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Despite the widely held opinion that the material is unfilmable, Lewis
Carroll's fantasy/nonsense classics Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
(1865) and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871)
have frequently been dramatized for films and television. Although few
of these productions have successfully translated Carroll's verbal and
intellectual experimentation into cinema, several are of superior
quality and hold an under-appreciated place in the history of the
The initial rejection of Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland (1951) must have seemed like a final and irrefutable validation of the dictum that any film based on this work of literature -- even one produced under the auspices of a major creative force -- is a doomed proposition. Yet, twenty-one years later, British producer Joseph Shaftel dared to attempt another major theatrical film version as a belated celebration of the centennial of one of England's greatest national literary treasures. This visually beautiful musical brings John Tenniel's famous illustrations to vivid life and is in general the best live-action film version of the classic. Approached in the proper spirit this literate film is a magical experience.
Carroll's characters are played by a distinguished all-star cast including Michael Crawford (the White Rabbit), Dudley Moore (the Dormouse), Ralph Richardson (the Caterpillar) and Peter Sellers (the March Hare), with Michael Hordern, Spike Milligan, Dennis Price and Flora Robson. Robert Helpmann (the wicked ChildCatcher of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) played the Mad Hatter and also choreographed.
Teenage Fiona Fullerton was an ideal Alice for the film, bringing beauty, warmth and a soft, winsome quality to the neurotic (and difficult) character. Fullerton had previously been seen as one of the daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra in the 1971 film, which incidentally starred Michael Jayston, who appears here as "Lewis Carroll/Rev. Dodgson". As an adult Fullerton starred opposite Richard Harris in a major London revival of Camelot, and appeared as a gorgeous Bond Girl in A View to a Kill.
The film's cinematic distinction is its extraordinarily beautiful photography by Geoffrey Unsworth, B.S.C. (2001: A Space Odyssey; Cabaret), whose graceful images and fluid, balletic camera movements create a dream-like atmosphere. Equally striking is the imaginative production design by Michael Stringer (Fiddler on the Roof), who made the most of a moderate budget to create a spectacular artificial Wonderland plainly influenced by The Wizard of Oz (1939). As with Oz, elaborate character makeups and costumes carefully expose the personalities of the performers, unlike the stiff masks which stifle the actors in the 1933 Paramount version. And the film boasts some eye-popping (pre-CGI) special effects, with Alice's changes in size being impressively executed.
The haunting orchestral score by John Barry, then best known for The Lion in Winter and the James Bond films, finds the contrasting emotional mood underlying the cool cerebral surface. There is sprightly music enough but the score reflects a wistful, eerie and otherworldly quality evocative of Carroll's theme of loss of childhood. Original songs by Barry and Don Black (the "Born Free" team) include "Curiouser and Curiouser", which establishes the theme of the child awakening through bewilderment to new awareness, and "The Me I Never Knew", which poignantly resolves that theme.
The scenario, by director William Sterling, is very faithful Carroll's first "Alice" book, although a scene with the Cheshire Cat was cut prior to release, and Tweedledum and Tweedledee (from Through the Looking Glass) are included for good measure. Every major episode and character are retained, with dialogue taken verbatim from the text. New to the story is a prologue and epilogue dramatizing the famous Fourth of July river excursion undertaken by Lewis Carroll (in his real-life guise as the Rev. Charles L. Dodgson of Christ Church, Oxford), Rev. Duckworth, and the three Liddell Sisters, Lorina, Alice and Edith, in the course of which was told for the first time the story of Alice's Adventures Under Ground. This lovely sequence is imaginatively blended in the film with the tale itself.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was made at a time when the British film industry was rapidly dying. The film debuted in America at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood, was greeted with condescension by critics, and vanished into undeserved obscurity. Its value as a sincere and true reproduction of Carroll has not gone entirely unappreciated, however, and has been accorded a degree of respect in scholarly studies. Originally stunning in Todd-AO 35 widescreen, the film is badly in need of restoration and a decent DVD re-release.
A book which details the strange adventures of a young girl in a surreal
dreamworld is perhaps not a natural subject for a film, but Lewis
classic has been filmed many times. Few if any, however, of those filmed
versions have themselves achieved classic status. The one exception is
possibly Disney's cartoon version; this live-action British version from
early 1970s is less well known but is, I think, superior.
Unlike the Disney version, this film stays faithful to Lewis Carroll's original text, except in one respect. Carroll probably envisaged Alice as a little girl (although her exact age is not given in the book, and Tenniel's famous illustrations show a strange child-woman with a twenty-year-old head on ten-year-old shoulders). In this film, however, Alice is not a child but a beautiful teenager on the verge of womanhood. Although purists may not approve of this change, in my view it actually strengthens the film, in two ways. The first is that Fiona Fullerton makes an enchanting Alice and brings a wonderful sense of freshness and innocence to the role. Paradoxically, she seems more child-like than would many child-actors, whose stock-in-trade is often a brash knowingness and the ability to seem old beyond their years.
The second reason why the film works better with an older Alice is that it attempts to explore the psychological sub-texts of the original novel in a way that the Disney version, for example, did not. The story has a deeper significance than that of merely an entertaining children's story. Alice's bizarre adventures are symbolic of the process of discovery of oneself and of the wider world which constitutes growing up. No doubt amateur Freudians could have great fun interpreting the various incidents, but it is not my purpose here to comment on these interpretations. It is enough to say that Alice must, as must we all, try to make sense of a world which often seems strange and bewildering. Her world is simply a bit stranger than everyone else's is. Given that adolescence is for many of us a difficult, disorientating period, an Alice who is on the border between childhood and adulthood seems entirely appropriate. The title of the film's best-known song, `The Me I Never Knew', strengthens the idea that the book is about the attainment of self-knowledge.
Miss Fullerton is ably assisted by a splendid supporting cast, including some of the best-known British comedians of the period (Peter Sellers, Dudley Moore, Michael Crawford, Spike Milligan, Roy Kinnear) and some actors better known for more serious roles (Ralph Richardson, Michael Hordern). Perhaps the cost of employing so many well-known names emptied the budget, as the sets look rather cheap and crudely made. That, however, is not a serious criticism; indeed, one could even say that the unreal-looking sets contribute to the strange, dreamlike feel of this film. In a surrealist film, realism is not a virtue. 8/10.
There have been many adaptations of Lewis carol's work. However, I
believe this version is the most enjoyable of all. Both children and
adults will find this film entertaining. This version has a unique
opening/closing envelope. With the ending showing that her dream had
actually changed Alice's persona: "from now on I'll be the me I never
knew." Unlike Irwin Allen's 1985 version (which amalgamated
"Wonderland" and "Looking Glass" together) or the special-effects
over-ridden 1999 version, this film takes the best of the Wonderland
story and displays it with a richness that is pleasant and memorable.
The addition of John Barry's (better known for his score's to the early
James Bond films) music only adds to the sense of wonder that we share
with Alice in her adventure. The music indeed elevates this version to
the status of art in the truest sense rather than just another movie.
Heck, it was better than the one Disney came out with -- that should
say a lot.
Interesting fact, this film features Micheal Crawford as the WHITE RABBIT. Better known for his roles, Frank Spencer in "Some Mothers do Ave Em" and the Phantom in the stage production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera." A curious footnote on his carrier.
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 :-)
While this adaptation has a plethora of talent in front of and behind the
camera, including impressive sets, costumes, make-up and dazzling special
effects, it has two main flaws.
First is William Sterling's hesitant direction, not knowing when to pick up the pace or cut a number that's not working; overall, there's a sense of lag and lethargy. His credits show that this was his last theatrical release (though this fate should have befallen any number of directors over the years).
Second, is the fact that this is a musical. Now, you might expect that with John (Dances With Wolves, Body Heat, James Bond) Barry handling the tunes, that there would be some outstanding music and you'd be right (the arrangement of "The Me I Never Knew" alone is powerful enough to demand that this music be re-released on CD!). The "musical" works best when Barry is allowed to put Carroll's words to music. It falters, however, as does too many minutes of the film, when he's forced to put music to long-time collaborator, Don Black's lyrics. Black is no novice, having won an Oscar for his lyrics to Barry's Born Free, but these songs are tack-ons, fillers; they don't work and Barry/Black have a thankless task trying to make them do so (it would be like writing a musical to Shakespeare and throwing out The Bard's lyrics).
Fiona Fullerton is a handsome Alice, and while her singing isn't professional, it has an endearing warmth. Her voice improved as she became a pretty and capable British stage actress, excelling in, yes, musicals.
Barry/Black went to better success with the UK stage hit, Billy.
This is perhaps the most faithful version of Alice in Wonderland. The
dialogue is practically verbatim and the visuals are made to resemble the
original illustrations drawn by John Tenniel. Composer John Barry provides
the story with a collection of beautifully enchanting songs, many of which
are straight out of the book.
The cast is more like a convention of every popular British performer known at that time, including a pre-Phantom Michael Crawford as the White Rabbit, Peter Sellers as a hilariously insane March Hare, Dudley Moore as the Dormouse, Robert Helpmann as the Mad Hatter (aka the Child Catcher for moviegoers, aka Royal Ballet for ballet-goers), and humorist Spike Milligan as the Gryphon. Fiona Fullerton plays a delightfully impressionable Alice, despite the fact that she is much older than the Alice of the book.
This movie is perfect for children and adults who want to see a literal translation of the book, made back in the days when moviemakers truly cared about entertaining audiences (and it's fun to wonder how they made Alice grow and shrink when they didn't have the aid of computer effects)!
I liked this movie very much. So many good English actors are in it
like Dudley Moore as the Dormouse, Michael Crawford as the white
rabbit, Robert Helpmann as the Mad Hatter, Ralph Richardson as the
caterpillar, Peter Sellers as the March Hare. Fiona Fullerton is
charming as Alice. I don't remember seeing her in adult roles as she
got older. But in Alice, she is very good.
This version is close to the original story of Alice in Wonderland. I bought this movie on video a few years ago and the quality of the tape is one of the worst I've ever seen on video - just dreadful by Platinum Entertainment. Its blurry and faded colors. A waste of a perfectly good movie with such cheap poor quality tape. I put up with it just because I like the movie so much. I am hoping that very soon a major movie studio will bring out a good quality DVD version of this movie which is long overdue. Extras about making the movie, and interviews with any of the remaining actors in the movie would be nice, but I can only think of Fiona Fullerton and Michael Crawford who are still around, though there may be others. Jan.13/06 - I forgot to add an update to my original comments till now. I was surprised to find a DVD version of this movie was re-released in Dec.2004. I bought it early in 2005 from Amazon.com for $8.99. Its still available so if you want it, you know where to get it. Its much superior to the awful video version I had of it which I threw out when I got the DVD.
Another update as of March, 2008. There are several versions of this movie on DVD now released. I bought 2 DVD's of the movie but different studios, but the DVD I found had the best quality was made by Universal Studios in Dec. 28,2004. On the DVD cover it has a picture of Fiona Fullerton sitting on a chair. Its for sale new atAmazon.com for $9.99. No, I don't work for Amazon.
i first saw this version of carroll's tale as a child on thanksgiving day, and i did not forget how much i enjoyed it. i caught it years later as a teenager on cable, taped it, and did not grow tired of watching it repeatedly. i think that this movie adaption is the best and most faithful to the book that i have seen. the pace is brisk, the songs are lively, the overall musical score is very nice (especially "the me i never knew"), the acting is acceptable, the costume design and sets work well (with the exception of using a painting of the palace that was supposed to be a shot of the real thing in one scene), and it is quite funny in some parts. overall, it was nicely done, and remains a film i can continue to watch repeatedly as an adult.
For those who love the Lewis Carroll book, this film version is one to see. Of the many film adaptations of this classic, this 1972 production stays the most faithful to the book. Events happen in the same way, in the same order, and much of the dialog is taken from the book, verbatim. And this really works, as writer Lewis Carroll had a unique way of playing with, and twisting the English language in delightful ways. Fiona Fullerton portrays well, a different kind of Alice here. This Alice is well into her teens, a fact which I thought would sabotage the production; The Alice from Carroll's book was a young child, around 7 or 8 years old. But the gorgeous Fiona Fullerton plays the part with a perfect measure of wonder and innocence, instead of just being an older person foolishly trying to act like a small child. The film has a haunting, dreamlike quality, a certain surreal atmosphere aided by composer John Barry's pretty background score, which is sad and wistful, and dramatic. There are musical sequences in this film, some work better than others to be sure, as this is far from a perfect film. But the songs seem to get better as the film goes along. The thing that really impressed me is the art design, and costume design. The film makers brilliantly designed much of the costumes and landscapes based on those wonderful lithographs that have always accompanied the book. As children, we tend to look to the illustrations to help us get a better idea of how things and people look as we read along. It is quite amazing to see such images come to life, after existing in the imagination for so long. Not all costumes work, as again, this is an uneven production. However certain characters, the King and Queen of hearts, and the Duchess, the cook, the Frog Footman, and of course, Alice herself, dressed in the gorgeous blue dress with white apron;amazing. For instance, watch the scenes with the living cards in the rose garden, and tell me that wasn't how you pictured it while reading the book all those years ago. It is apparent here that the film makers cared a great deal about the material. Perhaps a few scenes fall a little flat, but the good outweighs the bad here, most definitely. Standout scenes, besides the croquet game in the garden, the crazy dance with Alice and the Griffith and the Tortoise, and Peter Seller's funny turn as the March Hare, whose face was mostly covered by his costume, forcing him to utilize his bulging eyes in a sometime s hilarious fashion. Dudley Moore appeared to be drunk as the sleepy dormouse, which I found hilarious as well. The scene where Alice wanders through the dark forest and comes across the bizarre Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum is strange, even a bit scary, especially when the raven comes and the forest turns still darker. Even though Tweedle Dee And Tweedle Dumm are actually from "Through the Looking Glass", this scene fits well into this tale, and is one of the most effective sequences of them all. But my favorite scene has to be where Alice enters the house of the Duchess, where she is bouncing a baby savagely on her knee while the furious cook makes her pepper soup, stopping only to hurl dishes at everyone around her. Absolutely hysterical! Also worthy of mention is the special effects found here. Alice must continually change size, and this looks amazingly real, especially considering that this was made in 1972, long before CGI effects. The unfortunate thing with this title is that there has yet to be an official DVD release. The only available editions on DVD are of extremely bad quality. I am grateful to have any version of this film, but the DVD features colors that are so washed out that at times, the film seems to be black & white. This is a shame, as color is so important here, with sets that are real eye candy. For an idea of what the film looks like, imagine the "Wizard of Oz". The look of "Alice" is very similar to that one. I imagine a restored version with the vibrant colors brought back would be absolutely eye popping to behold. This must have a cult following, and I believe a proper DVD release would be appreciated by many. Recommended for fans of strange cinema!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A first look at this "Alice in Wonderland" on the small screen makes
one think, "Oh, the humanity!" as many of Britain's finest thespians
and comics get lost in animal suits. With this big film formatted for
television, one loses two-thirds of the movie's gorgeous look;
interrupted by commercials, it loses its narrative flow.
Viewed in wide-screen (and it's very wide-screen), one sees striking art direction and set design. There is also a sensible flow from one scene to the next (all based on Carroll) that is lost on most television broadcasts because of commercial interruptions.
The acting is often delicious. Peter Sellers' demented March hare provokes laughs, as does comic Spike Milligan -- utterly hidden in his Gryphon costume but using one of his best "Goon Show" voices to good effect and stealing scenes with just his eyebrows. Peter Bull is the image of the Duchess.
Some of the costumes are tacky. Ralph Richardson, one of England's premier actors, is too obviously a poor man relegated to a caterpillar outfit. Michael Hordern makes his Mock Turtle even more bizarre than Carroll made him (contrast Hordern's M.T. to John Gielgud's wistfully melancholy mock turtle in the '66 Jonathan Miller "Alice"). Dudley Moore delivers his lines well, but his Dormouse suit seems to have come off the rack. Young singer/light comedian, later Phantom of the Opera, Michael Crawford, is unrecognizable as the White Rabbit.
Other performances range from the excellent to the adequate. Robert Helpman, who terrified more than one generation of children as the child catcher in "Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang" doesn't come off so effectively as the Mad Hatter (it's too bad Milligan didn't get that part opposite Sellers' wonderfully insane March Hare, and maybe Harry Secombe as the Dormouse for an all-Goon tea party). Frank and Fred Cox are an amusing Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Flora Robson is a fine "Queen of Hearts". And Fiona Fullerton is a radiant and beautiful teen-aged Alice.
Then there is the music. The songs are mostly taken from Carroll's text (with a few regrettable exceptions). They actually get better as the show goes along (as with the Lobster Quadrill and the White Rabbit's letter-song) and they're best when they stick to Carroll. Apart from the better songs, the music isn't inspiring. John Barry, who composed some of the best music for the movies ever, drops the ball with mostly sappy and unmemorable music that drags the movie down.
What ultimately keeps the movie from being as good as the sum of its parts is that, like Carroll's story, there's just too much Wonderland to go around; and by the time we reach the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle, good though they are in the book and as much life as Milligan and Hordern try to inject into their roles, we're saturated and ready for the story to wrap up.
The letter-boxing makes the movie awfully narrow for many televisions, yet tapes and DVDs formatted for the TV screen simply can't do the feature justice.
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