LOS ANGELES — Hollywood loves money. So does Ebenezer Scrooge. So what better way to launch the holiday season than putting the old money- grubber at the head of the line to separate moviegoers from their cash?
The latest version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, opening Friday, features Jim Carrey as Scrooge. Coming on Ebenezer's coattails will be everything from vampire romance (The Twilight Saga: New Moon) and end-of-the-world stories (2012, The Road) to epic science fiction (Avatar) and a new incarnation of the world's greatest detective (Sherlock Holmes).
Disney's 3-D A Christmas Carol is the latest from Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump), who presents Dickens' London with the same performance-capture technology he used on The Polar Express and Beowulf.
Carrey and co-stars Gary Oldman, Robin Wright Penn, Colin Firth and Bob Hoskins worked on a bare soundstage, their bodies covered with sensors so digital cameras could record their performances in 360 degrees. Sets, costumes and other details were filled in later by computer animation.
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The process allowed actors to take on multiple roles, with Carrey playing Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come.
While Zemeckis loves Alastair Sim's 1951 A Christmas Carol, he said previous adaptations never captured the full impact of Dickens' surreal images. As he made Beowulf, Zemeckis realized he now had the tools to bring A Christmas Carol to the screen the way he imagined it on the page.
"It was the idea of being able to actually re-create London and not have any limitations whatsoever. Anything that existed at the time we could present," Zemeckis said. "Then the idea that Jim could play Scrooge in all the different ages, and the ghosts, they could be his alter-ego, and he could play those. Everything just fell into place."
Hollywood has dozens of other films coming before year's end. Here's the lowdown on some. Opening dates are subject to change.
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Sherlock Holmes: Robert Downey Jr. and director Guy Ritchie re-create old London while reinventing Arthur Conan Doyle's brainy, monkish detective as an action hero — and even a bit of a lover. Downey's Holmes fights, trades odd-couple banter with best buddy and roommate Watson (Jude Law), and shares romantic moments with the only woman (Rachel McAdams) who ever got the better of him. (Dec. 25.)
The Twilight Saga: New Moon: The second installment of author Stephenie Meyer's love story between schoolgirl Bella (Kristen Stewart) and her vampire boy toy, Edward (Robert Pattinson), is a lesson in teen heartache as Edward dumps Bella, realizing the danger he represents to his human girlfriend. Brooding Bella finds solace with a school chum (Taylor Lautner) and his werewolf gang, and she eventually winds up pulling Edward out of a jam. (Nov. 20.)
Avatar: Also in the fantasy realm, James Cameron is back with his first fictional film since 1997's Titanic. Avatar also marks Cameron's return to his science fiction roots and a reunion with Aliens star Sigourney Weaver, who joins Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana among the cast of the filmmaker's 3-D epic about humans taking on the form of extraterrestrials as they explore a distant world. (Dec. 18.)
HUSBANDS, WIVES AND LOVERS
Nine: Chicago director Rob Marshall orchestrates his latest musical with Nine, based on the Broadway adaptation of Federico Fellini's 81/2. It's the story of a filmmaker (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his many, many women: his wife (Marion Cotillard), his mistress (Penélope Cruz), his mom (Sophia Loren), his film star (Nicole Kidman), his costume designer (Judi Dench), a lover from his youth (Stacy Ferguson, aka Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas), and a fashion journalist (Kate Hudson). (Dec. 18.)
Did You Hear About the Morgans? A Manhattan couple (Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant) in a rocky marriage find new twists in their relationship after they see a murder and are hustled into witness protection. (Dec. 11.)
It's Complicated: A messy love triangle develops among a bakery-restaurant owner (Meryl Streep), her ex-hubby (Alec Baldwin) and an architect (Steve Martin) in the latest from director Nancy Meyers (Something's Gotta Give). (Dec. 25.)
FOXES, FROGS AND RODENTS
Fantastic Mr. Fox: Meryl Streep joins George Clooney and Bill Murray in the voice cast of Wes Anderson's animated tale of a wily fox waging war with human farmers. Anderson gave his voice actors a taste of rustic life by taking them to a real farm to record the vocals. "It was like going to camp," Clooney said at October's London Film Festival. (Nov. 25.)
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel: The follow-up to the family hit about critter crooners Alvin, Simon and Theodore has the threesome finding their hearts and talents tested in a battle of the bands against a trio of female chipmunks. (Dec. 25.)
The Princess and the Frog: Disney animation goes old-school as the studio releases its first hand-drawn cartoon in five years with this update of The Frog Prince fairy tale, set on the jazzy Louisiana bayou. (Nov. 25.)
THE END OF THE WORLD
2012: The Mayan calendar predicted an end of days in 2012. Director Roland Emmerich makes good on that prophecy with his latest doomsday story, which features John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton and Danny Glover in a tale of a world devastated by cataclysm. (Nov. 13.)
The Road: Author Cormac McCarthy's starkly poetic vision of doom comes to the screen in this adaptation starring Viggo Mortensen as a father on a desperate road trip across the wreckage of America, seeking some hope of a future for his young son. (Nov. 25.)
INSPIRATION ON THE PLAYING FIELD
Invictus: Clint Eastwood taps Morgan Freeman to play Nelson Mandela in this post-apartheid drama about the South African president rallying black and white behind his country's rugby team during the 1995 World Cup. (Dec. 11.)
The Blind Side: Just in time for his rookie season with the Baltimore Ravens comes this real-life drama about Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), a black youth surviving on his own who gets a chance at a better life after he's adopted by a white couple (Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw). (Nov. 20.)
The Lovely Bones: Lord of the Rings mastermind Peter Jackson keeps a foot in otherworldly realms with his adaptation of Alice Sebold's novel about a slain girl (Saoirse Ronan) watching over her family from heaven. (Dec. 11.)
Up in the Air: Happily living life without connections, a corporate hatchet man (George Clooney) travels the country aiming for a 10 million-mile frequent-flyer milestone only to discover that family bonds might be the greater value, after all. (Dec. 4.)
Old Dogs: A divorced guy (Robin Williams) enlists his womanizing best buddy and business partner (John Travolta) to help care for the twin kids he never knew he had. (Nov. 25.)
Brothers: Jim Sheridan directs this role-reversal drama about siblings (Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal), one a Marine presumed dead in Afghanistan, the other a black sheep who becomes man of the house for his brother's wife (Natalie Portman). (Dec. 4.)
Everybody's Fine: Robert De Niro co-stars with Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell in the story of a widower who sets off to reconnect with his grown kids in this remake of the Italian original from Giuseppe Tornatore. (Dec. 4.)