Thursday, 18 March 2010

Alice In Wonderland

I've read many reviews - good, bad, neutral - and generally, I agree with most. The good and the neutral; not necessarily the bad.
Apparently, the Financial Times gave it 1 star - that is harsh: 3 star, maybe, no more than 4.

People have complained that Wonderland isn't very wondrous - it's dark, it's very Tim Burton, and mirrors his general style. Hell, it's Tim Burton, and wouldn't be if it didn't have the twisted trees, slightly grey-tinted colouring, and general air of the surreal gloom.  However I disagree with the view that it's supposed to be pretty at all; for starters, there is no way that a lot of the films based on the books can be described as a pretty happy dream. Look at Disney: you've a raving lunatic and angry people chasing you; you're told you're a snotty brat, and insulted, and interrogated by an arrogant riddler of a caterpillar. How is that hunky dory?
The version staring Tony Majorino was less than a pleasant dream, either. The fact that the caterpillar even says that Alice was the person that called it 'Wonderland', and 'got that wrong', emphasises Burton's wish that this isn't the pretty fantasy story that people think that Lewis Carroll wrote (she misinterpreted it as a child, hint hint) but actually a pretty twisted, unpleasant place, with characters that are darker than they appear.

Tim Burton has managed very well the tradition of mirroring the problems Alice has to solve for herself with those that she has just encountered in the real world; though I *could* go super English Lit Hidden Meanings Critique on you, I won't. We'll just say that being brave enough to kill a fire-breathing lizard thing is enough to say no to a lot of people, rather than what was clearly going on in my and Hannah's head.
The portrayal of the two queens couldn't be more wonderful; Helena Bonham Carter (goddess) is a big-headed, misunderstood older sibling that has been forever the forgotten child, wishing to be loved. When that didn't work, she'd throw a tantrum. And so, after years of neglect in favour of the pretty, wishywashy younger sister, she takes her own back and seizes the throne that is technically hers, if we follow the laws of primogeniture.
Anne Hathaway is brilliantly flowery and flamboyant; sort of reminded me how I used to think ballet princesses had to move or did move, in real life. I think, though, under that, she probably was as dark as her sister; she probably, if she let herself go, would have been overcome and been quite as brutal. It makes me wonder what the backstory is - something which unfortunately, Tim Burton is famous for having potential for, but never managing.

Johnny Depp deserves a separate paragraph. The lovely Depp - what can I say? I'm afraid that he, like Tim Burton, has lost some of his "muchness". I am a huge fan of Johnny Depp - he's a fantastic actor, and is so very versatile, but I have to agree with some of the professionals' opinions on this one: His brogue accent was a bit dubious, and sometimes he slipped too much into previous roles. His walk, when greeting Alice the first time, was Jack Sparrowish, and I remember seeing the trailer, and cringing as I heard a hint of the loveable pirate rogue in his voice.
I do not blame him entirely - Tim Burton could have restrained him; made him not do the voice. But then it was such a contrast with his innocent (adorable) lispy voice that I guess it was almost appropriate.
I can certainly see why his performance has been criticised so much; he is swamped by the fantastic extras, but most of all by the kickass Helena, Anne and (newcomer, for me) Mia Wasikowska.

The three ladies were the true stars. We had the assuredness of the White Queen, the fearfully insecure Red Queen and Alice, who is sure of herself, and yet not quite sure what she has inside of her. Mia's performance was fantastic as she put up with being shrunk, blown up, shrunk, blown up, resized, scratched, "accused of being Alice and Not Alice", and generally being told what to do.
On a side note, her face reminds me a lot of Susannah Harker - she could be a younger sister.
But anyway. I thought she was great.
 A surprising, unassuming character did sneak into the fore though; Crispin Glover as Stayne, the Knave of Hearts. He was lecherous, smarmy and strangely menacing, but in an understated way; not in a brutish sense, nor in a brainy-world-domination-mastermind way. He manipulates everybody, but also has to appear under the thumb of his masters. His comeuppance was thoroughly suitable.

The extras; Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Barbara Windsor, Michael Sheen and so forth:
Stephen Fry, and the Cheshire Cat in general was /gorgeous/. I honestly wanted to scratch him behind his ears, and stroke him. Really. And obviously, Stephen Fry's voice is fantastic, so there were no complaints there.
Michael Sheen was better in the later scenes - he can do scared and timid and such very well. He's a rabbit, so obviously the body language has much to do with it, but vocally, I found him too like his normal voice when he wasn't busy being scared and threatened.
Mat Lucas was funny as Tweedledee and Tweedledum. I really liked what Burton did with them; I never liked the Disney version of the twins, and I wasn't too keen on Robbie Coltrane's rendition either. I guess Mat Lucas also has that natural ability to look thoroughly confused.
Alan Rickman was unrecognisable except for his voice, and played the underused Caterpillar, whilst Barbara Windsor was given a surprisingly upbeat version of the Dormouse - instead of sleeping in a teapot, and being abused by Hatter and March Hare, she stabbed people, beat up the Banditsnatch, threatened the Queen and volunteered to be the White Queen's champion. I wasn't sure if I enjoyed her vocal abilities, but as far as firing up the nocturnal rodent, I wasn't too unenthusiastic.

The film had a lot of potential, but it never quite reaches the true brilliance that could have been; Tim Burton, apparently, didn't even want to do the film, he felt peer pressured into it. Which is enough of a reason in my eyes to slap him - don't do a film you don't want to, Tim, cause frankly, if your heart's not in it, you won't get it right.
Nobody really properly likes Alice in Wonderland - the story, or its author - but he had such a lot of plastercine and used so little of it.
He scrapes away some of the surface of the relationship of the Queens, to present a vague back story, and he even critiques the common held view that Alice had a fine time in Wonderland the first time round - it looked as though, during flashbacks in the film, people were trying to make it seem wonderful for her, even though underneath there was a twisted future and reality.
Unfortunately, Tim Burton never fully allows us to see more of the characters than what the other people see - never see inside their heads or allow us to fully realise the bonds between characters, or their true fears. It was fairly basic.

It was thoroughly refreshing though to have a film where the female leads rose above the cast, and not only because Alice is the heroine (she wears armour, for crying out loud), and the Red Queen is the obvious villain or antagonist in the film.
I suspect that 3D films should be left alone by Tim Burton - particularly where live-action filming is concerned. As pretty as some of it was, it wasn't quite right in many places, probably because he filmed it in 2D and then converted it (tut tut).
People should see it if they're interested, and hope to enjoy it, but don't expect it to be on par with Edward Scissorhands, Sweeney Todd and Corpse Bride. But it's infinitely better than Planet of the Apes!

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