Monday, March 15, 2010

alice in wonderland

At some point in this Tim Burton movie you may notice that the characters are calling their three-dimensional world “Underland” instead of the “Wonderland” you’re accustomed to. And at some point you may also think to yourself, “Am I actually hearing them say ‘Underwhelmed’, instead? Because that would be equally appropriate.” (Zing.)

I went to see this film because everyone else had seen it and I was sick of having to run off halfway through conversations at work with my hands over my ears shrieking, “I can’t hear you!” when idle chatting unexpectedly turned towards the plot. General consensus was that the movie was average. It’s not much hype: people will tell you a movie’s terrible and it is rarely as bad as you expect, or people will tell you a movie is excellent and it turns out to just be okay, but when everyone tells you something is meh, it’s usually pretty accurate. And in this case, it was.

With the misleading title of Alice in Wonderland, you would be forgiven for thinking Burton is recreating the story we’ve already seen once before in authentic Technicolor by some little-known company called Disney. In fact, what we have here is Alice’s story thirteen years later, when she is confronted in reality by an unpleasant situation and escapes from it to the world of her youth. Though this time around, she’s having a lot of trouble waking up.

Tim Burton keeps the nepotism going with Helena Bonham Carter playing the Red Queen as bobble-head toy. He also helps bestest pal Johnny Depp pay his bills by casting him as the Mad Hatter, which, of course, he does well, but frankly I am sick of the assumption that Depp is the only actor alive today who can put on a silly headpiece and an affected voice. Too much more like this and he is in danger of becoming a cuter version of Mike Myers, a comparison not helped by the Hatter’s occasional Shrek/Fat Bastard Sco’ish accent. Alice herself is played by Our Mia Wasikowska, who has been accused of appearing to be a crack addict but, as far as I can tell, is only at the mercy of the makeup artists just like everyone else, and her voice is entrancing. In other news, Little Britain’s Matt Lucas plays both Tweedledum and Tweedledee, underused and epic of face; king of stern Alan Rickman says “stupid girl” in an eerily Snape-like voice as the blue caterpillar; Crispin Glover is put on a stretching machine as Carter’s sidekick and Anne Hathaway drifts about with her hands aflutter as the White Queen. There are of course more cameos, and good ones too. The actors are not at fault for the movie: Burton always chooses well, and is lucky that his beloved wife is a good actress seeing as he casts her in everything he does. But the cast cannot lift this movie up from mediocrity.

I can’t quite define what is lacking here. I’ve always been fairly ambivalent towards Burton’s movies, in that I never hate them but can never quite understand the level of obsession some people have for him as a director. Alice is the same: not awful, but not brilliant. The score, by Danny Elfman, is fine. The costumes are quite lovely, especially Alice’s as she grows and shrinks. So as we follow our heroine through this world, trying to save her old friends from the Red Queen’s tyrannical rule, and we cheer her on, but not actually out loud. The theatre contained one of the quietest audiences I’ve ever been part of—and it was fairly full and IMAX-sized—because there wasn’t much to react to. It wasn’t funny, or scary, or anything. It just was.

Avatar, while being fairly crap, has done one thing to audiences: it has spoiled us in regards to visuals. If Alice in Wonderland had come out before Avatar, instead of the other way around, perhaps Tim Burton’s world would have stunned us more. As it is, James Cameron’s world was so captivating that 3D has to hit you upside the head with immersion to have an impact, and Alice did not. Burton’s beautiful use of colour—draining everything in the White Queen’s world, enriching it in the Red Queen’s, and making it blossom in the end credits—is always something to be admired, but still did not lift the movie.

For something that costs a fortune to see—we paid forty-four dollars, even before food—it doesn’t feel worth it. Unlike Avatar, it’s not necessary to see it 3D. Save your money now; hire it on DVD in a few months. It’s worth $5.95, surely, but $22.00? Not much is.

Two notes: one, don’t bother staying until the end of the credits, nothing happens; and two, it is one of the few things I’ve seen recently that passes the Bechdel Test. If anything, see it for that.

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