Tuesday, December 1, 2009

About face

Just over three weeks ago in this space, I was issuing dire predictions about the quality of Disney's A Christmas Carol.

Yesterday afternoon, I felt disappointed not to be seeing it a second time.

Amazing how actually seeing a movie can change your impression of it.

I caught A Christmas Carol a week before Thanksgiving, when a friend of mine was in the neighborhood and had some time to kill between an afternoon engagement and an evening engagement. This was earlier than I planned to see it, being one of those old-fashioned guys who doesn't acknowledge the beginning of the Christmas season until after Thanksgiving. I also thought I'd be seeing it with my wife, since she'd expressed some interest, and Dickens' tale plays a history in the formation of our relationship.

Yet I convinced myself of my own logic, that A Christmas Carol looked like a garish abomination, and that the only thing we could expect to get out of it was the hollow sensory enjoyment of some good 3-D on the IMAX screen. (Plus, it was the only thing playing at a convenient time that both my friend and I wanted to see, but hadn't already seen.) On these grounds I decided I'd probably be saving my wife the trouble of having to witness it herself -- keeping in the back of my mind the possibility that if it were really good, maybe I'd go with her a second time.

Well, it was really good. And yesterday was supposed to be that second time.

Yet on our walk home from brunch, my wife confessed that she didn't really want to see it -- even with my glowing review. I was glad she asserted her opinion in no uncertain terms, rather than letting me steamroll her into going against her will. You see, I had just steamrolled her into changing tables at brunch, mistakenly believing that we would both consider the new table an upgrade, when in fact it removed us from the direct sunlight that would have helped make sitting outside more palatable for her. I get that way sometimes, and a person who just wants to be agreeable can pay the price for my inadvertent headstrong behavior.

Still, I felt a sinking feeling inside me when she told me this. I accepted her decision, but thought it would be worth mentioning that the experience of A Christmas Carol would not be the same at home on DVD, without the astounding 3-D. She then took it one step further and said she might not ever want to see it. And to that there was no retort.

Realizing we were not going to A Christmas Carol made me realize that I had no excuse for a second chance to absorb that 3-D experience, and also made me recognize just how much value that experience itself has. I rarely see movies twice in the theater, yet with A Christmas Carol, I realized I was worried I wouldn't be seeing it twice. The last time I saw a movie twice in the theater was There Will Be Blood, when I arrived at the theater too late for the start of Semi-Pro. And though I love There Will Be Blood -- more than A Christmas Carol, to be sure -- I ended up feeling somewhat disappointed by the decision to revisit it on the big screen. Not that it wasn't still a great movie, just that if you're going to spend theater prices on something, might as well make it something new.

But that's where the 3-D is a real game changer. It's not just the same to wait and see it at home on DVD. Once you miss that 3-D experience, you won't ever get it again, barring some kind of extremely unusual theatrical re-release, which hasn't really been fashionable since before the days of video stores.

I've been split on 3-D in the past. I've complained that it affected my enjoyment of Up; since the 3-D was done somewhat indifferently in that movie, I found myself clawing at the glasses with no clear benefit. Yet I found it riveting in Monsters vs. Aliens and Beowulf, the latter of which was Robert Zemeckis' most recent use of the same kind of motion capture technology used in A Christmas Carol. I might have felt the same desire to see Beowulf again if there was a reasonable excuse to go again, but my wife saw it with me the first time. My second experience of Beowulf was at home on DVD, where I still liked it, but didn't feel that same sense of being engulfed by the action that IMAX 3-D had given me. While we're on the topic of 3-D, I'll also mention that the 3-D component was a factor for me in prioritizing seeing Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs in the theater, rather than waiting for DVD.

A Christmas Carol left little doubt of just how wonderful 3-D can be, if done correctly. As interpreted by Zemeckis and Jim Carrey, A Christmas Carol didn't move me, per se -- the familiar story hit the usual beats, but didn't really warm the cockles of my holiday heart. And so I'd have to say that the visuals themselves -- starting with the animation and expanding outward, literally, with the 3-D -- were what put A Christmas Carol over the top. As I suggested earlier, I felt surrounded by 19th century London in all its splendid detail, swooping through the city with the camera, and wondering if this landscape was really, truly sharing the same theater with me. Not to mention the fact that there are some wonderfully scary, trippy details in that movie.

But that kind of sensory experience doesn't hold the same currency with my wife, who really does need the cockles of her holiday heart to be warmed. That's something I just have to accept. In fact, I also have to accept that urging someone to see a movie isn't always going to yield positive results. As critics, we probably believe that our recommendation, made strongly enough, will hold enough weight to push someone off the fence, to be the crucial endorsement necessary to make even a skeptic see the film in question. But there are just some movies that some people are never going to want to see. Not only is my wife never going to want to see A Christmas Carol, but neither is another of my friends with whom I discussed the film, who also rejected my endorsement of Beowulf. It is what it is.

But I'm not really sad for them. They're adults, and they've made up their minds. I can only put so much heft into my guarantee of enjoyment, and then I just have to let it be. After all, they really may not enjoy it. Movies are extremely subjective experiences, and it's a mistake to assume someone will love something just because you did.

No, the person I'm really sad for is me. I realized yesterday afternoon how much I really wanted to see A Christmas Carol again, but how much I also needed a legitimate excuse to pony up another $16 for the ticket. On Thanksgiving I learned that my friend had gone a second time, having taken his wife the night before. That only whetted my appetite more.

Well, I'm an adult too. If I want to see A Christmas Carol a second time, then dammit, maybe I should just go. It seems absurd to consider such a thing during what is sure to become a very busy viewing season, very soon. Especially with my upcoming trip to Australia, which will knock out two weeks of prime year-end viewing.

But most of those other movies will probably be just as good on DVD.

If I'm ever going to see A Christmas Carol again, now is the time. They're going to need that IMAX screen for something else soon enough.

Stay tuned, dear readers, stay tuned ...

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