Alice in Wonderland

[Screenshot]I am starting to think the temptation to do horrible things to the source material is such that pretty much nobody can do a good Alice in Wonderland film. The only ones I’ll give the time of day to any more are the faithful Richard Burton 1983 adaptation and Švankmajer’s completely insane but artistically fascinating Něco z Alenky. Suffice to say, Tim Burton is not really impressing me here. I already felt like we were treading some awfully well-turned-over ground when we were introduced to our proto-feminist in Victorian society, an overdone premise which seems to have the dual purpose of making the protagonist simultaneously sympathetic and wholly unrealistic. Pretty much everybody in the frame story is an absurd Victorian stereotype or deconstruction thereof, so it’s a relief to escape from caricature-world into the comparatively realistic structure of Wonderland.

Then again, maybe not. Like the Sci-Fi channel’s Alice, this film labors under the delusion that the surreal satirical fantasy world of Wonderland is a good setting for a high-fantasy epic, so everyone goes on about prophecies and swords and missions and rules, all of which is rather severely undercut that the Big Epic Battle is apparently between a bobblehead and Galadriel in black lipstick.

There are all sorts of weird mechanical mistakes I could take exception to, some of which are depressingly common in free adaptations: the Red Queen and the Queen of Hearts are hopelessly muddled (the pastiche of the two different books is fine, but these are actually fairly distinct characters), and the “Jabberwocky” is actually a poem about a creature called a “Jabberwock”, but in the end my biggest problem is one of tone. Alice in Wonderland is a fundamentally whimsical work, and these high-fantasy trappings are very hard to take seriously.

On cinematic and computer technology it’s pretty solid, but these days nobody expects otherwise from Tim Burton. He’s working with several from his usual stable of actors, and they’re delivering mostly the kind of performances they usually do: in my estimation, Helena Bonham Carter’s usual actually works pretty well as the Red Queen, but somehow Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter doesn’t quite work, because he can’t seem to decide whether to be the antagonistic and sneering Hatter of the original work, or the Captain Exposition which this reworking demands.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

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About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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