Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Alice in Wonderland

2010. Dir: Tim Burton. Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway and Crispin Glover. ●●●○○

Back on the 5th March the 2010 year of film really started, sure I had seen 8 films in cinemas already, but Alice in Wonderland was the first of my top 20 films for 2010, it was among the elite that had sparked my attention before the year had even vaguely begun. I am sad to say that it was also the first minor disappointment from that list.

Effectively this is a sequel to Lewis Carroll's well-loved children's nonsense novels in which Tim Burton - notably backed by Disney - returned Alice (Mia Wasikowska - Defiance) to a Underland torn apart with civil strife. With Alice recast as a saviour to the populace, forever destined to slay the Jabberwocky.

It all begins with an utterly pointless and ill-conceived bookend involving a snotty suitor proposing to Alice in front of a crowd of unpleasant toffs. Naturally these segments are there to show how our heroine fails to fit into the real world, and how she grows in confidence to be able to confront these caricatures by the end of the film. It's a dreadful idea but at least it's mercilly quick.

Running away from the problem leads Alice to fall back down the rabbit hole, having forgotten her previous visit she falls into the same mistakes (drinking, eating, leaving keys on tables etc.) as the last time, only without the buckets of tears. Of course she meets all the characters we know and love from the books, including the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), The Red and White Queens (Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway) and The Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), as well as a host of British establishment actors in the other roles (Matt Lucas, Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Imelda Staunton).

This being a 3D kids film there then follows a few chase scenes, some silly jokes and pointy things being pointed at the camera to prove the 3D works. There are some moments of mild peril - crossing the moat or the final confrontation - but on the whole these are pretty tame due to the target audience.

It's hard to know whether it hit the right balance, in excess of $300m in the U.S. receipts seems to indicate it got it right, even when adjusted for 3D premiums. Personally I would have liked to have seen a much scarier version - I think kids can take a lot more fears than we give them credit for - maybe even to the level of Pan's Labyrinth or Tideland both of which clearly owe a debt to Carroll's work. Perhaps a little less action would have been preferable as well. I've found that following too many chase sequences together can be really boring.

On the plus side the design, as you would expect from a Burton film, is fantastic with Art director Stefan Dechant (Avatar) proving once again that he can master an imaginery world. Colleen Atwood's (Silence of the Lambs, Big Fish) costumes were also first class, although frankly I would have been surprised if she hadn't pulled it off here.

I would also like to congratulate two of the performers who really stood out for me, and I don't include Johnny Depp whose performance was utterly baffling. The first was a triumph of casting in Barbara Windsor as the Dormouse, capturing the fierceness of the animated character (even if it wasn't in keeping with the origins). The second was Helena Bonham Carter, who clearly relished in every moment of her screentime, some of her line readings were absolutely delicious ("I do like a fat pig to keep my feet warm", anyone?) and i would glady watch the film again just to see her.

Overall I would say this was a missed opportunity, but enough moments work for it to be worth a visit.

1 comment:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Damn, HBC is amazing. Favourite line has to be "Her name is Ummm. IDIOT!!" She was exceptional.