Gutenfilm Presents: A Christmas Beeracle: The Nutcracker
I humbly present Christmas Beeracle, named on a whim and conceived even quicker. Similar to last month’s Twi Hard, and relevant to the season, I will this time watch the most horrible Christmas movies I can find. I’ve already got several candidates and the trailers for each are already showing signs of toppling the high bar of poor quality set by the Twilight films. Beginning the project is award winning director Andrei Konchalovsky’s The Nutcracker: The Untold Story. Sporting a 0% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and having grossed less than $200,000 in the U.S. box office, this film seemed tailor-made to be a part of this sort of feature.
The Nutcracker: The Untold Story, known theatrically as The Nutcracker in 3D, is one of the worst big-budget movies ever made. It’s worse than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and all of the Twilight films put together. It’s every bad idea and misconceived twist on a beloved tale shoved into a two-hour nightmare with all of the grace and enthusiasm of an unrehearsed high school play on opening night where no one even cares.
The film, which felt to be around five hours long, opens with the young Mary (Elle Fanning), who decides to start writing a Christmas card to her father but is interrupted when her brother begins burning an ornament, because he is apparently the Christmas version of Sid from Toy Story except less creepy and more of just an annoying child who has no place in this story. Mary is sad because her parents are leaving on Christmas Eve to do whatever it is that rich couples do in family films to leave their rich children in incredibly expensive adventurous mansions. Enter Albert Einstein (Nathan Lane, sporting a horrible wig and tragically trying way too hard), who has literally no reason for being in the movie as a character, brings the children a large dollhouse with dolls that each have their own little story and will probably be characters later in the movie (spoiler alert! They do!). He gives the children the Nutcracker doll (because a movie based on the original story legally has to include the actual Nutcracker) and sings a song about relativity. This is approximately fifteen minutes into the movie.
After her brother is fast asleep, Mary gets up to talk to her Nutcracker, and is surprised to find out that not only does it talk back, it appreciates that she treats it like a living thing. Instead of wonder what Uncle Albert put in the Christmas Eggnog, Mary follows the Nutcracker’s instructions to put some pillows on the floor so that it can fall off of a high shelf onto them. This, for some reason, will allow the Nutcracker to grow to child size and actually move. After all of that pointless nonsense, the Nutcracker takes Mary into the living room downstairs where the Christmas tree has become absolutely massive, the ornaments are alive, and the roof is gone, giving way to a starry sky. Mary wonders if perhaps they just got smaller, since everything in the room seems to have grown too, but the Nutcracker assures her that everything is relative (because we need a reminder that Albert Einstein is in the movie). He takes her to the dollhouse that Uncle Albert gave her earlier, and she sees that, surprise, the dolls are all alive. Then they ride to the top of the tree, and meet a fairy who has Mary dance with some spirits, and then the Nutcracker turns into a prince because of reasons. Something about Mary believing he was real. But it gets so much more awful, and we’re barely a half hour into the film.
The Prince takes Mary to the top of the tree, which is so high that it is over the clouds. The Prince informs Mary that the city down there used to be his, before the Rat King (John Turturro) took it over. There is then a flashback of a massive machine smashing through a building and blowing up a few others, before opening up to reveal an army of Nazi rats. You read that correctly. Take a Nazi, remove, the Swastika, and add Rat makeup and you have these guys. Cut to the Rat King himself, who snaps his fingers to make a jazzy Rat band to appear behind him and play some music while he sings his villain song, as a handful of rat soldiers start dancing, and the Rat King electrocutes a shark he has in a giant tank. I have to imagine that this is some sort of pitiful James Bond villain reference.
Also, the Rat King intends to burn all of the children’s toys so that the smoke blacks out the sun.
Let me reiterate. The Rat King wants to steal the toys of all children. And burn them in a giant furnace. So that the smoke from the fire blacks out the sun. This is a PG-rated children’s film, by the way. Parents, have fun explaining to your tykes why those poor men are being forced to shovel coal while the whole city rains ash. That’s not even to mention the rest of the Nazi undertones in the story and the mess of other misconceived ideas, such as armored rat dogs, motorcycles with machine guns, flying machines with legs, and some startlingly bad rat puns.
It does kind of feel like a stage production, with exaggerated characters and elaborate costumes. But this production style clashes horribly with the post-apocalyptic Holocaust style of the rest of the film, making for dreadfully forced overwrought performances squished against a startlingly dark backdrop of what is essentially a Nazi regime. Uncle Albert, as the movie insists on calling him, kind of-sort of narrates the film and breaks the fourth wall two or three times tops, which begs the question of why they even wanted to do that in the first place (the first time he does is to remark that he thinks someone is following him, turns around and sees no one, and expresses his disappointment that no one was following him). I think what this film’s problem is is that there are countless ideas stacked on top of each other until the entire movie collapses under its own weight. Also, it’s really stupid.
I was most disappointed with John Turturro. Turturro is a favorite of mine given his inspired performances in other films, but here he is barely trying. At times, he seems to be attempting to channel the spirit of a classic stage villain, jumping around and emoting with animated enthusiasm. At other times, he delivers lines with plenty of that quirky Turturro-ness, but it, like so much else in this film, feels horribly forced in the absolute worst way. There was literally a line in the movie that he delivers with utter intensity, and then stares at another character for a good second or two, much like someone would in a stage production when a line was forgotten. There’s a strong sense that the director decided to go with the first take of every scene and not bother reshooting anything no matter how bad it was.
The cinematography and choreography is a nightmare. I’ve seen no-budget student films shot better than this. Actors getting so close to the camera that they are out of focus, other characters half out of the frame, and some of the most dreadful ensemble dancing ever put to film are the order of the day. During another of Uncle Albert’s songs, the camera cuts to outside of the room where three other characters are eavesdropping with their ears to the door. The characters begin moving up and down in time with the music. It was literally the worst thing that has ever happened to me.
Speaking of songs (and this is one of the most egregious of the film’s faults), most of the music in the film is taken from Tchaikovsky’s works, whether from the original Nutcracker ballet or from other symphonies. Most of these works have no lyrics. Enter Tim Rice to do that. Most of these songs were never meant to have lyrics, and it shows. It actually feels like Tim Rice spent maybe twenty minutes on the entirety of the film’s music, with lyrics that barely make sense. I just remembered this, too: remember that song about relativity I mentioned earlier? Can you guess what the music for that song is? If you guessed “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies”, you’re correct. That’s right–the most well-recognized song in the Nutcracker ballet is forever bastardized as the tune for a song about relativity, sung by Albert Einstein.
It’s almost disappointing that I started Christmas Beeracle with this movie, because now I feel that nothing will be able to live up to its horror. I’ve already watched The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, and while pretty bad, it’s does not warrant the same reaction of jaw-dropping horror that this does. We’ll see if the planned Santa Claus: the Movie, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, or Snow Queen can match it, though I honestly doubt it. The Nutcracker: the Untold Story is truly one of the most horrible movies I have seen in my entire life, numbing in its lack of quality and coherence, and worthy of its own place in quality representation terminology. Some movies are bad, but very few are Nutcracker bad.