"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes -- and ships -- and sealing-wax --
Of cabbages -- and kings --
Of why 3D can ruin a plot,
And why Tim’s lost his wings.
Following the success of Avatar’s 3D vision, Tim Burton woke up one morning, his already Einstein-like hair shooting in all directions, and had an “aha!” moment. From there he went to the studio and "painted" 3D over portions of many of his movie's scenes, much like the original Alice had to with the Queen of Heart’s roses. After all, Burton had $250,000,000 to play with. Why not feed the 3D junkies? In Alice in Wonderland, director Tim Burton has given us many scenes that look pretty but mean little, leaving details and sideplots to fall by the wayside or run amuck.
Here’s the basic gist: six-year-old Alice (Mairi Ella Challen) reminisces about a fantastical world. Her father tells her she is only recounting dreams and she is comforted. A few years later, her father is dead and her mother has engaged her to her (get this) father’s business partner’s son, Hamish. He’s creepy and gluttonous and has some virulent features, including bright red hair, let me tell you, sugar. Alice, now played by Mia Wasikowska, runs away from the proposal and follows a familiar white rabbit down a familiar hole, now dolled up with CGI pianos, beds, and bookcases.
She falls into Underland (she mistakenly called it Wonderland upon her first visit), where she meets (not in this order) the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), the Blue Caterpillar (Alan Rickman), and Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (Matt Lucas). It is not long before Alice discovers she is destined to defeat the great Jabberwocky (Christopher Lee) with a sword and armor that will be bequeathed to her, as long as she is indeed the “real Alice.” There is apparently a great debate about whether or not she is indeed the right Alice for the task at hand.
From here, the plot thickens and thickens and thickens and thickens. There’s a weird sideplot that is never fully fleshed out about the Red Queen’s odd emotional ties to her second-in-command, Stayne (Crispin Glover). He, in turn, is apparently only attracted to power. We glimpse this in a scene where he drools over a very tall Alice (Honestly, the most bizarre scene in the movie. What could possibly be creepier than a one-eyed Crispin Glover threateningly professing a desire for a giantess 19-year-old girl?). Depp’s Mad Hatter is off his rocker, apparently from the mercury used in hat making, but he is more irritating than plot furthering. Apparently, the White Queen delves a bit into the dark arts, proving that everyone in this place exists in some sort of grey area between good and bad, although it doesn’t explain her usage of what my boyfriend calls “T-rex arms” in every scene. Perhaps some shit went down in the editing room, but I felt a bit like Alice while I was watching this movie, getting lost at every turn.
On another note, I get that Alice needed to have some sort of adventure, but did Burton really need to make this into a standard-issue epic, complete with ridiculous beasts, armor, and grandiose battle scenes? I understand, since the Jabberwocky is from Through the Looking Glass, the battle scene is probably an homage to a plot in that book where chess pieces come to life. I get it, I get it, it’s genius! It’s not, it’s silly, and more importantly, it’s boring. I know I’ve been knocking on Tim Burton a bit because this movie is pretty bad; but at its heart, it is based in shoddy writing, your shoddy writing, Linda Woolverton, and audiences deserve to know that.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh. Compared to 17 Again, a movie I also gave 2 stars, Alice in Wonderland is way more thought out. It’s gorgeous to look at; its characters often have some sort of depth. But you know what, in all its shallowness, I actually enjoyed 17 Again. I even laughed three or four times, probably for the wrong reasons, but still. I hated Alice in Wonderland. I found no redeemable reason to ever watch the movie again. Sure, it’s cool to look at -- but so is every other Tim Burton film. Sure, some of the acting is really nifty, but similar performances can be seen in other, better Burton films. There are ideas going on; unfortunately, there are too many ideas that fail to flesh out into a cohesive form. Tim Burton’s not an idiot, not do I think he’s totally lost his touch. He just needs to go back to the drawing board, and he needs to chill out with the over-indulgent ideas. Or maybe he just needs to start making movies for people who give a shit about movies again.
* Note: This disc is obviously not in 3D. Perhaps with the 3D effects, my mind would have given Alice in Wonderland brownie points, and thus a better star rating. Without the 3D, this movie falls flat.
Disney is offering many of its new movies as three-disc combo packs, meaning the buyer will get a Blu-Ray version, a DVD to play on road trips, and a digital disc, in case a family should want to put their movie on a computer or iPod, etc. This monster of a DVD lists for $44.99, although Alice in Wonderland has been specifically discounted to $24.99 plus tax. Without the discount, that’s like paying for an entire season of Chuck (more than 14 hours of pleasant TV watching), even more expensive than a season of Six Feet Under (roughly 14 hours of prime TV). I can’t even compare that price to a film, because the only films that I know of that cost that much are awesome box sets. Really, Disney?
The special features on this disc are not bad. The special features on the Blu-Ray are about the making of the characters and the making of the film. Actual shots of movie-making footage are peppered with interviews from actors and others involved in the film-making process. It was really interesting to see how most of the movie was shot with a green screen. It’s weird, because even in non-action sequences, like when the queen is playing croquet, the entire scene is created with CGI. So when the scene was shot, there’s just the queen and her minions standing there, and Helena Bonham Carter is holding this green wire flamingo. Wire flamingo to animated scene. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of seeing how that is done (but I will say, I have seen this how to stuff before, so if you are the type of person who tires…).
There’s also a special bit about Johnny Depp’s Futterwacken dance that should be watched, but I’ll leave that bit up to the imagination.