Are you ready to go back through the mirror? This holiday weekend, Walt Disney follows up on its mega-hit Alice in Wonderland -- which grossed north of $1 billion dollars back in 2010 – with the colorful Alice Through the Looking Glass. Tim Burton decided to pass on the sequel, but original stars such as Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter all returned for a second adventure in Underland. Will you?
As our regular readers will know, this is NOT a review of Alice Through the Looking Glass. (That, you can find right here.) Instead, this is a conversation on the film’s use of 3D, helping you decide whether or not your hard-earned money should be spent on the 3D ticket if and when you decide to check out Alice at the movies. Disney has been on a roll with its 3D output recently, earning good-to-great scores for Captain America: Civil War and The Jungle Book. Can Alice extend the streak? Let’s see.
The majority of the story told by director James Bobin in Alice Through the Looking Glass takes place in the whimsical world of Underland (a phrase coined by Tim Burton in the original film). And everything that we have come to know about Underland paints it as a trippy and psychedelic land, meaning the visuals absolutely should lend themselves to creative 3D manipulation. Add in Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) as an adversary, and Alice comes across as a solid fit for a 3D big-screen treatment.
Planning & Effort Score
After a dismal and flat start (visually), involving scenes set in the "real" world of London, Alice Through the Looking Glass proved that Bobin and his crew remembered the 3D aspect when Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returned to the magical realm of Underland. For a few minutes, I feared that the 3D would be totally ignored – those opening scenes are ugly – but the effort really starts to shine once the movie is safely ensconced in the surreal environments of Underland, where the Mad Hatter’s home, Time’s clock headquarters, and the waves of time are able to take full advantage of all that 3D has to offer.
Before the Window Score
Sadly, Alice is just the latest 3D movie that can’t figure out how to make anything pop off of the screen (the area we consider Before the Window). Not that there weren’t opportunities. The movie actually opens with a thrilling sailboat sequence that SHOULD have had masts, sails and anchors poking out at us. It never happened. Once, when Alice stuck her fingers through the mirror, I thought her hand almost broke the film’s plane. Outside of that, no real effort went into making objects land in an audience’s lap. Even a blue butterfly, which could have been a great effect fluttering around the theater, looked flat and incomplete. Why can’t 3D movies figure out this once-important aspect of the technology?
Beyond the Window Score
Usually, this is where a 3D movie makes up for the fact that objects don’t pop off the screen anymore. Proper 3D conversions can create lush, deep visual environments that are fun to explore with our eyes. And while SOME of this occurs in Alice Through the Looking Glass -- especially when Alice (Wasikowska) is hopping through the colorful Underland – there are too many scenes in Looking Glass that do next to nothing with their deep focus. Those early London scenes are actually very blurry in the backgrounds. And several Underland scenes are set in the dark, so there isn’t much to see. Not worth the time, sadly.
As I just mentioned, there’s a fair amount of Alice that is set at night, or in darkened scenes that diminish the strength of 3D. Candle-lit cinematography in two key locations – in Time’s clock headquarters, and on the waves of time that Alice rides – produce visuals that are silver and indigo, largely, and those muted colors don’t help the 3D to pop. Some scenes, most involving the Hatter (Depp), blast color and brightness across the screen. But Alice gets an overall poor grade for its scattered use of brightness, which is needed to overcompensate for the shade of the 3D glasses.
Glasses Off Score
Alice Through the Looking Glass has significant blur on its images when you take your glasses off during a screening. Once Alice enters Underland, James Bobin and his team likely relied heavily on green-screem to create their visuals, meaning they had full control over their 3D manipulation. So if you try to watch Alice scenes with no glasses on – giving the bridge of your nose a break – you will have a tough time making out what’s happening in screen because of the blur. This means there’s a strong amount of 3D done in post-conversion. I just wish it looked better.
Audience Health Score
I’ll give Audience Health a good grade, because the action scenes in Alice, when they occur, are smooth and subdued. The choreography isn’t choppy, and we’re never left catching our breath or steadying ourselves against he rapid camera swings that tend to disrupt a 3D presentation. That also means Alice isn’t very exciting… but on the positive side, the meager way that the action scenes glide leads to a healthy 3D experience (which probably is good for kids).
3D SCORES RECAP
P & E
Before The Window
Beyond The Window
Glasses Off Test
Final Verdict: Not great. And the categories that matter most, from Before the Window to Brightness, got the worst grades. Good intentions are one thing, but the surreal nature of Underland should have produced some crazy, inventive and eye-popping 3D visuals, and Alice Through the Looking Glass did not. Coming off the 3D domination that is The Jungle Book, I was hoping that Disney had figured out how to really make their live-action fairy tale fantasies explode off the screen. Alice doesn’t, so save your money.
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Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Sean created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.