A few nights ago, we TiVoed Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas for the girls. Not the old Chuck Jones animated version – which is, of course, awesome merely because of the direction of Mr. Jones himself – but the “live action” (and I use the term somewhat loosely) version from 2000 starring Jim Carrey.
And not to sound all Grinchy myself, but… by all that is holy, why did no one tell us how utterly, utterly wretched that movie is?
For someone who fancies himself something of an amateur movie critic, I’m really not all that critical of most movies. If filmmakers accomplish what they’re setting out to do, regardless of whether that’s trying to make “art” or a popcorn-munching blockbuster, I’ll follow along and judge the movie on that basis . Filmmakers don’t have to do all that much to get in my good graces; be reasonably competent and reasonably entertaining or reasonably thought-provoking, and I’ll tend to react somewhat favorably.
Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas was neither competent, entertaining, nor thought-provoking, except perhaps for making me think “How the hell do I get the last hour-and-a-half of my life back?”
How could a movie with a budget this ginormous (an estimated $123 million), a big-name lead at the peak of his career and an (eventual) Oscar-winning director turn out so, so badly? Say what you will about Ron Howard, but he’s directed enough movies, including a couple of really good ones, to have a better idea what he’s doing than this movie indicates. And Jim Carrey can be funny, occasionally – this movie, though, features the Carrey that tends to be much more obnoxious and irritating than enjoyable. The Grinch costume – by Rick Baker, no less, one of the best makeup artists Hollywood’s ever known – looks ludicrous (yet, interestingly, won an Oscar. I’m not sure what kind of Christmas snow the Academy voters were snorting that year). The writing was just deplorable. The art direction, which should have been a slam dunk with a movie based on a Dr. Seuss book, looks cheap and, honestly, kind of creepy. The whole thing just looked like a bad TV movie (though I’m sure watching it on TV contributed to that perception).
I actually do have an idea as to just how this travesty came to be: Grinch has the chubby fingerprints of studio interference all over it.
On big-budget studio pictures, of which Grinch is a prime example, the suits tend to give “notes” to the creatives outlining their suggestions for how, in their stuffed-wallet opinion, the movie can be made better. And because those stuffed wallets are the ones paying for the movie, the creatives usually must either A) implement the suggestions or B) quit. (Remember that at Oscar time it’s the producers who actually receive the Best Picture awards; whoever’s got the money gets to make the rules. (That’s three Academy Award references in this article, and that’s three too many in any article about this movie.))
I picture the conversation as follows:
STUDIO SUIT: Y’know, Ron, we like what you’re doing here, but we think the movie’s feeling a little bit too… well, childish. We’ve got to have some stuff in there to keep the adults entertained – they’re the ones spending the money, and we’d like to get that repeat business in there, right?
RON HOWARD: OK, sure… what did you have in mind?
STUDIO SUIT: Well, since you asked… I went to this key party last weekend, right? Everybody seemed to really dig it. I know I sure did – you would not believe how good [BIG-TIME HOLLYWOOD AGENT’S NAME REDACTED]’s wife is with the oral sex. I haven’t been blown like that since that time I tried going surfing during a hurricane. So anyway, I was thinking we could have some of the characters throw a key party, right? The adults in the audience’ll dig it, and it’ll go right over the kids’ heads so we can keep that PG rating. Brilliant, right?
RON HOWARD: Umm…
STUDIO SUIT: And I think you should have the Grinch bury his face in some lady’s tits. That’d be hot, right?
RON HOWARD: [head turns as red as what’s left of his hair]
STUDIO SUIT: I’ll add an extra two million to the budget if you can make that happen for me. We got a deal, Opie?
Oh, and by the way: this wretched, wretched excuse for a movie grossed $260 million in the U.S. alone and was the top-grossing movie of 2000. So just maybe the suits are actually on to something…right?
 Yes, I know this statement opens a huge can of worms regarding authorial intent, which I believe ultimately to be knowable only by the authors/filmmakers, but I’m speaking in large-scale generalities here: we can safely assume Atonement clearly isn’t going for the same kind of audience, emotion or spectacle as, say, Transformers.