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How The Grinch Stole Christmas review (early rough print)

About a week ago I was laying in my bed, working on the site, when I suddenly received a phone call from a representative from IMAGINE, that Ron Howard company, telling me that Ron Howard wanted me and Moriarty to take a look and give him feedback on HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS.

I’ve heard for the last month or so that Ron had been screening various rough cuts of this film to friends and family, though I hadn’t been able to get anyone to write a review, dagnamit.

For the past month and a half, I had put forth the challenge to Moriarty to nab the GRINCH for something special that AICN was going to do this month (JUNE).

Well, that had fallen through... We had heard that the print was just way too rough to screen. That they were a bit nervous about screening it till more of the effects were knocked out.

This actually concerned me quite a bit, because... So much of the film is performance and character work within makeup... and ultimately what is happening off in the distant background shouldn’t really matter to this film. THE GRINCH needed to work as a character piece between THE GRINCH and Cindy Lou-Who.

So when I got this call I was a bit edgy. If the film wasn’t ready to screen for a big audience, if it wasn’t ready... then would it not work for me too?

Before I could ask anything else I was told that Moriarty and I were being screened the film, but that officially... in the real world... we would have never seen it. Ron wanted us to comment to him about the film... not the world.

Eeeeek, that sounded like trouble, but... I needed to know where this movie was. Was it SANTA CLAUS THE MOVIE or was it NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS? Where did this movie fall?

So with a dry mouth, I accepted their offer and flew out to Los Angeles.

Checked into my hotel, and then awaited Moriarty to come pick me up. I was very nervous about this screening.

You see, for me... Ron Howard can make a bad movie. I have disliked RANSOM, THE PAPER, FAR AND AWAY and WILLOW. As for the rest of his filmwork... I have enjoyed his comedies most. I adored APOLLO 13 and BACKDRAFT. But really... SPLASH, COCOON and PARENTHOOD have been my absolute favorite Ron Howard films.

As a ‘grand scale’ filmmaker, I have felt Ron lacks in the realm of sweeping epic-ness. I think going into the screen I was terrified of watching a film made up of medium shots and close-ups. That Ron would try to concentrate too much on Who-Ville and not enough on the two characters that the story needed to focus on. This little girl, and this crogedy old Grinch that lives far away from anyone.

Before the screening, Moriarty and I were talking back and forth with one another about our fears. About the odds that what we would see would be a jumbled mess, that the amazing make-up would be lost due to boring camera movements and bad pacing.

Now the screening we were attending was being held mainly for the sound team working on THE GRINCH. Before the film started Ron came out and asked that the sound people pay particular attention to the dialogue. That Jim (Carrey) and himself were worried that some of the lines might be unintelligible due to the fake teeth and to write down a line of dialogue and pass it to the end of the row while you watched the film, so they would know what needed to be looped. Ron said that both he and Jim could understand every line, but that they had seen it and been a part of it so much, they knew what the lines were supposed to be. And basically wanted these sound folks to, check their homework.

Moriarty and I sat on the front row and as the lights went out we looked at each other and did that sigh. As if to say... Alright, here we go.

Straight up, when this film is completed, it is going to be the film that redefines Ron Howard as a filmmaker. That reemphasizes the importance of make-up on talented actors, vs motion capture cgi, and is yet another example of why Jim Carrey is a genius.

The state of the film is at an extremely rough state. How Rough?

Nearly every frame still has the blue screen where the sky is supposed to be. There are shots that still have crew members with fans dumping snow flakes in front of them to push up into the air.

Imagine, if you saw a print of THE WIZARD OF OZ, where every matte painting and backdrop was not yet in place, and in their place you would see the walls of the soundstage itself. To simulate some of the shots there were terrible video composites of characters floating around, that you could see through. The vast majority of the film had no score, but from time to time the temp track would belt out Herrmann’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST Mt Rushmore tunes, the car chase music from THE ROCK and even THE ROCKETEER.

With all these shiny pennies and so much left to be done... The film works really well. Really really really well.

SO well, that after talking to Moriarty and I after the film, they gave us the ok to go public about it.

Ok... let’s address the differences between the script reviews you have heard via this site and Stax.

I have not only read that script, but everyone’s reviews of that draft as well.

#1 change. There is no teenage Grinch. No Who-venile delinquent/WILD ONE/REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE sequences. The Grinch is not a disgruntled stand up comic anymore.

#2 change. Many of the minor subplots that was padding the film to a length that it quite frankly didn’t need, were gone. No longer is there the Christmas Light Contest between two neighbors.

The film has been honed to being a story about how a little girl, when given the knowledge that there is one person on the planet for whom Christmas is not given. A person that all others hold in disdain, but if this be true, then what is the worth of Christmas if Christmas is indeed not for everyone. If Christmas is just about presents and parties and not something more. In her pursuit to discover what made the Grinch so grinchy, what drove him from the town... Well, she discovers a story of a broken heart. And in turn we, the audience discovers that The Grinch works every day to shrink his heart into nothingness. That he wishes to feel nothing, to be numb for the rest of his life. Feelings hurt too much, so he decides to obliterate them.

This version of Dr Seuss’ original story concentrates on the heart of the story, which was to emphasize that Christmas is about more than the size of your present, that Christmas is something to celebrate as long as you have others to share it with.

The film has some amazingly funny sequences in it, but at the end of the day, the film is about a man who decides to love and live again.

As for the brilliance of Jim Carrey’s GRINCH... This is at two levels. First there is Rick Baker, who has constructed quite possibly the single greatest work of make-up I have ever seen. Why? Well, first off... it allows and amplifies every nuance of Jim Carrey’s face beneath, while still seeming completely natural. The Grinch is a wonder to behold. At no point does it look or seem like there is a human in there or even a Jim Carrey.

As for Carrey... You know the moment where the Grinch’s heart grows two sizes too big? Jim does that all himself. No makeup tricks, no cgi. The color of his skin doesn’t change, they don’t trick the lighting on his face. This is pure John Barrymore - Dr Jekyll Mr Hyde time. In one shot, you see all the callous cynicism and anger drain from him. Then you see a warmth pour into his eyes, a zen like grace imbue his face and suddenly he is whole again.

They don’t cheapen the scene by cutting to an ‘INSIDE THE GRINCH’ shot to show his heart big again. Instead, Ron had the confidence in Jim to just let that moment not be some goofy computer whoop-de-doo, but to be a man beneath some of the most amazing make up ever... shine.

Now is this a GREAT film yet?

Noone can answer that yet. Right now there is still so much to be done. James Horner has got to write his greatest score ever. It simply must be nothing short of that. Then, DIGITAL DOMAIN has got to uphold their side of the bargain... make all that blue screen disappear and come to life. Fill the streets with weirder and odder Whos and other wildlife. The sky and the sun must shine. Birds must fly and the world outside of Whoville must be built by them.

What I saw was an amazing theater production, filmed as wonderfully as can be done. But Digital Domain is going to complete this and make it grander still. Horner has got to construct the musical soul of this film.

HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS will be the film Universal is hoping for. Small children will begin the film with their little hands over their eyes, but by the end of the film... Their hands will be in their laps and they will have both eyes open wide. The film is magic in the way that BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was magic.

I can not wait for this film’s completion. For those of us that love the strange and unusual and that love Christmas and Seuss. This is very much the film we are waiting for.

Harry here, with some additional thoughts about the film. It should be noted that this film does not ape Tim Burton at all. The visual flair goes from the very comic mayhem to very tender. Also, it must be noted that when the Grinch steals Christmas it is very much the thing that must be done. You see, the Whos are all so busy buying and wrapping and eating and chatting that they have lost what it means to celebrate Christmas. So when all the trappings of Christmas are gone, there is a stunned look, a brief bit of confusion and the slightest of anger. In the end, The Grinch's act is not only his cure for his own shallow heart, but for that of all in his little snowflake world as well. We all know how the story ends, but I really was not prepared for how well the pay off pays off here. You know... this is very much the type of film that needs to be seen around Christmas... where everyone thinks it necessary to max out their cards and accounts. Not only is the original intent of Seuss' story in place... but it has even been fleshed out a little more than it has ever been before. And that's all I have to say.

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