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Saturday, May 22, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW - Alice in Wonderland

It’s very possible that Tim Burton’s best days are long behind him. If you’ve never read Alice in Wonderland, do me a favor. Google it. Read the synopsis on Wikipedia. Or go on Sparknotes. Then continue this review. Done? Pretty ridiculous right? For better or for worse, it sounds like the type of bizarre story that Burton ejaculates on the screen every time he’s given a script. Burton was once an inspiring visual master-- Baking a unique, yet beautiful cake with great characters standing atop some wonderfully bizarre icing. (Edward Scissorhands anyone? Beetlejuice? Batman?) Alright, alright. I should really stop looking at what these great directors used to be… I know. So what’s wrong with Alice in Wonderland? Problem number one, and the main flaw, it doesn’t feel like Alice in Wonderland at all.

Alice, now all-grow’d-up, once again follows a White Rabbit to a bizarre world where she re-unites with the Mad Hatter and other beloved characters. She then struggles to remember her previous journey to Wonderland and accept the destiny of saving it... and slay a dragon. “Well no shit it doesn’t feel like Alice in Wonderland, GMAN! It’s a different story!” Noted. But you can’t make a sequel to a classic book without keeping to what made it legendary. Instead, the unfittingly epic battles pushed the film’s atmosphere closer to a Narnia flick than anything Lewis Carroll would’ve approved for Alice.

Burton stated that he felt the book was nothing more than Alice wandering from one inane character to another. Perhaps, but it was the quirkiness of these characters and the lack of sense-making that garnered such a huge following. I’m sure fans would have rather watched Alice recite “Tis the Voice of the Lobster” instead of slay a dragon. I stand firm in the position that casual moviegoers who are not familiar with the source material could've also enjoyed the peculiar world without a re-play of Prince Caspin’s climax. The action was a cop out and it was an unnecessary focus to a world that was fine without it.

Oh, sure, the visuals are great and the character designs are what we have come to expect of Burton’s films. Surprisingly, even Johnny Depp is subdued, keeping the film focused on the title character. I was in shock that this was one of the praiseworthy things about the movie. I mean, really-- How easy would it have been for Depp’s Hatter to upstage Mia Wasikowska’s Alice? Do I shake the editor’s hand or Burton’s? I know it’s not the writer’s doing.

Even with the unlikelihood that Alice would have gone on such a bombastic journey in Wonderland, I suppose the film’s story could have worked had it maintained the odd quirks that make Wonderland a wonder. Lewis Carroll is often accused of being high while writing Alice’s adventures. I can’t say I thought the same of Burton while watching his vision. (Although I’m sure someone could make the case…) Such a misfire comes off as utterly forgettable and that, my three or four readers out there in the inter-webs, is a much greater sin than being outright terrible. (Example.)

* out of ****