William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

Review: Alice in Wonderland (2010 film)

This is a quick review of the Tim Burton film from this year. I'll also frequently reference the 1951 film produced by Walt Disney. I've yet to read the Lewis Carroll / Charles Dodgson novels, but I probably will someday, likely when I buy an e-device with free classics or somesuch but I suppose there is always Gutenberg. The only thing I have in that vein is my DSi, which as of yet has no e-book functionality ... oh wait!. Anyway...

This time around, Alice is pledged to be married to the son of a Lord Ascot, a character I could have seen a little more of. He portrayal by Leo Bill reminded me of Brent Spiner's Data, except this one is socially awkward not from being an android, but from his presumably highbrow upbringing and insufferable ego. I can only presume these things, because he's only a background character. He should have been more.

Nonetheless, this background character has a fantastically sublime moment when the reason for his garden party is played out, and in the absence of a digital camera there is a highly amusing added touch that made me laugh out loud. It was one of the few times I did so without being driven purely by cynicism.

Then Alice goes down the rabbit hole, has trouble getting through the first door, etc. etc.. you've seen all this before, and the sequence is as dark and dreary as it is colorful and whimsical. Incidentally, I have this complaint about the Harry Potter movies - they aren't colorful enough, and the Hogwarts of the film just doesn't compete with the Hogwarts of my imagination (I read all of the books before watching any of the movies).

It's revealed quickly (as if it's a spoiler, as if you'd doubt that the protagonist is the "real deal") that this is not Alice's first time in Underland, though she doesn't remember the prior visit(s). Perhaps we're supposed to see the first Disney film as the first visit. It doesn't work for me, though.

What I like about the older film is that you could probably watch it with the segments rearranged and not lose very much. There's hardly a plot, and the plot's not the point - just getting out of the present situation is, so as to continue the chase of the White Rabbit. Here we have what I would describe as an action-adventure plot like Lord of the Rings grafted onto an acid trip like Yellow Submarine. It serves the interests of neither.

In the new film, both the White Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat Chessur occupy smaller roles - this is regrettable, because Chessur is cute marvel of CGI. Meanwhile, Johnny Depp's supposedly in this movie. You get one guess as to who fills the void.

Now, Johnny Depp happens to be a fantastic and fantastically versatile actor. He could probably make something watchable out of the Yellow Pages. But here I think he was hamstrung by the structure of the movie and the occupational limitations of his character, the Mad Hatter. If you want to see how (over)vital a hatter can be to a plot, look no further than this movie.

He gets a few good moments though - one early, when he walks over the tea table à la Pirates. Depp is good by any measure, but, in my opinion, pushed father in this role than he ought to have been. I also wasn't feeling the "depp deep connection" with Alice or whatever you want to call it. Moreover, the cat as a "guide" would have been better and with his ability to appear and disappear at will there's a lot more you can do with him. I would certainly have liked him to tease Alice a lot more. They didn't even bring back the joke about some people going both ways, and having his eyes roll around in opposite directions. The cat of fifty-nine years ago is more vivid than the cat of today - though that's the fault of the writers, not the CGI (for once).

The action-adventure plot rolls on. Helena Bonham Carter plays a vile, ugly Red Queen. I kind of like what they did with her, but I would have liked to have seen a lot more croquet and a lot more rose-painting - both were the stuff of long scenes in the 1951 film. There's a bunch of running around. A certain day arrives.

And then Mia Wasikowska appears in a suit of armour, which alone saves the movie from forgetability. That part worked for me, though this might not be a purely intellectual observation.

As for the ending, the Good Guys™ win, there's a tear or two that we're supposed to shed but that the movie doesn't earn, and finally Alice gets a station in life in a most implausible and sudden way. Digesting the ending sequence cleanly requires that you're not a history major (I'm not, but I watched it with one) and have the overall naïveté of a garden salad.

Almost needless to say since I'm reviewing it five months after its theatrical release, I didn't see this movie in 3D. I saw it on DVD on a good old conventional CRT screen with two friends in Fortune, PEI. Perhaps the movie would have seemed deeper, both literally and figuratively, if I had seen it in 3D. I might have noticed more details had I been truly immersed and not exchanging comments with my friends. Or I might have felt trapped, although this movie certainly held my attention.

So, to sum up:

++  Suit of armor
+   Chessur
+   A few scattered laughs
-   Should have been more of Chessur
--- Plot

On a scale from "Ugggh" to "Wicked awesome!" this movie earns a "Meh".

Second opinions:

Roger Ebert - three out of four stars
allmovie - four out of five stars

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