Ron Howard for “The Grinch”

The Grinch is shaping up as one of the most anticipated films of the year, though audiences will have to wait until December to see Jim Carrey’s take on this Dr Seuss character. But Paul Fischer managed to step behind the scenes and spoke to director Ron Howard on location for this exclusive report.

Outside in the midst of the Universal backlot, it’s a steamy 30 degrees Celsius. All that’s about to change. As we enter Stage 12, one of the studio’s largest sound stages, it’s time to put on our sweaters, don our gloves and welcome in the icy world of Who-Ville – literally. No fake snow inside these walls, as Dr Seuss’ magical tale of a Who-Ville, its inhabitants and the Scrooge-like Grinch, comes exquisitely to life. On all sides, distorted houses have been intricately designed, ice-capped trees are in abundance, actors with layers of make up strut around to do their comic thing.

And in the midst of it all is the perennially unflappable director on the multi-million comic fantasy, Ron Howard. Snugly attired in a thick blue parker jacket and ear muffs (yep, it’s very cold on this set), Howard is checking a pratfall sequence through his monitor. “I think we need to do it again, the timing’s not right.” As lunch approaches on this frenetic set, Howard wants to finish the shot. It looks funny, and it’s a take. It’s been a dream of Howard, himself a proud parent, to bring this story to life, with Jim Carrey cast in the title role.

The Grinch is based on the Dr. Seuss classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. After living atop a mountain on the outskirts of Who-Ville for many years, the Grinch (Carrey) grows tired of listening to the Who festivities during the holidays. So, he decides to sabotage their joy by stealing all the Christmas presents and decorations in Who-Ville. He succeeds in his thievery, but the Grinch is disappointed when the Whos react unexpectedly.

While this visually stunning set seems chaotic, Ron Howard, behind the camera for the 18th time, is unphased by the activity surrounding him and denies that the midst of shooting is nightmarish. “None of them are nightmares. You might get bound up a little bit in all the details, then you realise that you’re making a Dr Seuss movie, which is a rare and wonderful thing to get to do.” Though Grinch had previously been brought to life as a TV cartoon special, Howard’s vision clearly goes further than the source material. “Once we basically realised that we had to make a movie that was INSPIRED by the book, (which was too thin for a straight adaptation), we began to take a look, thematically, at Seuss’s other books, just to understand the kinds of fables he told”, Howard explains during a break in shooting. “They’re a kind of contemporary, little morality stories; they’re either cautionary tales, celebrations or flat-out critiques and satires.” In the case of Grinch, he continues, “he [Seuss] meant for this story to be a protest against the over-commercialisation of Christmas.” That theme and narrative in place, Howard’s inspiring touch was the casting of Jim Carrey, “who’s so dialled into this character, it’s hilarious.”

Howard insists that this is not the Grinch us oldies grew up with. This is a Grinch of an entirely different colour. “He’s got a little bite, even a little more edge from time to time, he’s a little wilder, but still very much inspired by the Grinch character and Jim is very devoted to getting that right.” But The Grinch is not only a movie about this somewhat nasty character; as was evidenced by the set, it’s also about The Whos, those chirpy folk who live in the beautifully realised Who-Ville. “We basically developed the Whos, about which so very little is known. What we do know is that they love Christmas and they’re a bit absurd. So they’re kinda silly, with their hearts in the right place. So we took that story, further explored it through the eyes of Little Cindy Lou-Who and her family and created another kind of a fable in the style that co-exists and weaves with what we’ve been given.”

For Howard, whose previous credits include the cinematically diverse Apollo 13 and Ransom, the challenge with this film, more than any of its predecessors, was to create a world that doesn’t exist. “Visually, it has to be interesting”, without turning into some live action cartoon, a la The Flintstones. “Our choice was to make this a performance piece for Jim Carrey and also for the other actors.”

Howard has a boyish enthusiasm when it comes to making this movie. He recalls wanting to do it for his children and the child within. Bit more importantly, “it just seemed an irresistible opportunity. I’d also wanted to work with Jim Carrey for ages because he’s such a genius.” This is also Howard’s first stab at fantasy since Willow, 12 years ago, which had the first ever computer-generated shot. With Howard’s Grinch, the art of special effects has evolved considerably since those days. “I therefore felt there was a chance that we could create an interpretation that would be effective and engrossing.”

As the teaser tag line says: You’d better watch. This Grinch is coming to town and the family movie may never be the same again.