Thursday, March 04, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

Before I went to see Alice in Wonderland, yesterday, a friend told me that Johnny Depp had modelled his 'look' on Elijah Wood, particuarly the eyes (in the movie, Depp seems to have these permanently wide open). If he hadn't mentioned it, I never would have given it a thought. To me, Depp just plays yet another of his eccentric characters, and whether he's based it on someone else's persona or not hardly seems to matter.

We had the pleasure of watching the movie in 3D, which certainly gave it an extra touch of extravagance. Without that, I'm not sure what I would have thought of the movie. It's overstated in a typically Tim Burton way: everything is extreme, and it's full of extraneous detail that even with 3D you don't have time to catch up with. And the characters, which start out as eccentric anyway, are heightened in this regard by all the possibility of modern CGI.

Thus Helena Bonham Carter (the Red Queen) is not only smaller than normal, but also has a larger head. Crispin Glover (who was, of course, the inept father in the Back to the Future series) here plays a full-blooded villain, whose size is just a little out of sync with the Red Queen's. Anne Hathaway is painfully beautiful, almost a mockery of herself, and yet still plays against her usual naive, sweet screen personality. Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter really is mad; but in this world that's hardly noticeable.

The film opens with Alice as a six-year-old, being assured by her father (played by New Zealander Marton Csokas, who suddenly has a bunch of movies in the pipeline after seeming to be invisible for two or three years) that she isn't mad having nightmares - the whole world is mad. Eleven years later and Alice is due to be engaged to a nauseous Lord, and is surrounded by poncy English nobility. She breaks free of this unpleasant crowd, falls down a hole and into Wonderland, where there's some dispute as to whether she really is Alice, since she doesn't seem to remember anything about the place. (Shades of Hook.)

All the old characters are there, and possibly some new ones. I'm not au fait enough with the Lewis Carroll stories to be sure whether everyone who appears here is in the books. The Jabberwocky turns up as the Red Queen's 'champion' for a major fight with Alice at the end, something that isn't strictly Carollian (an unnamed boy despatches the beast in the second Alice book), and various other liberties are taken. Of course, it is eleven years later, so no doubt things will have changed. However, looking at synopses of the original stories, it appears that Burton and his scriptwriter have pulled in characters from both the books without regard to their original places in the stories.

Mia Wasikowska doesn't make the most exciting Alice. She's a bit pale and wan, and lacking in energy somehow. Even her fight with the Jabberwocky at the end is rather tame, and it's more than a little surprising that she manages to overcome him. And when she returns to real life, much more sure about herself, she still seems as though she's missing something in the way of strength. I found her the least believable part of the movie altogether, which is rather ironic.

And CGI has come so far that we almost fail to be impressed with what happens in movies now. Avatar (which I saw in 2D) managed to impress because it viewed the world in an original way. Alice doesn't quite do that. The story is fairly tame (and there are some odd holes in it), and while the CGI really is superb, it's mostly things that we've seen before....except that it was in 3D, which made it rather more exciting. (The sense of being able to reach out and touch the butterfly that hovers in front of you right towards the end is extraordinary.)

We're becoming blase about what can be done in the movies, regrettably. I saw Fantastic Mr Fox not long ago, and it was wonderful....yet.... How can we capture that sense of freshness when we come to the movies now? We've been spoiled silly by what's possible.


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