Mar 10 2010

Alice in Wonderland

It’s not often on Lock, Stock, and Two Film Geeks that we discuss the biggest movies of the week, but I’m going to do it this week.  I wish it was because I felt really passionately about it, that it was some work of art worth presenting to the masses.  Unfortunately, this is not the case with Alice in Wonderland.  I’m reviewing the new live action Tim Burton interpretation of this children’s story mostly because, well, I saw the film.  Actually, this is the most I’ve ever wanted to have a notepad and pen with me in the theater, I had quite a few thoughts, and hopefully most of them will make it to the page.  As I mentioned in Taking Stock, our weekly column about the films coming out this weekend, I wasn’t too hyped up about this movie, citing being tired of the “Tim Burton redoes a children’s movie in his style” thing.  And I was about right, I got major Charlie and the Chocolate Factory vibes, amongst many other films that I’ll try and list throughout the review.  Overall there’s things to like here, but even despite my relatively low expectations, I was still disappointed with this film.

You know the story.  Alice falls down a rabbit hole and enters the world of Wonderland, inhabited by whacky characters.  Thankfully, unlike Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the story does differ here.  It’s revealed that this is not Alice’s first trip to Wonderland, making this a quasi-sequel to the animated film we know and love.  But Alice doesn’t quite remember things fully, and she may or may not even be the one.  Shades of The Matrix plague the first half of the film, as the characters around Alice constantly quibble about whether she is The One right Alice, and Alice must repeat to herself, “There is no spoon It’s just a dream,” in order to get out of her situations safely.  Perhaps the most relevant comparison is Hook, since this is also a live-action sequel to an animated movie in which the protagonist must remember who they truly are within the context of a fantastical land they once inhabited as a child.  Nevertheless, I was grateful that we weren’t experiencing another scene for scene retread, as calling the beats 10 minutes before they happened in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory quickly became a snoozefest.

Johnny Depp as a slightly morose Mad Hatter

Instead we see Alice in Wonderland transformed into a sort of fantasy epic, one that calls greatly upon The Lord of the Rings (Anne Hathaway’s white queen and her kingdom calls not so subtly back to the white towers of Gondor), and The Chronicles of Narnia.  I didn’t mind this though, at least when it really kicked into gear.  The final third of the film actually was exciting, with a well paced battle to finish the film and a fun fight with a dragon (even if it provided nothing new to dragon fighting, it kept the focus on Alice’s character in a good way).  No, what really brings this film down is its first half.  First we have an exceedingly boring sequence in the real world, one that I couldn’t wait to be done with.  But even when Wonderland makes its entrance, it’s a mopey and quiet Wonderland.  The film is filled with morose dialogue scenes that constantly reference the past, creating scenes with no story or character progression, and certainly no conflict to speak of.  To balance this out, almost on cue, these scenes are interrupted by over-the-top chase scenes that seem to follow some sort of formula for keeping our interest.  Unfortunately, we’ve found little reason so far to care about what happens in these action sequences, so they fail to create much of a sense of excitement.

What’s most disappointing though, throughout the film, is the sheer lack of energy and lunacy.  None of the characters present us with the bizarre psychoticness we’ve become accustom to seeing from Wonderland.  Not even Johnny Depp, who usually can be counted on for such a thing, manages to match his normal level of franticness.  He does display a certain amount of sadness below the surface in an intriguing manner, but as the Mad Hatter, I was looking for something else entirely.  The voice acting was generally better than any of the live action acting, it carried more of the energy I was looking for, as the live action actors just didn’t seem to be bringing their A-Game.  Alice herself was too bland to really care about, but I did appreciate that they kept her muttering to herself to a minimum (one of the most irritating things about the animated film).  One of my favorite scenes was seeing the table with the shrinking potion and growing cake re-imagined in almost silent fashion, much better direction than the animated film of the same name.

The movie itself has big head jokes aplenty. Even a cancerous tumor joke...

Most people go to see a Tim Burton, at least in part, due to his imaginative visuals.  This movie doesn’t disappoint in this respect.  Those who’ve grown accustomed to his style will find it repeated here, which is both good and bad.  Good because it’s beautiful and we all like it, and bad because it no longer feels fresh.  While the scenes shot entirely in live action don’t really fit with the mostly CG wonderland, once we enter the story proper, there’s plenty of eye candy to be had.  And it looks good.  The only real beef I had was that the 3D glasses actually dulled what I figured to be the intended color palette of the film.  While looking at the screen without them, the film was simply gorgeous (if completely blurred).  I imagine if seen in 2D, most would have a better experience, especially since this was not originally intended for 3D.

The movie did have a women’s empowerment that I appreciated, especially because it seemed to tie the film together in a really good way, and really give it a centralized point.  Once again, the third act was really quite enjoyable, but I struggled to trudge through the first two.  Personally, I don’t think this was really worth the $14, but then again the visuals on the big screen would certainly beat out a television for rental.  And that’s really the best part of this movie.

2 Responses to “Alice in Wonderland”

  • Mike Lukenbill Says:

    I totally agree with your criticism of the first half. The beginning Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe did a way better job of illustrating an enormous, beautiful world that was changed by something evil.

    I really liked Alice. She’s supposed to be our sane voice in Wonderland, so surrounded by craziness a normal person may seem boring or kind of flat. I saw one of the themes as establishing a sense of self, so I think it also made sense for her to have a weak personality until she changes near the end.

    I didn’t know the Queen of Hearts was Helena Bonham Carter until I saw the movie, but she was definitely the most enjoyable part of the movie for me. Her sad desperation really shone through the feigned regality, and her CG face was flawless.

    I don’t even remember this movie being in 3D…

  • Mike Lukenbill Says:

    I meant to mention that the Cheshire Cat was also fantastic, but they missed a few pretty big Wonderland icons. Maybe they should’ve made reference to the Red Queen killing a couple of them? 😛

Leave a Reply