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I attended the Cast and Crew screening on Sunday, in Leicester Square,
with high hopes for this film as it's without doubt the most exciting
job I've had. This was my first feature experience, and working for Tim
Burton was a hell of a way to start.
But, even as someone with a lot of time for his films, and a pre-existing bias, I couldn't really connect with this. The cast acquit themselves well, especially considering the noted difficulty in emoting to a tennis ball on a stick, but all their tics and quirks seem to be masking a void at the centre of what should be a free-floating, evocative trip. Sure, it's weird looking, but we've seen it before, and back then in films like Edward Scissorhands it had a sense of purpose. Now we're left exploring a CGI wonderland that seems to be without a great deal of wonder. The book revels in its bizarre environs, absurd dialogue and whimsical characters. This film grounds them, drains them of that mystery and leaves us with a colourful but forgettable retread. It seems intent on driving us to a narrative conclusion that few people will have had much stake in through its running time, simply because we're not giving much to care for.
With a source material so familiar, even to those whose knowledge is second hand references, there needs to be a degree of innovation (as in Svenkmejer's dark stop-motion version, or the co-opting of Terry Gilliam in to his "Tideland" narrative), or else a studious and inspired adaptation that completely returns to Lewis Carroll. What we end up with is a mid-point that fails to get to grips with what enchants people about the Alice story, and another chance to see a beautiful waif walk around twisted, quasi-Gothic landscapes to a score by Danny Elfman.
Not that this isn't an enjoyable experience in itself, and as seen in the vast Screen 1 at the Empire it is at times breathtakingly pretty. It's just inessential, and while it may be unfair to expect a classic from a favoured filmmaker every time out, when they tackle something with the pedigree and history of Alice In Wonderland you can't help but hope for something special. And that's the problem, that Tim Burton, while he is still making decent films, has been a long way off special for some time now.
6/10 (if they gave half stars it'd be 6.5), but that doesn't mean it's a bad film. It's possible that my grade is affected by high expectations and lost potential. If you have kids, I'm sure it'll be better than 90% of the dross that passes for family films now. At least there is some artistry involved, and while he might not be at his best I'll still always pay to see a Tim Burton film (although I got this one for free...)
It is still worth the high price of the 3-D admission to see some of
the amazing animation and design, but the writing is extremely boring
and clumsy, and the performances cannot save it. Too many liberties
were taken with the originals here, and in no way improve upon them, it
only barely resembles either of Carroll's books in theme and some
specific scenes. There are some "Disney moments" that literally set off
a gag reflex as well.
The animation is quite stunning and wonderful though, as is the costuming and set design (in so much as there were sets and not just green screens, I'm sure SOME actual props were used). There are some clever elements that owe only to good visual design and direction I'm sure, as the only other clever bits in the dialogue were the parts directly lifted from the originals.
I was able to catch a prescreening of Alice in Wonderland tonight on March 2nd. Despite some pretty nifty visuals, and jaw dropping set pieces, I found the movie to be incredibly dull, flat, and utterly full of itself. The film is merely a vehicle for Johnny Depp to showcase his talents, and he portrays the Mad Hatter as an actor who can't quite find the right shoes to fill in the role. He rotates from a Scottish brogue, to a feminine lisp, and staggers once in awhile as the unmistakable character of Captain Jack Sparrow. Where the visuals triumph, the story lacks. The proposed 'sequel' to Alice in Wonderland is literally a rehash of most of the finer points of the original, except a lot more Johnny Depp- a character who the audience is supposed to sympathize with and root for, but who i found a bit annoying and tiresome after awhile. The plot is fairly simple. Alice (the stone faced, newcomer Mia Wasisoska whose acting is limited to mildly concerned, mildly puzzled, and mildly agitated) flees from an arranged marriage proposal from a wealthy lord. She follows a curious white rabbit and tumbles down a hole into Underland, referred to as Wonderland by Alice. She then meets a variety of odd characters, most of them familiar from the original Alice. The plot is fairly simplistic, and a tad boneheaded. The Red Queen (Bonham Carter, slightly overdoing it, but arguably the best actor of the bunch) rules the land, but is pitted against the tiresome goodness and light of her sister, The White Queen (Hathaway doing an air-headed imitation of, you guessed it, Captain Jack Sparrow). Alice is destined by some ancient scroll to defeat the Jabberwocky and end The Red Queen's reign of terror. Alice boils down to mere eye candy-something that is visually pleasing, but is only a piece of fluff. If your a fan of Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this movie is right up your ally. I prefer Burton at his best with movies that attempt to involve the audience like Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, and Big Fish. However, this bloated mess is sure to rank in hundreds of millions of dollars, but it tugs at our wallets rather than our hearts. It's a scary thought, but I hope that Burton's best work isn't behind him. 4/10
Adding a little bit of a background story and a few more characters to Alice's adventures didn't do as much as i thought it would for the story. Truthfully i wanted to love this movie, I'm a huge Tim Burton/ Johnny Depp fan. But this just didn't do it for me. I came out of the theater wondering if it were just the mediocre script or the director who had failed to meet my expectations. The best part of this movie is probably Johnny Depps portrayal of the mad hatter who truly is mad. However, Mia Wasikowska presents Alice in a dull manner that had me checking my watch every ten or fifteen minutes. Overall this film isn't awful, but at the same time its no masterpiece, for an interesting film to look at I suppose this would be an alright choice, however if you want a great story and compelling acting, you might want to check out something else, because this isn't the movie you're looking for.
Alice Kingsley (Mia Wasikowska) is, unbeknownst to her, on her way to
her engagement party. Turns out this is the famous Alice who 13 years
earlier ventured in to Wonderland. Surely there is a creative reason to
pull her back into the zany world. Nope, she merely felt the urge to
chase a rabbit who himself was seeking to fulfill a prophecy. And so,
Alice in roped back into the world of fantasy/absurdity.
If you've seen anything at all on this movie, then the strengths are obvious. It's Disney, it's CGI loaded, it's in 3D. Everything visual is well appointed with lavish detail. It makes me wonder if director Tim Burton is better suited as a set designer since he is always given projects for his vision. I recall a time where his vision wasn't hampered by the concepts of others, at time when his films were so wholly original that nothing else compared, and sadly he's been stuck in a limbo of "revisions" for a decade.
For a girl who can't remember anything, Alice is never surprised. She sees giant creatures, she shrinks, flies on a hat, all without a yelp. The first person to blame would be Burton, since Wasikowska lacks leading experience. Still I wonder what's going through her head when she decided to play Alice as oppressively jaded. Outside the last ten minutes, she's the antithesis of Dorothy. Having a protagonist who's so down trodden in a beautiful world is counterintuitive.
Johnny Depp. You pay the man and he'll do his thing. I can't tell you that his character, The Mad Hatter, is an original. I'm sure it's a combination of other Depp figurines. With the Hatter he has carte blanche to do anything, anything at all, and somehow be considered in character. It doesn't matter that he's periodically possessed by a Scotsmanhe's in character and he's Johnny Depp so it must be fantastic, right? More amusing are Helena Bonham Carter and Crispin Glover, the latter of whom you wouldn't recognize.
The White Queen (Anne Hathaway) was in position to be the most complex element of the film. I suppose her role is to assume power in the event that her sister is dethroned. For a character who talks a big game of peace, she sure does mix together an abhorrent potion to return Alice to normal size. Despite repeatedly saying she represents good, I didn't see any evidence. Toes would have been crushed I'm sure, but the vibe from Anne's portrayal suggested that she wanted to be the calculating nemesis.
I can't tell you how stupid this movie made me feel. For some reason it figured a major plot point would be found in determining the identity of Alice. If you are seated in the theatre watching a film called Alice in Wonderland you will not be surprised to find that the lead character of Alice is indeed the very same mentioned in the title. Why we spend most of the film getting to this conclusion feels like an attempt to recreate Hook.
By the end you realize that Alice is the problem with Wonderland. In the 13 years she's been gone, her friends seem to be in good health despite the Red Queen reigning over the land. Why are they looking for her now? The Red Queen was in power this whole time and they seem to be in good shape, but when Alice gets there the queen challenges them. I suppose she's just as upset to have such a lifeless young girl in her land. I for one am disenchanted.
Sometimes I think that I should like Tim Burton movies more than I do.
Don't get me wrong, the man has made some excellent films, such as the
masterful Ed Wood. But all too often, despite an agreeable tendency
towards visual flamboyance, I leave his films feeling somewhat
underwhelmed. Alice in Wonderland is a case in point. It's a movie
where CGI effects rule the day. But the trouble is that the true
weirdness that is at the heart of this story is not captured at all
with all the computer-generated imagery on-screen. Sure it's very
efficient and well-designed but like CGI in general, it's far too
polished to really strike a chord and convince. There is a distinct
lack of wonder in this Wonderland. The otherworldly weirdness is
dissipated too by the use of overly-familiar voices to give life to the
various denizens of this world, we are left thinking 'Oh that's Stephen
Fry, hey isn't that Alan Rickman, I'm sure that's Christopher Lee and
isn't that the bloke from Little Britain, etc'. It consistently takes
us out of the movie and grounds the characters in a way that is just
counter-productive. We want weirdness from an Alice in Wonderland film,
not slick CGI and famous voice-over actors.
There is also a dangerously cosy predictability at play here too. Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, Danny Elfman they say familiarity breeds contempt, well that's a bit strong but it IS seriously lacking in surprises and you cannot help think that all three individually talented men could do with taking a break from each other for the good of their careers. Depp's Mad Hatter is pretty uninspired by his standards, while Burton's visuals and Elfman's music are nice but ultimately completely forgettable. I found it very difficult to care for any of the characters in this film, and that is never a good thing. It also meant that the conclusion came across as deeply trite, as we have been given nothing to empathize with. We don't know or have any interest in these characters, so when Alice goes around her extended family one by one imparting her new knowledge onto them, it means nothing. It also doesn't help that the journey to Wonderland has made absolutely no difference at all to the title character's state of mind at the beginning she does not want to get married to the upper-class chump and at the end she does not want to get married to the upper-class chump. So you are left wondering what exactly was the point?
I saw this in 3D and if there is one thing that this film has taught me it's that I am done with this 'new and improved' technology. I sensed it was a gimmick even before I watched Avatar; now I am certain. A bad film is a bad film, and no amount of extra visual depth is going to change that one iota. It's all surface-veneer, and really that's this movie's ultimate problem, there is nothing of interest within the CGI/3D. A great shame, as the source material is undeniably compelling.
I realize that I am almost done here but I have not even mentioned the worst thing about the film. What was it? It was when the Mad Hatter and then, subsequently, Alice do a truly cringe-worthy little dance near the end of the film. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I half-expected Britain's Got Talent winners Diversity to pop up in a cameo appearance at this stage and join in with some urban street dancing manoeuvres. That didn't happen. And that is, at least, one saving grace.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Here is a tale of two Lewises. One wrote a small but great children's
book that still delights, surprises and enchants. The other wrote a
large, artistic series of children's books that push Christian sermons
at us in the guise of adventure fantasy. The first author, Lewis
Carroll, wrote Alice in Wonderland. The second, CS Lewis, wrote the
Narnia saga. Here is what happened in my theory when the light bulb
went on above the head of Linda Woolverton, who wrote the original
screenplay for the new Alice in Wonderland.
"What if we turn Wonderland into Narnia? What if an older Alice revisits her dream world, now called Underland, and discovers a giant battle in progress between good and evil? We could have a Red Queen's army fighting a White Queen's, a Mad Hatter as saintly mediator, and a lot of Armageddon spectacle sure to bring in the youngsters and spawn a video game."
Thus is Hell born. You cannot believe the dreadfulness of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland gifted director takes on gaga script until you see it. Enchantment has gone that-away. Once down the rabbit hole Alice, played with brave but doomed grace by Australian actress Mia Wasikowska, discovers that her old chums all walk a darkening land bearing Tolkienish/Lewisite names. The dormouse is Mallymkun, the Cheshire cat Chessur, the caterpillar Absolem. Soon the throng is joined by dragons who seem to have come from Avatar. The tea party has 10 seconds to flatter us with incipient charm its chaotic table and moth-eaten March Hare suggest a Samuel Beckett revamp (that would be a good spin) before it too is sacrificed to sword, sorcery and showdown. Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter shows promise for a little longer this actor does deranged innocence better than anyone (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood) but finally he too drowns in the Sea of Tacky Bombast.
Disney presents Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland
Johnny Depp... as Willy Wonka, if Willy Wonka hadn't been Michael Jackson
Mia Wasikowska... as a winsome young lady Alice who discovers her inner fortitude
Crispin Glover... who doesn't dance, unfortunately
Helena Bonham-Carter... with a big head
Matt Lucas... as two Matt Lucases
Stephen Fry... who does actual voice acting and doesn't just read his lines
Paul Whitehouse... who against all my expectations, still does know how to be very funny
Alan Rickman... who nearly steals the movie, just by doing what he does best
Christopher Lee... who actually steals the movie with just two lines
Babs Mitchell-Windsor... playing a character her actual, real size
I can see why the they've not really wanted to call the film a proper sequel. It is that, being the story of a nineteen year old Alice who returns to barely-remembered Wonderland, but it also lifts dialogue and scenes from the original books. The story is your standard journey, emotionally, but all set in a very Tim Burton Wonderland.
Which, of course, looks astounding. Wonderland is an amazing place, often colourful, but equally often ravaged and desolate. It's a treat for the eyes, with the imagination and design shining through the technology. (It's very, very good, but strange things happen if you look somewhere the 3D doesn't want you to look and there's the odd moment of strangely stiff animation, especially when human(-like) characters are completely CGI-ed up.)
Unexpectedly, it sometimes feels like one of the Narnia films (though makes those movies look like accountant-led spreadsheets that have been printed out on toilet paper and left out in the rain), but mainly it's exactly what you'd expect from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. It's a great big treat of a movie, to be sure. Given that it's Tim Burton working with Disney, it's often gruesome and scary, but not too much. It makes you laugh at times, it pins you to the back of your seat at others, it gets you leaning forward trying to drink in every detail of the place, but it's not ever actually surprising. You know what's up, you know where things are going and you're never shocked. (Maybe once, in a quiet, horrible scene that stands out, even amongst the rest.) Even if you've not seen a single still photo or second of footage, if you know Wonderland and you know Tim Burton, you can picture it yourself effortlessly.
So much of it is still in my head this morning, but it's all visual. There's no heartache or sense of triumph that lingers after a great story. Funny as it is, there's only one line I'm ever likely to quote (a single word). I just have these amazing images left in my brain. In that sense, then, it's appropriately dream-like.
I doubt I'll go back and watch it again at the cinema, but I'm most definitely getting the Blu- Ray when it comes out next week, or whenever Disney decided they should bring it out.
If it feels like I've damned it with faint praise, I don't intend to. It's all pretty wonderful for the two hours it takes to speed past you, but I just want to make it clear - nothing that goes into your ears or your heart ever quite matches what goes into your eyes.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
You dolts took a meandering, plot less masterpiece and turned it in all
seriousness into a soul-less CGI dirge with the same plot that it's
source was LAUGHING AT.
The Jabberwock is not a dragon. The Jabberwock is the IDEA of a dragon. It wears spats and a waistcoat you DOLTS.
The Queen of Hearts never ACTUALLY chops anyone's head off, the Gryphon SAYS SO. There is nothing oppressive or dangerous in Wonderland. Wonderland doesn't make enough SENSE for anything to be dangerous.
Where WAS the Gryphon? Where was the Mock Turtle? Where was Bill the Newt? Where was the trial of the Knave of Hearts? Come to that, where were the Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the Dormouse? The Dormouse is a sleepy fat thing that likes treacle, not Reepicheep.
Where was the Duchess? Where was the Duchess's cook? Why does everybody make such a big deal out of the Cheshire Cat and the Caterpillar? They're among the least significant characters in the book!
Who's this bandersnatch? What's the Jabberwock doing in it at ALL? The Jabberwock's a work of fiction even on the other side of the looking glass!
What's all this faux-sinister creeping about with wounds and murky skies and burning buildings and severed heads?
You DOLTS. Don't you remember the ending? The oppressive queen, the insulting know-it-all tea-party guests, the bewildering fluctuation in one's own sense of self-importance almost like growing and shrinking, the unhelpful people, the stupid people, the bad-tempered people, yes, and even the hero waving his little magic sword at the scary dragon in a waistcoat and spats, what does Alice say to them? "Who cares for you? You're nothing but a pack of cards!" Your story-telling has regressed to the shuffling of tropes that children were laughing at over a century ago.
Did you even READ the book?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I am shocked by both this movie and my visceral reaction to it. Unlike
Avatar, which used the 3D technology as an integral part of the movie,
3D adds nothing to this movie. And frankly, the glasses darken the
screen so much that the already dimmed image (thanks to projectors that
aren't as bright as they used to be) was pretty bland.
Let me state for the record, for anyone who doesn't know, the movie conflates the two books, and adds in Jabberwocky for the hell of it. And back story (19 year old Alice is about to marry the wrong man (she was too old for Lewis Carroll). The Queen of Hearts becomes the Red Queen. And the Knaves of Hearts become a cross between the clone robots for Star Wars:Clone Wars and sow bugs.
1. A bland, blond, Victorian Dorothy Gale lives in Kansas, er, England, and is about to marry a prig. She has recurring nightmares about Oz, er, Wonderland, er, Underland, and falls down the rabbit hole. Unlike The Wizard of Oz, there is really no sense of wonder when she opens the door from her black and white existence (filmed in color, which ruins the supposed effect) to Wonderland. Nor does Alice exhibit and curiosity or joy at being in Wonderland. The actress registers no emotion about anything.
2. Johnny Depp used to be a wonderful actor in quirky films. His movies now resemble the parodies that Carol Burnett used to do on her show. (Sweeney Todd being the exception). He has now ruined to wonderful movies, with a lot of help from Tim Burton: Charlie And The Chocolate Factory was excruciating in its twee-ness. And as with Alice, added too much back story and robbed the original Roald Dahl's original book of both its charm and character, while only emphasizing how amazing the original movie was. This movie adds all of the current techno bells and whistles and still can't compare to Disney's own animated version.
3. Tim Burton used to make interesting movies about interesting people with interesting actors: Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands (what happened to that Johnny Depp?) More Sweeney, less fantasy, please.
4. Why do Anne Hathaway's arms not straighten? What's up with that?
EVerything that makes Lewis Carroll Lewis Carroll has been leached out of this movie.
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