Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Film review by: Witney Seibold
1) Tim Burton needs to stay away from CGI. His imaginative images, fanciful places and characters, and awe-inspiring funhouse-from-heck designs only really come across when they are made of real substances and played by real actors. Drunk on his ability to manifest any image he can conjure, Burton has allowed his new film to become overstuffed and off-putting. What’s more, since all the settings were CGI, his “Alice in Wonderland” fell into that pit of misty indistinctness, forcing otherwise gorgeous and dark imagery to come across as vague and difficult to watch. I hate to say that about a Tim Burton film; I ordinarily adore his weird, crooked images and fable-like stories (matching him with “Alice in Wonderland” almost seems natural). But here, the CGI has taken away a lot of the oomph.
2) This doesn’t necessarily apply to this film specifically, but it’s something I need to say to clear the air: 3-D is not an important artistic or commercial viability. As a gimmick, it is first-rate, and I appreciate well-used gimmicks to no end. In something like “Captain Eo,” or the remake of “My Bloody Valentine,” where to 3-D is used either transparently draw audiences to an otherwise unremarkable film, or to accentuate the “event-ness” of a film, then it should be used. But when every fifth action blockbuster and animated kids’ film is being filmed in 3-D, and advertisers and Hollywood producers are loudly insisting that 3-D is “the future of filmmaking,” and a “bold artistic way to view cinema,” well, I begin to take exception. I saw “Alice in Wonderland” in 2-D, and I was glad I did. If given the option on most films, I will select 2-D, flat, 35mm film. There will be the occasional gimmick I’ll fall for (like “My Bloody Valentine” or perhaps the upcoming “Tron Legacy”), but for the most part, I’m sticking with traditional. Call me a luddite if you must.
3) What the heck was Johnny Depp doing? I love the guy, and his performances are often edgy, daring, intensely peculiar and bold. Occasionally, though. he becomes so very strange that I have trouble nailing down his character. His Willy Wonka, for instance, was a pile of odd choices. His Mad Hatter, while infinitely watchable, was also a bundle of quirks that never amounted to more than a bundle of quirks. I understand that he was, well, mad, but even in a chaotic world like Wonderland, there ought to be some sort of grounding.
4) So Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is fleeing an engagement to an insufferably stuffy blueblood wimp, and turning her back on the all-too-naturally misogynistic world of Victorian England. She is 19 years old now, and ready for grown-up things. She lands in Wonderland again, after chasing the same White Rabbit she saw before (why this film was not called “Return to Wonderland” I’ll never know), and finds herself in the middle of a land war being waged by the tyrannical Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter, with a digitally enlarged head), and the wispy White Queen (a surprisingly game Anne Hathaway). Alice is eventually enlisted by the White Queen to do battle with the Jabberwocky. Women in positions of power enlist another woman to be a knightly champion. None of the men are powerful or potential mates. This film is clearly trying to be a feminist polemic. The problem with this is that Alice herself comes across as something of a non-entity. She is often haplessly swept along in the action. When she finally does return to Earth to take over her father’s trade business (which was about to expand into China), it has less a message of personal power, and more a bold support of British imperialism. Did we really need to see a childhood icon become the catalytic enactor of the East India Company?
5) I’ve made this complaint before, and it holds true here. Why is it, when fantasy authors think up entire creative universes, full of imaginary governments, magicians, robots, dragons, etc., they can only think to put these characters on a battlefield and have them duke it out? Is a big fight really all they can think of? Surely if one has the imagination to think up an entire universe of enchanting creatures and dangerous weridos, one has the capacity to think of something better for them to do than fight.
6) The original Lewis Carroll books were works of absurd satire. This new film recasts the story as a dark and epic battleground. The world is now called Underland, and there is death lurking about every corner. I have no problem with slight darkening of material (I’m fond of the 1985 film “Return to Oz” for instance), but I wish that some of the film’s whimsy had been emphasized. Where was the sense of anarchic fun?
7) The supporting cast of actors and voice actors was a group of talented people who gave their all. Crispin Glover played the Knave of Hearts. Stephen Fry was the Cheshire Cat. This movie is entertaining I suppose, and, I believe on that basis, made a good amount of money. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but I’m glad Tim Burton has made another hit that will allow him to make more movies. He’s capable of much more than this.