchers with HD cameras inches away from your face. You have to transcend all of that to get a performance. So it was challenging. Certainly.
First you did the Grinch, and now Scrooge. What attracted you to two such evil characters?
Jim Carrey: I hate Christmas. They had to find one guy that hated the holiday. I do think it is odd that I have wound up playing these two iconic Christmas haters. It is the same story, in a way. Scrooge is the original Grinch. I think I am perfectly suited, because I have had some dark Christmases. Where I wasn't too happy about everything. Of course, I have had some of the greatest, as well, with my family. I do have a lot of fun. I understand that feeling of isolation. Feeling like you're not good enough. Feeling like you don't want to be seen, because people will think you are broken. Rather than being seen as broken, you lash out. You blame the world instead of yourself. I understand that type of character.
Can you talk about the 3D aspect of the film?
Robert Zemeckis: I designed this film with the 3D aspect in mind. Working in motion capture, it is a 3D process to begin with. It is an easy translation to get it into 3D. Since the days of Beowulf, I always keep 3D in my mind when I am directing. This isn't much different than that film in that respect. My style has always been 3D friendly to begin with. And whenever I construct a shot, I do think about what would be fun in 3D.
Of the three ghosts, which one was your favorite? And was it ever hard to keep this many characters separated?
Jim Carrey: It was confusing at times. I had to work with myself as the ghosts and Scrooge. Unfortunately, I had the help of one of my best friends, Cary Elwes. He jumped in selflessly to play against me in those scenes. When I played Scrooge, he'd play the ghosts. And when I played the ghosts, he would play Scrooge. It was an awesome thing for him to do for me. I loved having such a great actor to work off of. Every character is a baby. You can't choose between them. If you can, you didn't do your job. You have to fall in love with every character. I just felt so lucky to do such a wide range of work all in the same project. To get to do the accents and the different ages of the Scrooge character. There were a lot of subtleties that no one will ever hear about. It was a real challenge. All of the characters were so interesting. Psychologically, it's where I love to be. Tearing apart a person from the inside out.
A Christmas Carol has been told so many times in the past. What was the challenge of making this new for the audience?
Robert Zemeckis: If you read the actual story, two things pop out automatically. One is that Charles Dickens was an incredibly cinematic writer. He wrote this one hundred years before there were movies. He writes very thematically. It is amazing. The other thing I realized was that we never had the tools to present this story the way Mr. Dickens wrote it. The way he describes the ghosts. The way he describes the environments that these characters move in has always been unbelievably visual and very descriptive. We have been saddled with technology that hasn't allowed us to capture the way they were put on the page by Mr. Dickens. That was the main reason we wanted to do it. We envision the movie in a way that has never been true to the novel.
Jim Carrey: It has never been made by Robert Zemeckis. That's why it's different.
Disney's a Christmas Carol will open only in theaters on November 6th, 2009. Disney's a Christmas Carol Train Tour runs from May 22nd to November 1st. To find out when the train will be in a city near year, check out The Official Train Tour website.