Friday, 16 April 2010

Alice in Wonderland

It’s been a month since Alice in Wonderland opened in theatres, so the dust has settled somewhat on Burton’s latest venture. I’ve known of the obvious months before; it is not really an adaptation of Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland – but a reinterpretation of it. The entire concept has been somewhat blurred because of the keeping of the tale’s first name, but judging Burton’s creation by the non sequitur format of Carroll’s classic seems a bit too harsh. I’m a bit of an indolent Burton fan though. I don’t rush to see his movies, but I’m always willing to support that the man is talented – I’d even credit him with a few favourite films of mine. The question of course is if Alice in Wonderland ranks there.
The story follows a grownup Alice, a number of years after he initial visit to Wonderland. Alice seems to be experiencing a form of ennui as she finds herself out of touch in her surroundings. A proposal from an officious boor precipitates her journey down the hole, to Wonderland. There, she experiences the same creatures from Carroll’s tale. They are the same, and yet they are different – just as Alice was. In fact, the running gag of ascertaining whether Mia Wasikowska’s Alice is the right Alice is well executed. Alice in Wonderland is designed to near perfection. The visuals are all impeccable and the set decoration is most impressive. I did not venture to see it in 3D (but I didn’t see that other big blockbuster in 3D either): I don’t feel as if I’ve lost anything, though. The visuals of wonderland are as realistically superficial as you would expect them to be, and Burton never gets lost in it – which had seemed like a possibility.
I’ll always recall my initial cinematic introduction to the story with much fervour, and like its predecessor(s) the thespians involved present significant help. Alan Rickman is quite comfortable as the know-it-all caterpillar as is Michael Sheen as the rabbit in the waistcoat, but it’s the darker images presented by the live action actors that stay with me. Johnny Depp is understated but not slight. It’s a strange performance, and there’s the feeling of craziness caused by overexcitement. I like to think as Crispin Glober’s Red Knight as his polar opposite and it’s a small performance that sneaks up on you, the thing is he is never given the chance to do it all and that final scene of his only suggests his underlying feeling about his state. In a way Mia Wasikowska is the reason for the good and bad in the film. She seems naïve enough for me to believe that a girl of her age would be as absent-minded, but I am rarely moved to be interested in her as a heroine. Alice has always been a reactionary role but I could imagine any number of young ladies in the role who would have attacked the role with a little more enthusiasm and a little less lethargy.
Of course, the pillars of Wonderland are the Red and White Queen played beautifully by Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway. Anne Hathaway has failed to impress me time and time (and time) again, but as the White Queen she lends an air of subtle sophistication that is most disconcerting and oddly chilling. Of course she is trumped by Bonham Carter’s excellent Red Queen, but so is everyone. The Red Queen falls just short of Helena’s other fearsome creation, but it’s never her fault. This is where my issues with the film lie. The entire story seems intent on reaching a profound climax of sorts, but the rudimentary conclusion where the “bad guys” are carted off by the decree of the “good guys” fails to impress me. It’s as if after an hour and a half of learning that even the worst of us have things that make them sympathetic Woolverton decides on a conclusion where percieved good is good and evil is evil – no middle ground. After Helena and Anne have done valiant work turning their sketches into people, she pulls the rug out from under them. This turns the film into a plebeian affair and makes the ending all too rushed and unsatisfactory.
When it ended it all finished I was reminded of Shutter Island. Scorsese crafted an excellent film held back by a stunting screenplay; Alice in Wonderland was the same. Burton does excellently on all technical counts, but a tawdry story makes it lose any substantial bit of poignancy. I can’t give Alice in Wonderland the B from Shutter Island either. Whereas I could see Scorsese working hard to combat his screenplay I have a feeling that Burton was all too willing to succumb to his. In retrospect I suppose it’s weird that I had this in my top ten most anticipated films of 2010. It wasn’t a disappointment in any way, but just as I expected it to be. But I guess my tastes have changed in those few months. It’s perfectly adequate, but I’m not zealous about it, and that's just howWasikowska seems tooo...
ADDENDUM: I will admit though, if any thing leaves the stodgy storyline with unscathed it’s the costumes of Colleen Atwood. It is pieces like these that cement her reputation as one of the best of her trade.

*SECOND ADDENDUM: A rewatch with my nephews reveals that there is more fun in it than I gave it credit for, but the issues of the screenplay are even more awful to discern. Downgraded to a C+


anahita said...

Damn, you beat me :P Yeah, I think I pretty much agree with you, except I think I may be more disappointed, simply because I'm such a fan of the original books? Either way, you're right, beautiful visuals, but an un-tim-burtonesque storyline, which lets the whole film down dramatically. I do have to say, I adored Johnny Depp in it though, and thought Stephen fry a lovely addition. But I was disappointed. sigh. xx

Robert said...

HBC stole the show. She just looked like she was having so much fun onscreen and it made me have fun as well. Haha! Though you're right, the entire movie was brought down by the screenplay.

Luke said...

I agree on the queens really being the best part - I was obviously confident in Helena's ability to be a crazy psychopath, but I was worried that Anne Hathaway would seem out of place in a Burton movie - but I was wrong. :)

Simon said...

Helena Bonham Carter can do no wrong, says me. So. There's that.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

ana hee. i think you're more dedicated to your school work.

robert hbc WAS having so much fun. i especially love the scene where she introduces her knight to her new friend. "her name is UM, idiot"

luke anne was excellent as i said. i'm glad i'm finally seeing what all the buzz is about.

simon duly noted.

Julian said...

While i admit this wasn't a perfect movie, i honestly really liked it. What i found most notable about the movie is that the ending i felt was a bit more feminist than the usual Disney ending where the princess solvers her problem by getting together with the prince. I liked that she didn't stay in WOnderland even though she would probably have a easier life there, and i loved when she decided to participate in the family business instead of going the easy route of marrying the lord.