Josh Hylton, Staff Writer

Beginning with The Polar Express and Beowulf, award-winning director Robert Zemeckis has become the pioneer for motion capture technology, a technology that allows the performers’ movements to be captured and reproduced digitally, and his latest 3D visual darling is A Christmas Carol, starring funnyman Jim Carrey.

Broadside recently chatted with Zemeckis on the look and feel of his new film, the challenges of getting it done, and what new elements he hopes to bring to the timeless story.

What inspired you to follow up Beowulf with A Christmas Carol? Why Dickens’ Christmas Carol and not another story?

When I was doing Beowulf, I realized that this is a great form to reintroduce classic stories in a new way to a new generation of movie-goers because what you can do is can create a version of the story which is visually modern and separate it out, and many of these classic stories have great spectacle in them which makes them, in a strange way, difficult to do for the big screen so they are sort of relegated to Masterpiece Theater and that sort of thing.

So you get a chance to really, in the case of A Christmas Carol, realize the story in a very spectacular and surreal way that Dickens wrote it.

So anyway, obviously it’s a very familiar title and it’s a great story to be told in cinema and all those things sort of added up and the idea came, so I thought, why not give this a try?

A Christmas Carol is a timeless story. How do you balance the dual problem of adhering to a very traditional story, but also creating a piece that is fresh, new and exciting?

Well of course that was a challenge and that was the reason that we did it, which is to attack that problem head-on and say, okay we are going to be extremely true to the underlying material and we aren’t going to tinker with it too much, although we do a little bit. We provide some action at the end to get Scrooge from place to place.

But we really are going to distill this down to making sure that all the elements, the fact that it’s a timeless story, is rooted in Scrooge’s character and his character change and development and his story of redemption. We have to be true to that.

The other thing of course that I did which made everyone very nervous at the studio, but I don’t think it could work in any other possible way, is that I had everyone speaking in the language of the time, the way Dickens wrote it, which I think is beautiful.

So we kept all that and we basically kept the tone that Dickens wrote in the original piece.

Is there anything in the Dickens story that you feel has been overlooked by past filmmakers that you highlight in your version of the story?

For some reason, past versions of the story have not delved into the idea that Dickens had great tension and great suspense in the story, the way he wrote it, and that seems to have been watered down in all these other versions.

That feeling of foreboding and that feeling of dread that you have in the first half of that story I think has been missing a lot, so I thought that was really important because you have to understand that Scrooge basically has this wild nightmare.

I really feel very strongly that you have to have the dark before you can have the light.

That was something that I really wanted to present in the way that I think Dickens wrote it.

And the other thing that is amazing that I realized about Dickens that I hadn’t realized before was how cinematic[ly] he wrote.

He wrote very filmically 100 years before the invention of movies. It’s really amazing when you read his work. He writes in scenes.

How do you see the 3D aspects of the movie as aiding in the telling of the story?

Well, it aides in telling of the story in the intellectual sense. Obviously, the images don’t do that. Even an old black and white movie isn’t going to do that.

But aiding in telling the story from an emotional standpoint, the 3D is a storytelling element just like the music is.

You have the underlying intellectual material that is what Mr. Dickens wrote and then you embellish it with performance and you embellish it with color and you embellish it now with immersive 3D image.

So what that does for the audience is it gives them another emotional handle on the story.

It presents it in an emotional way. So what we’ve been able to do is we’ve been able to immerse the audience in Dicksonian London.

What do you want people to take away from your new take on a family holiday classic?

If they can just be reintroduced to this fantastic story – you know, it’s interesting that people we’ve been showing the movie to in the test audience, they think they know the story, but they really don’t.

Unless you’re a scholar or a real cinephile and you’ve watched every single version of A Christmas Carol, people think they know the story and they see the movie and they go, “Oh I didn’t know it has all this in there.”

So that would be what I would like people to take away. It’s really one of the greatest stories ever written and maybe you might want to go back and read it after you see the movie.