Monday, May 25, 2009

"Christmas In May"

The title of the post refers to a holiday that I have to say that I don't really celebrate, not even in December. But, hey, I like other peoples' holidays sometimes. Also, I'm going to cover my recent visit to Disney's "Christmas Carol Train", which they are using to generate buzz about their upcoming release of this latest version of that classic. Technically, this is more an instance of a film made by the same team who gave us "Polar Express" and "Beowulf", and of Disney financing the film, and putting their name on it, rather than something produced in-house by the mouse. For that, we'll have to wait for the other big Disney holiday release, "The Princess and the Frog". Some might ask, "why do we need another version of "Christmas Carol"? Well, after visiting this exhibit, I'm happy to say that I think we are in for something very familiar, but coming across as very fresh. Like a classic story told by a director and cast who almost seem like old friends. Now, on to the show: One of the posters advertising the show. There is what could be considered a little redundancy in the description area. "See Charles Dickens Museum museum artifacts"? I guess since the first "museum" is capitalized, it means it's a proper noun, with the lower case one indicating what kind if artifacts you're going to see ("museum" ones).

This all took place in Los Angeles' Union Station, the first stop on a nationwide tour, ending up in New York on November 1st, five days before the films release on the 6th.

Some co-workers of mine asked me how I found out about the exhibit. I recieved a flier about it in my "snail mail", but I was obviously only on of thousands who got the word. This show was certainly no big secret.

Something about Mr. Carrey's face in the candle flame (his ghost of Christmas Past look) that reminds me of an ad for Desenex or somethng. (Oh! are your feet hot and itchy? That's because of me). I think my mind was playing tricks on me, which can happen when you wait for 2 hours in a line, which is pretty close to how long I did wait!

Palm trees, gang graffitti, and show biz, all in the shadow of Union Station. Nothing is quite like L.A.

If you recognize any of the carolers, I'm not surprised. A co-worker of mine happens to know the guy on the right, and another one knows the girl in green.

No fast-pass here. And that wait time is pretty close to what it actually was. I was undaunted, and determined to see the show.

That thing in the background with the film's title is a giant inflatable theatre with a killer sound system and 3D projection system, where we were treated to some finished sequences of the film after visiting the train. It's hard to believe that we have a whole Summer, and most of the Fall ahead of us before the actual release date.

Once inside the train, the wait seemed worthwhile as the staff allowed us time to savor all the details at our own pace. Here's a portrait of the boy Ebenezer, who really looks like, well, a really young Jim Carrey.

I guess you would call this a "zits and all" portrait. Mercifully, it looks like he only has the skin condition for his adolescence.

Even the most sophisticated CGI feature involves a lot more than just, as they say in "Tron", "nothing but a lot of cold circuits". It involves traditional skills, like costume design. Each character had actual costumes made to help with realizing what would eventually be created in the computer.

As good a Mr. Carrey is, you just know that the great performances in this film will come from the Brits, like Colin Firth as Fred, Scrooge's nephew. Note the wallpaper, lanterns, picture frames, etc. This part of the trains interior was themed to Victorian opulance, almost like the "Lilly Belle" train at Disneyland, or the "Wanderer" from "Wild, Wild West". The Wanderer, as you recall, actually concealed a series of James Bond like gadgets. Likewise, the Christmas Carol train also contains some high tech wizardry (which you'll see later) underneath the elaborate furnishings.

He "channeled" Sid Vicious in "Sid and Nancy", hijacked "Air Force One" and morphed into a dog as "Sirius Black", and now, Gary Oldman plays both Tiny Tim, and his father Bob Cratchit. I'm not sure how he's going to lift himself onto his own shoulder, but if anyone can do it, it's Gary.

People remeber Robin Wright-Penn from "The Princess Bride", a movie which I'm sorry to say, never really "did it" for me. Sorry. But Robin is a veteran of other Zemeckis projects like "Beowulf" and "Forrest Gump".

Some people find this image kind of creepy, but I think Bob Hoskins looks like he'll be a great Fezziwig. In this picture I really think it looks like he's posing to have his image engraved on paper currency of some sort.

All I can say about this display is: it truly is "better than one". I think Jim Carrey as the older Scrooge looks like a cross between his "Count Olaf" from "Lemony Snicket" and the old hag from that movie that came out of the Netherlands, "The Day The Earth Froze" which is maybe best know for it MST3K version. (Sampo! Saaampohhhh!).

Save the clocktower! Robert Zemeckis seems to have a thing for time travel, clocks and clock towers under construction (think Back to the Future III)

I'm anxious to see how the clock tower (sometimes called "Big Ben", though that is technically the name of the bell inside, rather than the tower which is sometimes called "The Palace of Westminster) is used to tell the story.

Now, on to the hi tech stuff. Again, even the most sophisticated computers do not rule out the use of traditional stuff, like building little models out of foam core to help stage shots and scenes.

One thing about mo-cap. I think it mainly works with bipedal human characters. I don't know how willing a horse would be to wear a mo-cap suit, so I think four legged animals like horses (of which there must have been many in Dickens' London) are examples of characters that probably have to be "keyframed".

The Spirit of Christmas Future? One minute we're looking at Victorian Wallpaper, the next we're on a stage that looks like something from "2001: A Space Odyssey". Note that the figure in the chair is half a figure in half a chair, with the other half a reflection in a mirror.

It looks like he's in pain. I would be to if I was breaking out in little black dots.

The exhibit cocludes with a little interactivity, where you can take a digital photo of yourself, and morph it into a character of your choice from the film.

After viewing some finished frames of film, you pass this tableau with some very real looking food, and an animated scene outside the windows. (the snow actually appears to be falling).
All in all, the train is worth looking at if it's in your area. Here's a link to Disney's official site
From the look I got of this movie, it looks like a blend of high technology, with traditional filmmaking, and a very faithful, respectful adaptation of a tried and true classic, with the dialogue deviating very little from Dickens. The finished product should be very impressive, and I think, will join the ranks of the other classic versions.