The Nutcracker in 3D -- Film Review

This bizarre adaptation of the classic Tchaikovsky ballet is no holiday gift.

Delivering the cinematic equivalent of a lump of coal in a Christmas stocking, "The Nutcracker in 3D" is an apparent Scrooge-like attempt by Russian filmmaker Andrei Konchalovskyto ruin forever children’s associations with the classic Yuletide ballet. Stripping the story of any dancing and most of Tchaikovsky’smusic and filling the screen with less than jolly Holocaust imagery, this misbegotten effort should be gone from theaters well before Christmas.

Loosely adapted from the E.T.A. Hoffman story, the film is set in early 20th century Vienna, the better to feature both a cameo by Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein as one of the supporting characters. The latter, as played by a hammy Nathan Lane, is here seen as adorable Uncle Albert, who shows up bearing the titular gift for his young niece Mary (Elle Fanning) and nephew Max (Aaron Michael Drozin).

Mary, neglected by her self-absorbed parents (Richard E. Grant, Yulia Visotskaya), is thrilled with the wooden nutcracker (voiced by Shirley Henderson), who she promptly dubs NC. But when the toy comes to life, he embroils the young girl in his life-and-death struggle to save his kingdom from the evil Rat King (John Turturro, wearing a Phil Spector fright wig and horrific fangs).

With the chief villain and his goose-stepping minions bearing no small resemblance to Nazis, the ensuing plot developments are uncomfortable to the extreme. One can imagine the unease of parents escorting their tykes to what they imagine to be a holiday treat, only to find them exposed to images- including the burning of toys into ashes- that are often arresting but seemingly straight out of “Schindler’s List.”

Tchaikovsky’s classic score, along with snippets from other compositions, is somewhat present here, albeit chopped up into background music and bland songs featuring nondescript lyrics by Tim Rice (who previously enjoyed far more felicitous collaborations with the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Elton John) that are haphazardly dropped into the confusing narrative.

The film, which has clearly been sitting on the shelf for several years (Fanning looks much younger here than in the upcoming “Somewhere”), has been gussied up with post conversion 3-D that only further dampens the already muddy visuals while successfully jacking up ticket prices.

The 73-year-old veteran filmmaker, whose career has ranged from extreme highs (“Siberiade”) to lows (“Homer and Eddie”), displays undeniable ambition with this attempt to reinvent a beloved classic. But that will be of small comfort to its younger audience members’ battered, if not bored, psyches.

Production companies: Freestyle Releasing, HCC Media Group
Cast: Elle Fanning, Nathan Lane, Frances de la Tour, John Turturro, Richard E. Grant, Yulia Visotskaya, Aaron Michael Drozin, Charlie Rowe, Shirley Henderson
Director: Andrei Konchalovsky
Screenwriters: Andrei Konchalovsky, Chris Solimine
Producers: Andrei Konchalovsky, Paul Lowin
Executive producer: Moritz Borman
Director of photography: Mike Southon
Editors: Henry Richardson, Mathieu Belanger, Andy Glen
Music adaptation and scoring: Edward Artemiev
Lyrics: Tim Rice
Production designer: Kevin Phipps
Costume designer: Louise Stjernsward
Rated PG, 108 min.