I Shall Not Want 

Robert Zemeckis Walks Through the Valley of the Uncanny

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IN 1970, a Japanese roboticist named Masahiro Mori suggested a theory by which to explain a particular anomaly regarding human empathic response to increasingly "humanlike" robots. Mori observed that as a robot's appearance and movements grow increasingly lifelike and human, the more a person is likely to respond to said 'bot with amplified feelings of empathy and comfort. Strangely, this relative comfort curve drops off rather dramatically beyond a certain point, however—a point at which the human response makes an alarming about-face from compassion and ease to disgust, fear, and repulsion. This disturbing dip—the so-called "uncanny valley" that exists between adorable humanoid and actual humanity—has in recent years come to some prominence as a primary focus of the film industry's increasing reliance on creepy CG actors. It's also the place (I suspect it's located somewhere outside of San Jose) where Robert Zemeckis has apparently built the holographic mansion that he plans to die in.

Over the course of his last three films—2004's The Polar Express, 2007's Beowulf, and now his indefensible adaptation of A Christmas Carol—Zemeckis has single-handedly cartographed the depths of the uncanny valley with Shackletonian heroism, selflessly sacrificing his admittedly modest reputation and what must be the whole of his dignity for the betterment of a digital people unable to feel, let alone express, gratitude. His weirdly persistent reliance on motion capture technology has afforded us with some of the most spectacularly troubling digital representations of the uncanny valley known to man—and never have they seemed so superfluous as in A Christmas Carol.

Yes, the very same Charles Dickens affair that's been filmed seemingly hundreds of times, for literally a hundred years—and has done so rather effectively without the benefit of 3D glasses or a creepy CG Jim Carrey phoning it in. This and its masturbatory, tremendously self-satisfied render-porn sequences are really the only ammunition that A Christmas Carol offers to justify its existence—but it's a redundancy that might have been excusable on its own, were the film not so relentlessly unpleasant to look at. As it stands, A Christmas Carol walks right past the threshold of "was this really necessary?"—setting its suitcase down in Zemeckis' holographic pool house, and patiently plotting for the day when the creepy digi-people eventually destroy us all.  

A Christmas Carol
Rated PG · 96 min.
Official Site: Disney.com/ChristmasCarol
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writer: Charles Dickens and Robert Zemeckis
Producer: Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis and Jack Rapke
Cast: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Bob Hoskins, Robin Wright Penn, Cary Elwes and Fionnula Flanagan

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