Alice in Underland?

March 10, 2010

Warning: Spoilers ensue.

So I saw Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland recently.
This is important for a multitude of reasons. One is that I saw a film. In a cinema. For the first time in three months. As a self confessed film nut, this is ridiculous. I’ve gone three months without being in a cinema? How did that happen?

A second reason is this is the first film I saw in 3D. Let me be petty for a moment and say that the film industry is inconveniencing me and thus no one should have this fancy technology. It’s pretty, sure but uh… actually it’s really pretty. But I spent 15 minutes straining my eyes, felt incredibly goofy and had a really sore nose for ages afterwards. You see, I’m pretty much blind so my glasses are already pretty thick and now to watch this film I have to wear a second pair? It was painful to settle in to them, no exaggeration, and I’m failing to see how a technology that inconveniences such a common disability is really the way of the future. No 3D, go 2D, waiting for 4D.
A third reason is I really like Tim Burton, as in he’s pretty much one of the biggest influences on my creative endeavours and I can and will see every film he produces simply because his name is behind it. That’s context for when I say this film isn’t that good.
All right, let’s break it down here. In this film Alice travels back to a darker Wonderland to escape from the troubles in her life. No, back down American McGee, this isn’t plagiarism, it’s just the exact same idea as so many other authors and fan fiction writers have had over the years. This isn’t bad however, as it does allow for some psychological depth to the otherwise absurd and surreal Wonderland and Burton does a good job of it by not featuring any one great tragedy in Alice’s life but instead plays upon the culture and sensibilities of Victorian England.
Okay, all well and good, escapism ahoy. The Garden Party goes on that little bit too long really, but is otherwise manageable and we’re quickly reintroduced to Wonderland in all its odd glory. Except it’s Underland. And Alice doesn’t remember it at all.

This is one of the biggest flaws with the film – the not remembering, not the Underland thing. Alice maintains until the last ten minutes or so that the whole thing is a dream and is quite insistent that it plays by her rules. It’s just unbearable really, as she seems at times to be accepting of this world and fully willing to go along with things as they are and then suddenly pinches herself to wake up. Then one quick expo talk about ten minutes from the end and she perfectly accepts everything. And that acceptance leads to the other big problem.
The Frabjous Day. Anytime someone wants to get the film back on plot they mention the Frabjous Day, when Destiny Says that Alice will kill the Jabberwock. Which results in Alice armoured and armed in action. My God, the stupid, it hits me hard and won’t relent. How is this relevant at all, how is this intelligent at all. Why is this necessary. Why must you do this. It makes me want to cry. Alice is an observer and an accidental instigator, not a warrior woman for fate.
It ruins other sections of the film with its insipid nonsense, namely the insipid nonsense. The Red Queen has taken over ‘Underland’ and rules as a tyrant while the White Queen gathers her forces to fight back. The film approaches Wonderland from a serious enough perspective that they could pull this off if they wanted to, but it’s a plot that should not include Alice. Forcing Alice with her Destiny into this destroys what dramatic potential it could have had as a pale faced stick of a girl suddenly takes up arms to fight a giant monster which sounds suspiciously like an anime.
What else is wrong, well let’s see I oh yes THE HATTER. Good Gravy God I hated the Hatter. This is no fault of Depp’s, his Hatter performance is just generic really with no great advantages or flaws to the portrayal, but its the incredibly important role Burton gave him for some reason. No only does Hatter appear everywhere somehow, he also gains a tragic past and there’s some creepy romantic tension between him and Alice that never ceased the wig the crap out of me.
And there’s this side of Hatter I find really, truly weird, this Scottish half that appears every now and then. I’m guessing it’s some kind of reference to the English suppression of the Scots for many years with the Red Queen representing England maybe or something I don’t know it’s frankly batpoop. Hatter just slips into an accent, starts prattling on for a bit in a dark tone of voice and then oh look he’s whimsical and silly again hats how wonderful. And then he gets a claymore. Yeah. Depp, whoever taught you how to wield a claymore should be shot. It’s a big, big sword. Use more than one hand.
Oh, and don’t dance Hatter. Don’t dance.
So what was good? Well, I just thought of another bad thing so that can wait. What happened to the Dodo? When Alice takes her first proper steps into Wonderland she’s greeted by a group of animals and the Tweedles who all go on to play an important role in the story. Except the Dodo. He just kind of disappears. I think the most he appears later is handing a flamingo to the Red Queen and then he’s gone for the rest of the film. The dog gets more screentime, the dog!
No, it’s time to talk about the good things. Because there are good things to this film. What it does bad is bad, but what it does good it does very very good. For example, Alice. Mia Wasikowska and her incredible last name is a fantastic Alice, perfectly portraying an elder Alice in all our oddness. She floats through the film whenever not called upon to be wildly out of character for an odd heroic scene and kind of tumbles through conversation. She’s really quite the joy to watch act and makes Alice very fun.
Also, shockingly, Helena Bonham Carter is a great Red Queen. No, I mean this. She’s great. She goes completely over the top and really goes for the extremes the character. She’s petty, self indulgent and has an ego bigger than her CGI head. She’s scary when she has to be and silly at all other times. Carter just threw herself at the role and let go and it really shows.
As her counterpart, Anne Hathaway also does a great White Queen and invests much more character into the role than the film allows. She’s flouncy and pretty with an air of nobility, then suddenly she’s spitting into a bowl she’s just mashed fingers into. I’d like to imagine she’s a fairy princess who happens to burn down houses occasionally and listens to Marilyn Manson. I could happily watch a film that is just Hathaway and Carter as these characters, serious or not.
The Cat as well is simply amazing. I love the Cheshire Cat, and everything adaptation tends to produce their own interpretations and wonderful versions of the Cat. Here, with the voice of Stephen Fry and some truly hilarious deadpan snarking, the Cat is a force all unto his own. He’s not nearly on screen enough and even when he is he’s probably invisible or just a set of eyes and some teeth. The Cat was simply put my favourite part of the film and every moment with him on screen was pure joy to my bleeding eyes.
Hmmm, oh yes, what else was good…
Let me see…
The visuals.
The visuals.
This is flat out the most beautiful film I have ever seen. Wonderland is brought to life as it should be. Save for the Hatter, all the designs look like they’ve come straight out of the book. Horseflies dart around, the Tweedles kind of roll to all their destinations, the White Pieces all have Chess Piece heads while the Cards are made from living scale armour. The Red Queen is followed around by a group of fawning sycophants with other enlarged features in her pointy Red Castle and its river of heads. The White Queen lives in a glorious sterile White Caslte surrounded by Georgian nobility with her black lipstick hinting towards that darker side of her personality.
I really cannot do the look of this film justice with my words, its just… amazing, simply amazing. Beautiful landscapes, brilliant character designs, amazing sets, amazing amazing amazing how much can I say it amazing amazing amazing.
The Jabberwocky sent chills all down my spine. He was perfect.

If you can put up with the appalling story and Hatter focus, then you’re in for a real treat for your eyes folks. This is not the greatest film you’ll ever see and frankly there’s much better films out there, but if you’re going to see a film right now this is worth a watch, even if its just for the pretty sights and the Cat. Always for the Cat.


3 Responses to “Alice in Underland?”

  1. Voidseraph said

    I can’t argue with anything you’ve said. Apart from I didn’t think that the hatter slipping into scottish was horrible, just seemed to me to be another facet of his madness, though would’ve been better if he had slipped into other accents too, perhaps. Something you didn’t mention was that the Hatter seemed to have a romance thing with the White Queen in his unecessary tortured past, which I thought was again more unnecessary-ness. That being said, I enjoyed the experience as a whole. And the Cat is amazing.

  2. ianogden said

    Well said, although the Visuals didn’t look as real as I wanted them to. Burton’s collaboration with Depp is becoming stale. I want him to bring back the passion that went into Beetlejuice and Frankenweenie. What are your thoughts on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

  3. jibar23 said

    Depp was a terrible Willy Wonka. Flat out. He’s a mix between a child molester and an obsessive compulsive, which just isn’t what a man who builds this amazing factory should be. However, Charlie had much more character in Burton’s film than the old one and I do like the designs of the factory and ‘real’ world in Burton’s film.
    That’s really the strength of Burton, the pictures he can craft through his films. That’s why I first fell in love with The Nightmare Before Christmas, and why Sleepy Hollow really appeals to me. Both very different, but very unique and you can track them back to Burton easily. Alice gets a huge boost in this regard as he has the drawings from the original novel to work with and he emulates them perfectly which is why Hatter looks so out of place at times: his design being Burton, while the rest is Alice.
    Depp just… stagnates with Burton these days. There’s no real effort between either of them on their projects like there was in the old days. What they need is time apart, to work on other separate projects and then come back reinvigorated with new ideas.
    Until then, I’ll go fawn over another director until then. Like Sam Raimi, or Neill Blomkamp

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