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Maybe it's my Literature degree, but these types of projects always suck me in. Works like Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass first grabbed my attention as a child, and I've read and reread them ever since. Some of those images stay with you, whether you've seen any of the live action or animated films or the wonderful artwork of John Tenniel from the original books.
Director Nick Willing brought us the last major version back in 1999. Ten years later, Willing is back writing and directly Syfy's newest take on the trippy classic with Alice, a two-part mini-series premiering Sunday, December 6 at 9 PM ET, and finishing Monday, December 7 at 9 PM ET. It's 150 years later in Wonderland and it's a grown-up, bolder Alice who takes the trek through the looking glass. A lot has changed; Wonderland has become an industrialized nightmare, but the major players are at least mostly recognizable.
As a fan of the original works, I found myself enjoying identifying the humanized and modernized versions of characters like the Carpenter and the Walrus, the White Rabbit and Tweedles Dee and Dum. But that's all find and good for a book dork like me. We're somewhat few and far between these days, so what's there left to enjoy for the rest of the country? More than I expected, actually.
Willing is also the mind behind Syfy's recent The Wizard of Oz revamp, Tin Man, and I couldn't even make it all the way through that. Understand that I love the Oz books and have a tendency to find and sample any forays into that equally bizarre realm. Tin Man was just so tedious and boring, I couldn't muster up the willpower to swim through it. Maybe if I was sick and couldn't reach the remote and it was on, I might have watched it to the end.
I was a little worried that Alice would have the same affect on me, but I found myself propelled forward through the four-hour running time much more efficiently. This time around, Willing keeps things moving, and sprinkles enough dashes of humor and fun throughout that I had no problem staying with Alice and her cohorts as they tried to save her boyfriend and get Alice back home.
Ironically enough, I found some parallels between Alice and Dorothy Gale's adventures in Oz. While there was no boyfriend in L. Frank Baum's tale, you did have a young girl in a strange world who just wants to find her way home. Before she can get there, though, she makes some friends who help her along the way. As Alice picked up first the somewhat silly Hatter and later the noble-but-slightly-clueless White Knight, I kept expecting her version of "The Lion" to show up.
Of those characters, Matt Frewer (Eureka) as the Knight, and Andrew Lee Potts (Primeval) as the Hatter were clearly having the most fun getting into their characters, while Caterina Scorsone was perfectly cast in the lead. These three alone were infectious enough to keep you watching. Kathy Bates was a huge "get" for the mini-series as the Queen, but I would have liked to see her do more than she did. As it was, she reminded me more of the Wicked Witch of the West, ordering her minions around from within her throneroom through most of the room.
In the story, the original Alice came to Wonderland 150 years ago, and its citizens who meet this Alice keep wondering if she's the same one from legend? Since that time, Wonderland has become overly industrialized and its citizens have been introduced to a new drug, harvested in a bizarre manner from humanity. It is the Looking Glass system that allows travel between Wonderland and Earth, and this process is threatened by Alice's arrival.
I was glad to see Alice's curiosity surface from time to time, as it made her a more familiar protagonist. Certainly the original Alice wasn't a kickboxing instructor/bad-ass who had the guts to stand her ground and fight in almost all of these crazy situations, but it's a refreshing change. It gives Scorsone's Alice at least a modicum of control over her environment, which is certainly more than the original Alice could muster until the end.
The costuming was great, and the bits of special effects we did get give me hope that this will be visually rather impressive; the cut Syfy sent us out for early review is a rather rough cut, missing most of the effects and even bits and pieces of the dialogue throughout. As a piece of film, it's a great exploration into how a project like Alice is made in the modern television world, but the rawness of the footage at times takes you out of the world.
It's rare that I'll watch the aired version of a program if I receive a review copy of it, even if that review copy is a little rough in places, but I see a lot of potential in Alice, and I want to see how that final vision came together. While they are far fewer than in Tin Man, there are parts of Alice that dragged along, but I'm hoping the visual effects can bring it all together. As much as I enjoyed this version of Carroll's classic, I can just as easily see many fans turned off by the humanizing of all his wonderful characters, and the new roles those characters have in this Queen's Wonderland.
I see this, though, more as a sequel of sorts to that work. So I leave the original Alice in Wonderland as it was, untarnished, and found myself enjoying this second trip to a much-changed Wonderland.
Alice is a two-part mini-series airing Sunday, December 6 and Monday, December 7 at 9 PM ET.