Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Return of the Movie review (Alice In Wonderland)

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I always said I wanted a blog so that I could tell teh Interwebs how much I love/hate a book/film/whatever...

In other words, reviews.
A warning; this review may contain some spoilers....

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Hmm.... First a disclaimer, I am a fan of the writings of Lewis Carroll, I have been for as long as I remember. My father had a big green hardback copy of the works of Lewis Carroll which I read to the point of it falling apart when I was a child. So a new adaptation of any work of Mr Dodgson (Carroll) is something I always have an eye out for. I'm sure I am one of the few people who possess and enjoy a copy of the Musical version of "The Hunting of the Snark" for example.
So the six months of teasing that Disney put out ahead of "Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland" was something I followed with some eagerness...
Until I saw the trailer and was thoroughly disheartened. The initial reviews were not promising either, that combined with my love/hate relationship with movie theatres meant I did not go out and see it in dazzling 3D.
But it's out on DVD now, so I hired it from the Oovie machine at the supermarket with mind to give it a good English try.

So once again, Hmm... There was part of me that wanted to like this film, the same part of me that enjoys the 1951 Disney version; I knew they would make too much order of nonsense and that they would give it a moral...
The very modern vision of a Victorian garden party, the pseudo feminist Alice, great globs of clich├ęd characters and attitudes; from the weak chinned lord-ling to Alice's dashing by adulterous brother in law. Even the dreaming old maid of an aunt, waiting for her prince, made me cringe just a little but not as much as the god awful script.

I hoped that, once she fell down the rabbit hole it would change, that it'd be a visual feast of crazy Tim Burtonisms and Surreal characters with that dark edge that we had been promised in the advertising. Well at least they'd stop madly de-saturating the film...

But no, while the vision is inspired by Carroll the resemblance to his story seems to end there. Again, that is not necessarily a bad thing if the film has an ability to stand on its own merits. (The Shining is a great example of this) What we are given is a sad rework of a Narnia story, complete with Reepicheep, I mean the Doormouse. But the central plot thread is the same as a dozen other fantasy movies, our hero has to restore the rightful (?) ruler of the realm and banish the evil Red Queen. It even has a retrieve item (Vorpal sword) and slay end boss (Jabberwock) plot for our heroine.

Burton's design give us some very lovely vistas, from the garden of flowers to the Red Queen’s moat filled with stone heads and the final Chessboard by the sea surrounded by ancient ruins. But his character design is flat in all but a few cases, and many fine actors just seem to be terribly directed or just not wanting to be there. The Cheshire Cat and the March Hare are brilliant CG creations, Stephen Fry's voice for the cat is just brilliant and the Hare is just a nut case. (If there were any wonderland character who would climb a clock tower with a rifle, my money has always been on the Hare) But the other character designs, and the new characters, are just odd and ill fitting. Unfortunately Depp's Mad Hatter is front row center for this; he is either just retorting lines from the story mindlessly (Such as the oft repeated "Why is a Raven like a writing desk?") or he slips into the mystifying "Rob Roy" alternate personality. Helen Bonham Carter's Red queen seems to consist of this normally fine actress doing an impression of Miranda Richardson from Blackadder II, complete with the childish lisp. Crispin Glover does well as the Knave of Hearts, having fun in the role of a good ol uncomplicated villain, but then they CG stretch him to appear thinner and the effect does not quite work but make him appear two dimensional much of the time.

The thing that really bugged me that either Disney or Burton or both have no idea about Surrealism. Burton has always been a fantasist, but his visions though fantastic have rarely been lodged in the Surreal. So the movie tries to name things, and explain things and grant everything a logical sense that is the antithesis of the original tale. The characters have names as well as titles; the mysterious "Eat me" cake and "Drink Me" bottle are put in context and named, Wonderland (or Underland) is given a history and moral order. In the process the whimsy and wonderful illogic is squeezed out of the story and we are left with a dry soulless CG epic to be put on the shelf next to Eragon, The Golden Compass and the rest.

The film is just dull, it's not a wholesale beating of my beloved childhood in the way that the Star wars prequels were*, so I don't totally hate it. I'm just disappointed more than anything else...

*When I say Beating, I mean watching Attack of the Clones was like watching George Lucas rape my childhood in a bathtub whilst being videoed by Jar Jar Binks.