Hey folks, Harry here. Moriarty just turned in his look at the Grinch, and has many thoughts about his fellow evil geniuses plan to do evil on a massive scale. Seems these evil people love their evil things... I wonder... was it a schoolyard crush gone bad that turned Moriarty to evil? Will there ever be a woman to love a man filled with so much hate? For the sake of mankind and before it is too late, I hope so... Here's Moriarty...
Hey, Head Geek…
Tonight, somewhere in America, Ron Howard, Universal Studios, and Imagine Entertainment are all holding their collective breath as they unveil THE GRINCH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS to the first outside audience. The film is what I would call a rough cut of a rough cut at the moment, with no real FX work finished by Digital Domain and with the most temporary of scores.
Tonight, somewhere in America, some lucky audience is witnessing magic.
How do I know this? Well, because Harry and I were lucky enough to be able to see the film yesterday afternoon. I’m not exactly sure where we saw the screening… there were vans and blindfolds and a three-hour journey involved… but that doesn’t matter. When the blindfolds came off, Ron Howard was there, waiting for us, smiling that great big sunny smile we’ve all grown up with. In his very best Verhoeven impression, he chirped, “Now you will see my movie!!” You don’t know surreal until you’ve seen Ron Howard do Verhoeven. It set the tone perfectly for what we ended up seeing, as strange and special a studio movie as I’ve seen recently.
The film begins with an evening sky filled with snowflakes. A narrator’s voice says, “Once, in a snowflake, like the one on your sleeve, there happened a story you must see to believe.” Just like that, we push in close on one of the snowflakes, then into it, racing along between the ice crystals that make up the flake. Somehow, improbably, we find clouds inside, and as we push in even closer on the crystals, we realize that we’re looking down on a mountain range, a world within the flake, and on the small town that is the home to the Whos. This lovely nod to the other classic Who story by Seuss, HORTON HEARS A WHO, put a smile on my face immediately, and it also establishes that we are not to compare this world to the one we know. This is someplace else. This is the world of Dr. Seuss.
The first question I’ve been asked by everyone I’ve spoken to since yesterday is the same: Did they get it right? Much like with LORD OF THE RINGS, there’s an investment that we as an audience have with the world that’s being depicted here, an investment that comes with a lifelong familiarity with this work. Theodore Geisel is one of the great writers of social fables for our age. He managed to craft stories of wit and charm and surreal appeal that imparted very specific beliefs. He didn’t create safe, dull, mainstream material. He wrote of star-bellied Sneetches and Bottle Beetle battles and Cats in hats, Thing 1 and Thing 2 and Whos and Grinches, all in an effort to shine a light on the things that make us who we are. He used satire to make his points, and his work is as strong and as vital today as it was when published. One cannot underestimate the impact his work had on anyone who came into contact with it in childhood. I know that for me personally, only Jim Henson and my parents had a greater impact on who I am and the values I hold dear.
As a result, the last thing I wanted to see when I sat down in that theater yesterday was the big budget comedy version of something that could be more. I didn’t want to see them lose the thread of what made the work so great, buried in all the bells and whistles that come from making a $100 million holiday release. I was desperately nervous that I was about to see TOYS or HOOK, some new well-intentioned failure, and that I would have to bear this bad news to you. The relief that began to pour off of me in waves about ten minutes into this film must have been visible from the back of the theater. This isn’t just a decent film or a good film. If everything comes together right, this could stand as a beloved film, something that not only honors the memory of Dr. Seuss, but actually adds to the luster of his name.
Ron Howard has done the impossible here. He has created a world that is persuasive enough to make you stop thinking about the world at all. I have no doubt that once Kevin Mack and the Digital Domain crew have finished their contributions to the film, this is going to be eye candy of the highest degree. As it is, it’s sensory overload in some ways. There are amazing angles and remarkable designs to look at in every frame, but Howard never lets that overwhelm what really matters. It’s all just texture to make his world more convincing, to sell you on this reality. Howard told us that his production staff used the work of insanely brilliant architect Antonio Gaudi to guide their decisions in this film as much as they did the work of Geisel himself. It shows. There’s a weight to Whoville. It looks like someplace where people live and work. It’s not just a series of facades dressed for this one story. Instead, this looks like a place we could visit anytime, a place with a life to it. It works from the first moments on, and that frees you to simply enjoy the film.
And you will. You have to. You have no choice. If you don’t, then chances are it’s you who is the Grinch, unfit to mingle with decent folk. The choices made by the writers on the film (Jeffrey Price and Peter Seaman started the project, and several staff writers from SEINFELD helped punch the script up with Carrey and Howard in the weeks before production) are strong, and they flesh out the history of the Grinch without turning him into something mundane. He is the ultimate outsider, the only one of his kind in a world overcrowded with the Whos. The flashbacks to his childhood put me in mind of the great flashback sequences in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. We are told everything we need to know, but it’s all done like a dream, like something truly remembered. It’s graceful, and it’s quick. It just gives the Grinch a reason for that heart of his that’s “two sizes too small.”
The second question I’ve been asked by everyone is, “How is Carrey?” The short answer is he’s wonderful. The long answer is a little more complex than that. I’ve seen both of Carrey’s new films now, and between this and ME, MYSELF & IRENE, it’s obvious that something has happened to him as a performer in recent years. I think his decision to do films like THE TRUMAN SHOW and MAN ON THE MOON has paid off by making him aware of every note he has at his disposal as a performer. The thing that made the original ACE VENTURA such a delightful discovery for so many people was the take-no-prisoners style of comedy that Jim brought to it. He seemed to be aiming for the back wall of the park with every single moment, every single joke. There was no sense of restraint. He’s been evolving as an actor, though, and his command of his talents is truly awesome to behold here. There seems to be no limit to what Carrey can do when left to his own devices, and there’s a fair amount of that in this film. Howard and the screenwriters have given Carrey plenty of room to play. He spends his time alone on top of Mt. Crumpet, after all, talking to himself and to Max, his dog. He’s a raging egomaniac with an audience of one. His scenes are fascinating. At first, you can’t get over the fact that he’s the Grinch. He’s got those long spindly arms, those huge furry fingers, that crazy pear shape to his body, and that face… that terrifying, semi-feline, almost monstrous visage, so elastic, so alien. Carrey doesn’t let the makeup overpower him, though. In fact, after just a few minutes, the makeup disappears. You stop seeing it. Instead, Carrey comes through, loud and clear. That is the film’s greatest miracle: the suit works simply as an extension of Carrey’s gift, not as a cover for it. The collaboration between Rick Baker and Jim Carrey is one of those perfect symbiotic moments, like Jack Pierce and Boris Karloff, when two talents combine to create one indelible performance.
There are more riches here, plenty more worth discussing, but I want to wait and see a more finished print before I continue to discuss the film. Imagine has a number of films coming that they are proud of, and they have been remarkable about trying to open their process up to scrutiny. It’s going to be interesting to see how the next few months play out for this film and its continued development. I was cautiously optimistic based on makeup tests and the script. Now, having seen this rough print, I am openly rooting for the film to make these last few steps with grace and style. James Horner is set to start work on the score soon, and the challenge before him is considerable. There’s three musical moments already in place (Cindy Lou Who’s song, the final Who hymn, and the iconic “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” a moment that was unforgettable even in rough assemblage), and the rest of the film requires very special support. The right score could make these images luminous. Obviously Digital Domain is under the gun, and the ideas that were on display here seem to indicate great things to come. Finally, there’s the matter of the Narrator. Much of the film is narrated in rhyming verse, some of which is actually the original work by Seuss. Right now, there’s just some voice holding that space, reading the lines. For the final release, it’s going to take a Patrick Stewart or an Ian McKellan or an Anthony Hopkins or a Morgan Freeman or Kevin Spacey or Gene Hackman… a classic voice that wraps around us, that keeps us hypnotized. It has to be the greatest bedtime story voice of all time. I thought it was great that Ron Howard mentioned Isaac Hayes as one possibility. Thinking like that guarantees that whoever ends up doing it, the voice will be key. This isn’t about just sticking some name on the poster… it’s about setting the mood that this whole film depends upon.
My thanks to Ron Howard and to Michael Rosenberg and to Andy Lipshultz for their hospitality during our brief abduction yesterday. As the film continues to wind its way towards release, we’ll continue to bring you the first and most complete coverage of it here at AICN. Until then…