Monday, March 8, 2010

Go Ask Alice...

So, yeah, taking a little swerve here. Went to see Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland last night. So.... what did I think of it? Oh, and HERE THERE BE SPOILERS so if you haven't seen it and want to be surprised, change the channel now.

First off, going to take a tangent and talk about The Looking Glass Wars, the first book in a series by Frank Beddor. His book is a re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland, purporting to be the "true" story of Alice. Shorthand for the book is that Alyss is the daughter of the Queen of Wonderland and heir to the throne. Her aunt Redd, however, stages a bloody coup, Alyss's mother is killed and Alyss tries to escape through a portal only to end up in "our" world accidentally. Alyss grows up here, her name is changed to Alice and she is adopted by the Liddell family. As everyone treats her tales of Wonderland as merely an overactive imagination eventually she quits talking about her home and resigns herself to living in this world. She is sought out, however, by Hatter Madigan, Captain of the Queen's Guard, known as the Millinery (get it, 'military'/'millinery'). Hatter's primary weapon is a hat which can flatten out and form blades which he then throws.

At any rate, Madigan finds Alyss and eventually gets her to return to Wonderland where she must lead a rebellion in order to take back the throne and relieve Wonderland from the iron grip of Queen Redd.

So, yeah, Burton's re-imagining is something like that. Not EXACTLY like that, mind you, but much different from the story you likely remember as a kid. Or the animated Disney movie you might have seen as a kid.

In truth, the story kind of ends up devolving into a rather simplistic tale of 'good vs. evil' and rather to the point, the screenplay really doesn't do much to amp up tension because at least part of the outcome seems prophesied from the start... and prophesied in such a way as it's a sure bet, not one of those 'wishy-washy, interpret it different ways' type of prophesies. We never seem to doubt that Alice will survive all of her perils at least up to a certain point in the story and that robs rather a lot of the narrative tension.

It is, however, a lushly beautiful story and Burton plays with color in a way that I don't think he ever has before. Most of his movies tend to use a very dark color palette but here he opens himself up to the full spectrum of white to black and everything in between. It's a welcome change. The story itself is also not as dark as his usual work. Oh, don't get me wrong, there is a certain amount of darkness here but, on the whole, there is also a much more positive attitude.

The performances are also a bit confusing. The voice actor playing the Cheshire Cat is probably the most consistent and, for a CGI creation, the cat itself is a scene stealer. Johnny Depp, almost unrecognizable (but then again, when isn't he? I swear that man is this generation's Lon Chaney... and that's a GOOD thing)in wig and make-up, has proven in the past that he can put on an accent and sustain it throughout a movie so it is bewildering why his Mad Hatter sometimes has a lisp and sometimes not and sometimes has a Scottish accent and sometimes not. He's too good of an actor for this to not be deliberate... isn't he? So if it is deliberate then... why? Because the Hatter is supposed to be mad? But then that doesn't excuse Helena Bonham Carter -- another particularly good actress -- who portarys the Red Queen sometimes with a lisp and sometimes not. And when she has the lisp she reminds me of Madeline Kahn for some reason.... still trying to figure that one out.

I will say this as well, Burton uses the 3-D technology to pretty good impact here. It enhances parts of the story but never overwhelms them.

There is also a good message here for girls and young women as Alice determines to live her life by her own standards and there is no romance, no handy-dandy little hunk to come in and sweep her off her feet, nope. Alice stands on her brains and her talents and sets off on her own adventure -- meeting the real world head-on and wherever the winds may take her.

In short. It's not a bad pciture. Entertaining enough. If you want to splurge on the extra bucks for the 3-D effects then try for a matinee showing. But this version of Alice in Wonderland sadly doesn't give us nearly enough. It neither gives us a new vision of the original story nor does it go far enough afield imaginatively to give us something that feels wholly original with roots in the past.

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