Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Alice in Wonderland (2010) Review

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 Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Take a trip down this rabbit hole

You know the movies that have an actor that perfectly suits a particular character or director that is the same for the type of material? Angelina Jolie as Grendal’s lustful mother in Beowulf, Sam Raimi tackling Spider-Man, and, well, Tim Burton taking a stab at Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And now Burton is back for more material to scratch his oddball itch with the latest adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Since Carroll originally wrote the book way back in 1865, there have been numerous attempts to bring the book to life on film. Most didn’t have the resources to pay full respect to Carroll’s vision, which was dense with visual details and tricky character designs. This is probably why the most well-known adaptation has been Disney’s 1951 animated version, which despite having a lighter tone than the very dark source material managed to bring many of the original characters and environments to life in probably the only conceivable way. But now that technology has advanced in ways that possibly any story could be told, Disney is back in the Alice sack with Burton at the helm and the results are pretty damn impressive.

Plot Synopsis: Over a decade after her first trip to Wonderland, nineteen-year-old Alice Kingsley has convinced herself that her experience there was only a weird dream. Now she is set to marry Hamish Ascot, whose family owns Alice’s recently deceased father’s trading firm. Obviously Alice is not content with this, especially since her imaginative personality conflicts with the stuck-up British society. During the marriage ceremony, she sees a mysterious white rabbit running around the area and runs off to follow it. Eventually, the rabbit jumps down his hole, and when Alice peers into it, she slips and falls down the hole. Upon her landing and going through an interesting Drink Me/Eat Me sequence, she soon enters the world of Wonderland, which looks just like how it was in her “dream.” Soon, she (re) meets the White Rabbit, Cheshire Cat, March Hare, and Mad Hatter, who explain that the Red Queen has gained control of most of the land from her sister, the White Queen. On Alice and the Hatter’s voyage to the White Queen’s castle, the Red Queen’s forces capture the Hatter while Alice slips away from sight. Now, Alice must rescue the Hatter and then meet up with the White Queen, who believes Alice can restore order to the land by defeating the Red Queen’s champion, the Jabberwocky, a powerful dragon.

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As it turns out, this Alice in Wonderland has more similarities to Lewis Carroll’s sequel, Through the Looking Glass, than his first Wonderland journey. The movie works as a combination between the two stories, containing major plot points such as the Jabberwocky from Looking Glass and a few memorable events from the original such as the tea party are thrown in for good measure. I’m also pleased to say that, while not completely in line with the almost disturbing tone of Carroll’s text, Burton has kept in much of the darkness and unsavory elements that you wouldn’t expect in a children’s story. There are quite a few moments that really shocked me in how dark they were, such as the Dormouse eviscerating quite a few eyeballs with her pin and one moment where Alice must hop over the moat surrounding the Red Queen’s castle by using the heads of her past victims. But this twisted nature didn’t turn me off, quite the contrary, it made me appreciate that Disney would allow Burton to have some level of freedom with the tone. Burton’s visuals are, not surprisingly, spectacular, with Wonderland’s vibrant colors and surreal nature giving the movie a dreamlike feel, which is fitting considering the story. The visualization of the story is superb, and lets face it, most of you will see this movie just for the visuals. To be it mildly, you’ll get the lion’s share of them and LSD-like trippy-ness.

What makes the movie even more interesting is how Burton plays with the archetypical story, which many Carroll fans will have trouble accepting. The contrast between the White Queen and Red Queen (white=purity and kindness, red=anger and violence) is felt, especially in the clash between the Red Queen’s playing card soldiers (deception) and the White Queen’s chess fighters (adherence to rules). Placing Alice as a symbol of simultaneous rebellion and girl power gives the character more depth than the passive book version. Burton also visually uses the White Queen and her people for an important shift in Alice’s feelings and motivations near the end. He injects his practically patented weird touch to the story, and there’s a refreshing amount of black humor that made me laugh quite frequently. The gothic fairy-tale air that permeates the movie is felt in the Sleepy Hollow-esque nighttime sequences where the trees have that curved look to them. The fantasy adventure framework is put to decent use and gives the story a foundation to stand on, but sometimes it became too clich√© such as with a battle finale which, while fitting within the context of this retelling, feels unnecessary and somewhat excessive.

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What does work in the expansion of the story is making Alice a more fleshed out character. As written by Carroll, Alice was a passive pawn moving through events without much consequence and little character development. This worked because it allowed readers to put themselves in her position. For the movie adaptation, they have decided to make her a full-fledged character. I didn’t mind this change, and in the context of watching a movie it worked pretty well. It also helped that Mia Wasikowska, whom I was on the fence about at first because of her unknown status, was strong as Alice and held her own against her more colorful costars. One of those being Johnny Depp, Burton’s favorite player, who plays the Mad Hatter with almost Heath Ledger Joker-like insanity. While the Hatter has a cheery attitude most of the time, Depp plays the character as a personality-shifting enigma that always appears to be on the verge of a mental breakdown. However it is because of Depp’s strength as an actor that we also see a bit of sadness in his eerie green eyes. Burton’s other favorite (and real-life partner), Helena Bonham Carter, is also a delight as the bratty and child-like Red Queen. Providing fine and entertaining supporting work is Anne Hathaway (White Queen), Stephen Fry (Cheshire Cat, my favorite side character), and Alan Rickman (the hookah smoking Caterpillar).

If nothing else, Tim Burton’s version of Alice in Wonderland gives viewers exactly what they would want and expect from this production, namely trippy and slightly dark visuals that stimulate and amaze. Those going in to the theaters hyped up on drugs (to get into the Lewis Carroll spirit of course!) should get their moneys worth, and the 3D effects will surely add to that. A word of advice though to those not chemically enhancing their experience beforehand…the 3D was disappointingly not worth it. The effects were fine and all (except when Alice fell down the rabbit hole, which was cluttered and headache-inducing), but the glasses give the movie a sickly green tint that looks really odd. When I flipped down the glasses, the colors and brightness were boosted exponentially. If you go in expecting a deep story, well, you won’t get that. But if you want to see a fun fantasy adventure with a dark sense of humor and atmosphere filtered through the mind of one of Hollywood’s best visionaries, then drop into the movie theater rabbit hole and experience Alice in Wonderland.

Initial Rating: 3/4     Revised Rating: 2.5/4

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