Wednesday, March 10, 2010

REVIEW: Alice in Wonderland

When I saw Alice in Wonderland, I decided to avoid the 3D showing. Unlike Avatar, Alice in Wonderland was not shot with 3D in mind. Instead, the 3D was added in post production. I'd read several reviews that stated the 3D effect was distracting, so I decided to see it "flat."

Well, as it turns out, the movie is flat no matter what dimension it's in. This is Tim Burton's weakest film to date - the first I can't recommend at all.

One of the most familiar refrains of the classic Alice in Wonderland is story is "curiouser and curiouser." This film is curious all right, but in all the wrong ways. It tries to give too many of the characters in the film a reason for being - something Alice in Wonderland not only doesn't need,  but should never have.

This movie isn't a straight re-telling of Alice's adventures. Rather, it's a sequel of sorts. In this chapter, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is a 19-year-old who has no memory of her journey to Wonderland as a child, although she's haunted by strange recurring dreams with strange creatures. Just as she gets a marriage proposal, Alice sees the white rabbit, and before she knows it, it's "eat me" and "drink me" time again.

There are many things to admire in this film. Wasikowska is excellent as Alice - all at once vulnerable, yet crafty and determined. Helena Bonham Carter devours the scenery with relish as the Red Queen, Unlike other reviewers, I rather liked Anne Hathaway's icy take on the White Queen. And as is true of most of Burton's films, it looks great, with its wildly weird designs and mostly wonderful effects.

Still, Linda Woolverton's rather tortured screenplay obfuscates these good qualities. This may seem like a strange thing to say for a Hollywood film, but this screenplay "thinks" too much, trying to provide the characters with motivations, with  reasons for being. For example, we're treated to the backstory of the Mad Hatter, who apparently went mad because of a past misfortune.

As George Carlin once said "I did not need to be TOLD that!" I don't want to know why the Mad Hatter is mad. His madness is part of his intrinsic appeal, and to explain that away is to lessen that appeal. The movie ends up feeling like a bad trip to the psychiatrist's couch. I'm also sorry to say the Mad Hatter isn't one of Depp's more inspired portrayals. He's a mishmash of past Depp characterizations: a little Jack Sparrow, a little Willy Wonka, a little Sam from Benny and Joon. It's all shtick he's done before and done better.

Almost as if the filmmakers knew the story wasn't there, they tried to build to a big action climax, but it plays like a candy-colored outtake from Lord of the Rings. It's dull and ineffectual.

This film strips the wonder from Wonderland. As my friend Angie so cleverly put it, why spend so much time trying to make sense out of nonsense?


1 comment:

Kim said...

I found myself disappointed as well - it had so much potential - but really fell a little flat. I can't agree with you on Wasikowska's performance - I thought the flatness of the movie was mostly due to her. To me she seemed completely expressionless and totally unbelievable. I didn't think she had much muchness at all - I expected her to nod off at any minute. And I get that these characters are supposed to be over the top - but Anne Hathaway's White Queen tended to be over-acted, cheesy high school play to me. I do agree that Helena's Red Queen was the main saving grace, along with the stunning visuals. Johnny was fine - nothing to blow me away but reasonable quality work - and I totally agree that he didn't need to be explained! It was all just rather weird - and not in the good weird kind of way that I wanted it to be! If this were grade school - I think Tim Burton would need to call "do over!" It sure is raking in the cash in spite of it all though!