Thursday, March 18, 2010

Alice in Wonderland Review

This latest feature film adaptation of Alice in Wonderland sees another beloved childhood tale get the Tim Burton treatment. Those of you who have seen Tim’s interpretation of Charlie’s Adventures in Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory will know that he has about as much respect for the source material as a rapist does for birth control. (We’ve spoken about this. See me. Ed) Perhaps that’s a bit harsh, but it’s fair to say that he’s not shy about reinventing key elements. If you thought he was heavy handed with his renovation of the chocolate factory, wait til you see the overhaul he’s given Wonderland.

It’s the 1800’s and very young Alice is woken yet again by a recurring nightmare. Seeking comfort, she interrupts her father who, for some reason, is having a business meeting at his home in the middle of the night. He tucks her back in bed and reassures her that it's just a dream. He then tells her that she is mad and that "all the best people are". Like Tim Burton, for example. They share a loving moment where we can see that Alice loves her father and they are very close.

Cut to thirteen years later and her dad is dead. Alice and her mother travel hastily by horse drawn carriage to a very important date. On the way, they bicker briefly about conformity and woman's underwear and we see that Alice is the same free thinking, non-conformist her father was. They arrive unfashionably late at a surprise engagement party. Not a surprise engagement-party, but a surprise-engagement party on account of Alice doesn't know she's about to be proposed to by Lord Hamish, son of her father's old business partner. It seems the evil, fun hating grown ups had the two of them paired off long ago. The business/political consequences of the union may have been explained, but I missed it because I was distracted with figuring out if my 3D glasses were actually working or not.
Shock of shocks, Alice is not keen on the guy. Lord Hamish may be wealthy, influential and proper, but he is also pompous, unimaginative and a tad chauvinistic (as was the style at the time). But judging by the squeals of disgust let out by the women in the audience upon his proposal, I'd say his greatest crime was being unattractive.
So there stands Alice, in front of a hundred or so guests with this homely chap grinning up at her expectantly. Unimpressed and overwhelmed, she reacts in the only logical way. She runs away in pursuit of a rabbit, which no one else can see, and falls down a hole.

"We're all mad here. Except the March Hare. That guy is bat-shit insane."

Alice plays a round of shrink-n-grow and we are tricked into thinking that the story has made it through the remake machine mostly intact. Once in Wonderland proper, Alice is informed by a welcoming party that since her last visit Tim Burton The Red Queen has taken over the place, as if it even were something that could actually be taken over and not just somewhere a bunch of insane, logic defying beings somehow exist. She is then told that she must take magic item A and insert it into evil being B to restore the crown to rightful owner C.
From here the story unfolds as if the screenplay were the result of shoving both of Lewis Carroll’s books into a blender with a generic fantasy novel.

Now, you may be thinking: "Wait. She’s been there before? Oh, that explains the nightmares. So this is a sequel then?" And my answer would be: It is if it were, but not if it ain’t. Savvy? Moving on…

In Through The Looking Glass and What Alice Found There+Ooh, look at me! I’m using the full title., Alice comes across a poem entitled "Jabberwocky" in which a boy sets out to slay the deadly creature the poem is names after. This latest retelling has picked up this poem and run with it. Not only does The Hatter (the mad one) recite it aloud, but every element of it now exists in Wonderland making it more of a to-do list for Alice than a simple poem.
Oh, and apparently it’s not "Wonderland" it’s "Underland". Alice just misheard the name the first time she was there. I’m not kidding. They actually try to make that fly.

The Red Queen in a huff as usual

Alice is played by Australian actress Mia Wasikowska. It may blow your mind just a little to learn that Mia played the title role in an Australian short film I Love Sarah Jane. Check it out here. (It has zombies!) And guys: It may ease your conscience to know that, by my calculations, she was eighteen when that was filmed.
She’s a looker. You just can't tell straight away because Tim has painted her up to look like a corpse. If that guy isn't a necrophiliac, I don’t know who is. I wasn't keen on this Alice at all to begin with, but I came to like her by the end of the film. Although she is older and her appearance has changed somewhat, Alice still feels enough like Alice for me.

Tarrant Hightop aka The Hatter is played by Orlando Bloom. Take Jack Sparrow combined with Willie Wonka (from the remake, of course), add a dash of insanity and have David Bowie do the make-up then you'll have Tim Burton's version of the Hatter. When I first saw images of him in posters prior to the films release, I was put off. Once I saw the trailer, I thought he might pass. Now that I've seen Hatter in all his glory, I actually quite like him. He plays a larger, more central role than in the books and has far more depth. The performance is sound and I love his outfits, but I'm still not entirely sold on the make up. I know that he's meant to have mercury poisoning or something+Which actually makes your cheeks pink, by the way., but it looks like the character himself is wearing the make up like some sort of clown. Oh and he's Scottish now as indicated by the red hair, occasional thick Scottish accent (is there any other kind?) and the kilt he wears during the climactic final battle.

The Cheshire Cat is voiced by the ever delightful Stephen Fry. In this incarnation, Chesh is less kooky and detached than in Disney's animated feature and is actually a help to Alice rather than a hindrance. He looks fantastic in both style and execution and would have to be my favourite member of the cast. I'd love to get my hands on a Chesh figurine to have grinning mischievously atop my monitor.

The Red Queen is played by my favourite Halloween decoration, Helena Bonham Carter. This was another character I was dubious about after seeing the promotional material, but it turns out Helena does a good job. In this film, The Red Queen from Through the Looking Glass and The Queen of Hearts from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland have been combined to form a character that is basically The Red Queen in name and The Queen of Hearts in nature. She bears the suit of hearts motif, has an army of human-sized playing cards at her command and she loves a good public beheading. I honestly don't know why they even bothered to call her The Red Queen; probably because it sounds more ominous than The Queen of Hearts.
Many characters in this film look more menacing than in previous outings, but The Red Queen’s oversized head actually goes the other way and I have to say I like it; especially considering the alternative. I also love that she has enslaved monkeys to act as various bits of furniture. Who wouldn’t want a monkey chandelier?

The White Queen is portrayed by Ann Hathaway as a rational woman with odd mannerisms who never once turns into a sheep. I don't think she quite pulls it off though. She comes across more like a mental patient under the delusion that she is a queen as opposed to an actual queen. Maybe that was what she was going for, I don’t know. Her make up makes her look like a villain, though I guess that's true for just about everyone in a Tim Burton film. Her eyebrows are too thick and her lipstick is almost black. I understand a traditional red may be out; red being the colour of her neme-sis, but how about a subtle pink?+Yes, I still like semicolons. Overall though, The White Queen was ok.

Stayne aka The Knave of Hearts is played by Crispin Glover who you know best as Marty McFly's dad. In Carroll's book, The Knave of hearts is a minor character who is on trial for eating The Red Queen’s tarts. Now he's a fully blown antagonist and The Red Queens right hand man to boot. He’d never admit it, but you can totally tell he's hit that. I bet those monkey bedposts would have a story or two. To give Stayne a lanky appearance, he's been given a cgi makeover. They’ve just superimposed his head onto a computer generated body to poor effect making his movements seem jerky and uncanny. His cgi horse looks a bit more convincing than he does, but is totally unnecessary. These are just two examples of the overuse of cgi in this film that prevents it from feeling real enough to be truly engaging. I’d like to also mention Stayne’s magic eye patch which is black when he makes his first appearance, but red thereafter.

There's that fetching kilt I mentioned earlier

Visually, there is a great deal going on in this film. After all, wonderland is tripped out place full of the impossible. And for the most part, it’s very impressive. However, I can’t say I liked everything I saw. For the most part, sure, but I kept seeing things that didn’t look quite right. Things like the Tweedles’ faces and Stayne’s awkward movements and it may just be me, but the incongruous style of the bandersnatch made it looked like it belonged in a different movie. The Jabberwocky, on the other hand, was spot on and by far the best looking of the many computer animated creatures. The scene where the Jabberwocky is summoned for battle is actually when I woke up and started paying attention again. I also like that the playing card soldiers have been placed in suites of armour. I think this makes them more menacing and less ridiculous, though the glowing eyes may be a bit much. The costumes on both the live action and cgi cast members were fantastic.

With the amount of cgi in this film I think it would have been better if they had just gone the whole hog and made it a fully blown computer animated feature. They’re 90% of the way there anyway. By doing so, they could have made everything a bit more stylised which would suite the subject matter more. As they are, I feel that the visuals lack consistency. Am I watching a cartoon or live action? It’s like the caricatured humans and their realistically rendered counter parts are trying to meet each other in the middle, but failing. With total computer animation in a style that sits somewhere between cartoon and photorealism, your brain could relax knowing that you’re watching an animation instead of getting caught on things that don’t look right. Yes, that’s an actually phenomenon. I know that’s no substitute for a live action version of Alice in Wonderland, but to be honest, what Mr. Burton has produced here is as much live action as Saddam’s cameos on South Park. (Is this a pop culture reference? -1 Ed)

What about the 3Dness? It was hit and miss; mostly miss. I actually almost forgot that I even saw it in 3D. That’s how ho-hum it was. For me, it threw off my sense of scale to the point where, at times, fully grown adults looked like toys. This may have something to do with the depth of field being to shallow, but what do I know. Most of the people I saw this with agreed the 3D was dodgy, but my wife thought it was great. Though being my wife, it’s no surprise her eyes are easily pleased. As a point of reference, Avatar had better executed 3D than this film.

Alice in Wonderland was entertaining, but it was messed with too much. I don’t have a problem with the two books being combined so much, I just didn’t like they way it was done here. It was too dark for the littlies, but too light on for the grown ups. How hard is it to watch the Wizard of Oz and rip that off take some pointers from that? So: great costumes, some cgi missteps, solid cast, not enough wit. It’s a pretty good film, but don’t bother seeing it in 3D.

I’m giving Alice in Wonderland three ravens out of five.+Or is that writing desks? I’m always confusing the two.

Oh, and if you haven’t seen this, watch it now:


  1. Just to let you know Mad Hatter is played by Johnny Depp. You messed a bit at that :P

  2. Tim Burtons Charlie and the choclate factory actually stuck more to the book and was better off for it, your crude comments about his respect for source material is irrelevant and stupid. Also the books were written in a time when the setting is based so yeah it does follow the attitudes of people from that time.You may be a critic or just someone who likes to find faults with films but saying "If that guy isn't a necrophiliac, I don’t know who is" is just down right rude. for one it stereotypes people who are goths and emos. secondly just cos he works best with film noir doesn't mean he's a necophiliac. I seriously think you need to do some research before commenting on films like this. Tarrant Hightopp is played by Johnny Depp not Orlando Bloom, which is why he is more like Willie Wonker and Jack Sparrow. Also he only speaks in the scottish accent when he is angry or getting angry. The orange hair is a side effect of the mercury poison as pointed out by Tim Burton himself.
    If I seem rude it's because I find people who slag off a film and it's director, no matter how minor the slagging is, to be pompous and immature. Especially when they don't even know who all the cast actually are.
    Kind Regards

  3. Ronan,

    Thanks for your interest in the Alice in Wonderland Review and for taking the time to share your opinion with your fellow readers and myself. It's always interesting to hear someone elses take on a topic. But I'm afraid that I can't just leave it at that. See, this is MY house and I can't lose face by letting you come in here and spit on my shoes. So here's this:

    Firstly, look up "tongue in cheek". I assume you are unfamiliar with the term since you seem to think I seriously consider Tim Burton to be a necrophiliac. "for one it stereotypes people who are goths and emos" Wrong. I have not once heard anyone accuse goths or emos of sleeping with dead people. Goths and emos perpetuate their own stereotypes. I don't condone persecution, but if you don't want to be called a duck, stop quacking and drop the waddle. To get back on point, I don't have anything against Tim Burton and I generally like his work, though I personally wouldn't categorise it as film noir.

    Secondly: Congratulations on being the second person to miss the obvious joke about Tarrant Hightop being played by Orlando Bloom. Did you not wonder why mousing over his name displayed a picture of Geoffrey Rush? You can go ahead an eat your comments about my lack of research and not knowing who the cast actually are. I know more than enough about the subject matter and it's history to write this review, thank you very much.

    And as for your labeling of my comments as rude, irrelevant and stupid: Now you're starting to get it. Try not to take these write ups too seriously or you wont enjoy them.
    I hope you are able to find more enjoyment in future Shufti 24/7 reviews.

    Also you smell funny and have a dumb face. Served!