Saturday, March 6, 2010

Movie Review - Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland - **1/2

Directed by:  Tim Burton

Starring:  Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Ann Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Alan Rickman (voice), Michael Sheen (voice)

Review:  I was very disappointed by this movie.  Now, there is a difference between a bad movie and a disappointed movie.  This movie was disappointing.  A bad movie has no clear reason why it was made and no true entertainment value (see:  Wolverine, The Wolfman, Terminator Salvation); whereas a disappointing movie is a movie that had potential but squandered it.

This movie definitely had a lot of potential and only about 5-10% was actually realized.  Sad because there was so much here that could have been done so well.  There was a reason I was really excited for this movie and it was because of this potential.

The movie, of course, centers around Alice and her adventures (or misadventures) in Wonderland.  Now, this is not the original story we all know that was told in the classic animated Disney movie from the '50's or the TV version from the '90's (which was actually very well done).  Rather, this movie deals with Alice's second visit to Wonderland.  I do not know the books well enough to know if this was a story that was told in the writings of Lewis Carrol as well or if it was somebody compounding on his vision.  Either way, the story involves Alice once again falling down the rabbit hole and coming to Wonderland.

Once she has arrived, the inhabitants of Wonderland keep debating about whether or not she is the "real Alice."  You see, since Alice's last visit the evil Red Queen has taken over Wonderland and pretty much destroyed everything with the help of her Jabberwocky (which I have always thought of as one of the coolest names for a mythical creature, but I digress).  The good inhabitants of Wonderland have been searching for grown up Alice to return and destroy the Jabberwocky to restore the White Queen to power and get Wonderland back to normal.

This provides a very interesting avenue and quite a lot of freedom to explore this world.  In the hands of Tim Burton this was a very exciting prospect.  Todd McFarlane (the creator of Spawn and various different toy lines) made a series of toys about the "Twisted Land of Oz" which included a S&M Dorothy, the Tin Woodsman, a ferocious Lion, and a twisted Scarecrow among others.  This was seen as sacrilegious to fans of the Wizard of Oz, but an interesting idea nonetheless.  Taking a wholesome story that has been so ingrained in culture and turning it on it's head was a very intriguing prospect (there is even talk of a Twisted Land of Oz movie in the future).  I didn't necessarily want this version of Alice to go as far as S&M, but to make the movie darker and bit more foreboding would be perfect, especially coming from Tim Burton.

However, this movie never was truly able to get going.  The movie has a very imaginative landscape and the special effects fit the story and Wonderland well; yet, I still found myself disinterested.  The majority of the characters are completely CGI to the point that I question why they didn't just go ahead and make the entire movie animated.  The characters were all flat and didn't really make you care one way or the other for them.  The brightest spot of the movie was Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen who seemed to be the only one to have fun with her role and give her character some life.  Relative newcomer Mia Kasiwalska is flat and not really believable as Alice.  Her dialogue seems forced and she doesn't seem to have much invested into her character.  Same goes for the rest of the cast as well, all seemed disinterested, leaving the audience disinterested as well (especially Ann Hathaway's dreadful performance as the White Queen).

I mentioned earlier about the movie realizing 5-10% of it's potential, that came in the forma of relationship between The Madd Hatter (Depp) and Alice.  Depp's performance as the Hatter was contrived and hard to figure out.  He kept switching his speaking voice back and forth from the higher pitched, slightly lisped voice of the Hatter, to a much deeper Scottish Brogue type voice.  This just kept asking for a backstory as to why the Hatter kept switching (besides the obligatory "well...he's mad"), which I really wanted but never got.  Anyway, his relationship with Alice seemed to be the truest part of the movie.  There is no sexual tension between the two and it isn't really a father-daughter type relationship either.  Their relationship is that of two best friends who are the only ones who truly understand each other.  The Hatter was driven to his state of "mad-" ness by the world around him and Alice has always felt like an outsider in her own world.  However, these two are able to understand each other on a level not reached by anybody else from their own worlds.  This is something they both strive for in their lives and it is why they work so well together.  This is the best part of the movie and the only part that feels real.  But again, this was not delved into near enough and we only get a glimpse.  There could have been so much more to explore here.

Matter of fact, there could have been so much more to explore in this whole world that just went unnoticed.  The movie was more concerned with having it's resolution discovered and special effects used than just spending time in Wonderland figuring out all it's curiosities, which, if you ask me, is what the stories are all about.

I probably liked this movie less than the rating I gave it but I give Tim Burton and Johnny Depp the benefit of the doubt.  That may be stupid, but it's my review and I can do what I want.  Overall, this movie was just very disappointing and ultimately not really worth your time.

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