Alice in Wonderland 3-D Review

6 03 2010

Tim Burton narrowly avoids becoming dead to me. Johnny Depp is not so lucky.

First off, the trailers:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Looks better than other kid’s fare, but I have no interest in seeing this.

How to Train Your Dragon: Doesn’t look terrible, just a predictable kids movie about not taking things at face value.

The Legend of the Guardians: CGI animated armored owls battle for…something. Looks awesome, and it’s directed by Zach Snyder. He failed with Watchmen, but I think he’s a great visual filmmaker. My wife is very excited for this movie.

The Karate Kid: Jackie Chan teaches Will Smith’s kid kung-fu. WHY THE HELL IS THIS MOVIE CALLED “THE KARATE KID”!?!?!?!?!?

Tron Legacy: I didn’t really care about this until I saw the new trailer, in 3-D. This looks amazing, and made me want to watch the original again.

Ok, now on to Alice in Wonderland.

I went in with pretty low expectations, carrying the baggage of the miserable Planet of the Apes remake, the limp Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the knowledge that Burton hasn’t grown as a filmmaker since Ed Wood. And so the idea of watching Tim Burton adapt yet another work of someone else’s into his own gothy, quirky style didn’t exactly thrill me. And the middling, frustrated reviews I read beforehand gave me much pause. I get it, Tim. You’re an outcast. You had a childhood full of people that don’t understand you. And you have an unhealthy obsession with spirals and gnarled, scary trees. You have told us over a dozen movies. Like Kevin Smith, who writes like a 13 year-old boy still in awe of sex and bodily functions, or Quentin Tarantino, whose masturbatory dialogue was only curbed in his last film by setting it in a time period bereft of pop culture to mine, Tim Burton seems to be in a rut. And while he doesn’t exactly dig himself out of it in Alice, he does at least see the top of the ditch.

Yes, there are lots of spirals, black and white checkerboard patterns, gnarled and scary trees, and the usual Burton grotesqueries. Danny Elfman’s theme sounds familiar, because it’s the same music he’s done since forever, and yes, the heroine at first looks ill, with deep circles under her eyes and a bloodless pallor. But the movie is different in that Burton uses a LOT more color here than any of his other films, and the palette of Wonderland (or Underland, as it’s called here) seems to give him a canvas to paint some good ol’ Burton whimsy. The biggest problem in this movie is the script.

This is not an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It’s a sequel of sorts, though it retreads a lot of the same material as in the original story (it even points out the parts that it retreads late in the movie, as if screenwriter Linda Woolverton was proud of how unoriginal she was). Alice Kingsley, now 19 and looking a bit like she’s going through heroin withdrawal, is on her way to a surprise engagement party that she doesn’t want. She runs away from said party, and falls down the largest rabbit hole in England. She ends up in Underland, which is under the tyrannical rule of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter, who seems to have lost her volume control and screams “Off with his/her head!” like a Tourette’s sufferer) and the slimy Knave of Hearts (Crispin Glover, so utterly wasted that my wife didn’t even realize it was him until I told her). Apparently there is this prophecy that Alice will return to Underland one day, slay the Jabberwocky, and there will be peace in Narnia…er, Underland. Sigh. Did we really need the hero’s journey in Wonderland? I don’t think we did. Underland is a much more whimsical and fun creation than Burton’s last few dreary films, and the insanity of its inhabitants lets Burton go nuts with imaginative and original vistas that the script sadly does a disservice to. Also, the 3-D is an afterthought. If you’re going to go, save your money and just go to the 2-D. It’s just as good, and you don’t get a headache from the stupid glasses.

Mia Wasikowska plays Alice, and she’s pretty good. She totally commits to all the CGI, playing against all the talking animals convincingly enough that you don’t think too much about how much of this film is basically a cartoon. The voice actors include Alan Rickman as Absalom the Blue Caterpillar, Michael Sheen as the White Rabbit, Matt Lucas as Tweedledum/Tweedledee, and in a brilliant but too short performance, Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat. My biggest gripe in the acting department is about the two biggest names, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Depp’s Hatter is just boring, and given a completely irrelevant backstory that does not enhance the character one bit. Visually he’s very striking, but the shift in voices and mincing about seemed forced and just generally fell flat for me. I guess I just yearn for the serious actor of Dead Man, Ed Wood, and the Ninth Gate, who played real people with strange personality quirks instead of playing caricatures defined solely by those quirks. He does an awful dance number at one point that literally got a facepalm from me, though a few people in the theater laughed. I was just embarrassed for him. Like Tobey Maguire in Spider-man 3 embarrassed. It’s that bad. Helena Bonham Carter, as I said before, basically just yells “Off with their head!” a lot, at the top of her voice, which after the fifteenth time just grates on the nerves. My wife said she nails the aristocracy, a thought that I do agree with, but overall she’s just irritating.

I can’t fully recommend this one. I’m split down the middle. There were things I really liked, and things that I ardently loathed. It’s worth a watch, but not something you should rush out and see. I just have to continue my hope that Tim Burton will eventually make another original film, and Johnny Depp will redeem himself in The Tourist. I won’t hold my breath.

Follow me on Twitter! @CharlieHamlin

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