Alice In Wonderland – 3D

Rating – **

This film is aimed at people like me. I’m a lifelong fan of Tim Burton and consider him a genuine “auteur”. I’m a fantasy genre junkie, and I believe that Johnny Depp will ultimately be remembered as one of the all time acting greats. So why did I hate this new take on Alice In Wonderland? … oh, where do I start?

At its core the whole concept is fundamentally flawed. The world and characters that Lewis Caroll created are poorly suited to the cliché archetypes of “The Heroes Journey”. In literary form, Wonderland was mainly a backdrop for a series of ingenious head scratching riddles and logical (or illogical) puzzles which may also lead us to question the rigid rules of our society and the true value of “sanity”. It’s wonderful and unique but not inherently cinematic. Rather than address this issue with cerebral respect, Linda Woolverton (whose previous pedigree screenwriting credits include The Lion King!) merely stripped it all away and reduced the classic characters to quirky window dressing so she could crowbar in a half-baked quasi-sequel disguised as an adventure/destiny parable. In doing so, Wonderland is exposed to unflattering scrutiny. It sure isn’t a fully realised world like Pandora or Middle Earth. Everything in the screenplay is totally interchangeable with other fantasy series. This could just as easily be a Wizard of Oz or Narnia story. With the insanity vibe why not just call it The Chronicles of Banarnia? This is Wonderland in name only… actually it’s not even that, it’s now referred to as Underland.

The lead role is played by relative unknown Mia Wasikowska, she doesn’t do herself any real favours. It’s not like she has any good dialogue to work with, but even so her performance is bland. I imagine she’ll fade into obscurity after this and always be known as “oh yeah, the girl who played Alice” But what really sinks proceedings is Depp, and I never thought I’d say that. I enjoyed him as Willy Wonka and Jack Sparrow, there was much more to those eccentric performances than childish clowning around. Not so with The Mad Hatter, there is just no consistent character to speak of. Depp chucks in random accents and manic laughter but without any restraint of reason. It’s like watching a magician fumble around the stage as doves and playing cards fall out of his sleeves. The nail in the coffin is his “Fudderwack”… yes, that was a sentence. I’ll say no more, but when it happens you’ll know, and you will cringe.

In contrast, Helena Bonham Carter was born to play the Red Queen. She relishes every bratty tantrum tinged moment. So what if the whole thing is basically ripped off from Miranda Richardson’s classic portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I in Blackadder II, it works. What also works is the outstanding production and character design. I’m excluding The Mad Hatter from this, a hideous combination of Madonna, Elijah Wood and Marylyn Manson! The supporting cast of quality British thesps all benefit from the polished visuals as their work is mainly limited to voicing digital characters. Alan Rickman and Matt Lucas are perfectly suited to their roles, while Steven Fry’s Cheshire Cat is a glorious extension of his beloved QI persona. I can’t fault these aspects of the film, but they can’t save it from narrative hell either. I expect most people will enjoy the experience enough to merit the cost of their ticket, but that’s probably all. Maybe I was expecting too much, but then again, why shouldn’t I? It seems everyone involved in the production thought “We’ve got Depp and Burton, what can go wrong? Let them do whatever random shit they fancy, it always pays off”. Despite their best efforts I think the only time I really smiled was hearing Crispin Glover say the word “Bandersnatch”, for some reason it just made me giggle.

I’m not being a “Mad Hater” (see what I did there?) and I didn’t set out to call this review “Malice In Blunderland”. Contrary to the general consensus on some of his recent work,  I’ve enjoyed everything Tim Burton has ever done, only Planet of the Apes left me cold. Burton claims he was looking for a way to make the surreal elements relevant to Alice’s psyche. Since he has failed I suggest you look no further than Del Torro’s modern masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth instead. It will also help you forget about this frustrating and poorly conceived waste of talent.

Oh also, since I’ve once again fallen behind with my other reviews – Mic Macs is great, Jeff Bridges deserves his inevitable Oscar for Crazy Heart, and From Paris With Love is pretty shit with the exception of Travolta’s one liners.

~ by thewholebuffalo on March 5, 2010.

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