When I saw this film back in '72 I was impressed with the high production values, cast, characterizations, and special effects. Imagine my excitement and disappointment when several companies (notably one calling itself the Platinum Disc Corporation) put out editions which were simply a dupes from an old 3/4 inch tape: A battered broadcast print version which used to circulate among the independent television market many years back.
The icing on the cake is a missing segment during the tea party sequence (approximately 20+ frames were snipped, most likely because of a tear in a badly handled print). In addition the film was originally shot in widescreen (2.35:1 ratio), but the tape, and subsequently the DVD, is pan-and-scan. These factors are coupled with a grainy image and scratchy sound track makes watching this otherwise fine children's film a real chore.
The upside is that another company, Force Video, has recently released a remastered widescreen version of this family favorite. Regrettably, at the time of this writing, I could only find a region free version in Australia, but hopefully a world wide reissue will not be long in the offing. But, as with every upside there's always a downside. And regrettably Force Video's version is no different, because where the image and soundtrack of have been restored to their original glory, the video transfer is little lacking. Not much, but it's there. And even though the disk itself is region free, the information is formatted for PAL-CAM video. Which means you'll be able to watch it outside of Australia (and the U.K.), but only on a high end multimedia display or computer monitor, both of which'll show some of the transfers shortcomings (the image is somewhat jagged around the edges, and the sound fades in and out on the left channel). But even with those limitations, it is by far the absolute best release of this film to date.
Versions to avoid;
1) Platinum Disc Corporation; this fly by night firm cranks out discount DVDs for the sole purpose of grabbing the dollars of the uninformed. Before seeing any DVD at a price that looks too good to be true it's because it's either a pirate or a Platinum Disc issue. And true to form their edition of Shaftel's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" is no different. It's merely a dupe to DVD from the old broadcast print. Avoid this one at all costs.
2) Screen Media Films; it's pretty much the same print as Platinum's, but there's a little more footage prior to the film's proper beginning, showing Republic Picture's "Eagle" footage and Gold Key intro. Truth be told this film is about 1% cleaner than Platinum's. It's barely noticeable, but if you're familiar with how films are made, and give both versions a careful screening, you can see where some frames are slightly cleaner than the poor release. In the end it's a wash as both versions are just as bad as the other, though the DVD transfer is marginally better (I guess the company felt that gave them license to say their version was "remastere"; even though it isn't). Avoid this one also.
Screen Media seems to have gone to some effort to get a better authoring of this film (verse it competition), but the film itself still isn't as sharp as it should be. In addition, even though the sound track has been cleaned some, the score still wavers, meaning the track itself has suffered damage (probably during the initial telecine transfer some 30 years ago). Though, for what it's worth, you don't really notice it when the actors are speaking, just when John Barry's hauntingly beautiful score is playing. On the other hand Force Video's version has crisp audio, even though there's still the left channel anomaly I mentioned earlier.
The film itself, staring the then very young and very pretty Fiona Fullerton, tells Lewis Carroll's story, and does so in a very compelling way by immersing the viewer in a surreal world. Showing the audience a world full of wonder from a child's perspective. Fullerton herself, as talented as she is, strikes me as being a bit old for the part. Checking her data shows that she was 16 years old at the time of release, which means she was either 14 or 15 during principle photography. For myself that still seems a bit old for an actress attempting to portray a little girl, but Fullerton's acting ability sells the role to the audience. Combined with a very talented supporting cast the characters are brought to life in a delightful rendition of Carroll's tales. Shot in Todd-AO 35 the film image has a kind of rustic feel to it that adds to the mystery of the world Fullerton's character must discover.
In short, the film itself is very much worth viewing, but if you come across a version that's priced under ten dollars American, then do yourself a favor and check the back of the DVD case. If it isn't presented in widescreen don't waste your time. Wait to find a better version so you can enjoy it with your family :-)
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