01 April 2010

SyFy Alice vs. Burton Alice

For some reason that I can't understand, the story of Alice in Wonderland is increasing in popularity. With the announcement of Disney's 3-D adventure that just got released in recent weekends, video stores have been bombarded with Alice-related DVDs. For example, a old BBC miniseries (or series?) of Alice in Wonderland was released a few weeks ago, as was the SyFy Channel Alice film, a old or new Alice in Wonderland cartoon from some random distribution company, and finally, a helluva lot of movie tie-in merchandise, such as a gazillion posters of Alice, the Queen, and the Mad Hatter. Feeling a lit bit in an Alice mood now, I saw both the new Tim Burton movie and the SyFy Channel Original. My reviews as follows:


Cast: Caterina Scorsone, Andrew-Lee Potts, Kathy Bates, Harry Dean Stanton, Tim Curry, Matt Frewer, Colm Meaney, Phillip Winchester
Writer & Director: Nick Willing
Based on "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll

Release: 06/07 December 2009

SyFy Channel Original Movies, 180 mins., Unrated

Never watched the Sci-Fi Channel's Tin Man mini-series, but now I'm thinking I ought to. This modern day 'sequel' or 're-imagining' of Alice in Wonderland (although it's more of a sequel) is quite fun, and it's 180 minute running time quite honestly flew by without much notice. I enjoyed myself, I was engrossed by the characters, and the miniseries was genuinely creative, and not in the 'hey, look at me (!), I thought up this really QWHOOL thang and it's SOO original!' type of creative, but more the 'I had this idea that I thought you might like, so here it is' type. The reason I'm starting this review off so positively is that I haven't heard a lot of glowing remarks about the series since its transmission. Just a warning: this review is going to be quite positive, so if you're looking for another review that disses the hell out of it, look somewhere else.

20-year old Alice Hamilton (Scorsone) is enjoying her fantastic relationship with Jack Chase (Winchester), but when he presents to her a ring for safekeeping, she sorta freaks out and he leaves disappointed. But then Jack is black bagged, thrown into the back of a truck, and disappears; additionally, some freaky old dude steals the ring from her, and runs through a giant mirror, which Alice follows and ends up in another dimension. Well, Wonderland, to be exact. 150 years after the Alice of legend saved the day. Turns out that Wonderland is once again under the reign of the Queen of Heats (Bates), and she's created a kingdom of emotion-lustin' goons. To be more precise, she runs a operation that sells profitable emotions. Meanwhile, Alice encounters the Hatter (Potts), a man who decidedly doesn't take sides (Queen vs. Resistance), and the White Knight (Frewer), a elderly warrior who seeks redemption and believes by helping Alice, he's fulfilling his destiny. Alice really just wants to find Chase and get the frak out of Dodge.

At exactly three hours, Alice flew by faster than the entirety of Avatar. So much is happening, and there's so many unique, interesting interpretations and creations in this Wonderland (particular Mad March - see the movie to find out what that is! It's brilliant!), my attention was successfully grabbed the entire time. Plus, it helps that there's a plethora of twists and turns, wonderful dialogue exchanges, a subdued romantic element, and extremely enticing characters to make the running time fly by.

Andrew-Lee Potts' Mad Hatter is a extremely interesting character (and a equally interesting performance), as his true intentions seem not really be all the clear. The White Knight, by contrast, offers some comic relief, but is overall a character that I could do without. His final moments of redemption was utterly ridiculous. The White Knight conjures up a plan to distract the Queen of Hearts' army of baboons by using skeletons of his long-deceased comrades; the army is dumb enough to think that this legion of skeletons is about to destroy the castle. This little bit of scripting was a little sad, but otherwise, the mini-series is quite strong.

And I'm quite appreciative of this particular Alice, a lead character that really feels like she's not the stereotypical damsel-in-distress, that she's a powerful woman who can fight her own battles and make her own decisions, not really truly needing the Hatter and White Knight to be her warriors. This Alice is strong, stern, and stubborn; but at the same time, Caterina Scorsone is able to bring the vulnerability sky-high when necessary.

There's a charm to this Alice that I like. It's original and quirky just enough to be something entirely new, but yet feels familiar in some areas (I swear, there were times where I felt like I was watching Pushing Daises). So a recommendation is definitely in order. Who knows, you just might find yourself more in awe of this Wonderland than any before it.

Cast: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Crispin Glover, Michael Sheen, Stephen Fry
Writer: Linda Woolverton

Based on the no
vel(s) by Lewsi Carrol
Director: Tim Burton

Release: 05 February 2010

Disney, 109 mins., Rated PG-13

Have you heard that Johnny Depp is the Matt Hatter? That Tim Burton, the man behind such bizarre dark movies like Sweeney Todd and Edward Scissorhands (surprisingly ALSO starring Johnny), directed this 50th adaptation of that Lewis Carroll story, and in 3-D no less? If you haven't, well, there's some jaw-dropping, brand spankin' new news to you. If you have heard of that, you're probably one of the many (myself included) who helped propel Burton's film to a $119 million dollar first weekend release.

Here's the skinny: 19-year old Alice (Wasikowska) isn't exactly thrilled about her boring Victorian life of having to be the pretty, uptight goody-girl. She wants to dream big dreams, have a wild imagination, and ponder irrational things. Luckily, she's given a reprieve; the original white rabbit re-enters our dimension to find the Alice of legend, and believes he's found her. Alice follows, and once again, she falls down the rabbit hole. Basically, she's been brought there by the rabbit and the Resistance to eliminate the head-slicin' Red Queen and defeat the Jabberwocky, a giant dragon, because it's been predestined.

Alice in Wonderland is a difficult movie to review. I will start with the positives: 1) As many have said, it's visually stunning. I didn't bother with a 3-D screening, as I didn't think it'd be worth it (and reviews seem to suggest as such), so I'm basing this purely off traditional 2-D means. Burton's Wonderland is truly a wonder to behold; all the amazing creatures, the rich landscape, the bizarre small bodies with big heads, the height differences of one character to another...it's all very amazing and all very cool to look at. 2) Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen - totally awesome. She owns this movie backwards and forwards. Helena, one of your awesomest roles in years. Totally makes up for your Sweeney Todd performance. 3) Johnny Depp was cool - as usual - portraying the Mad Hatter, who really, truly was utterly mad in this motion picture. 4) Danny Elfman's score didn't actually sound like a Danny Elfman score, or at least not your instantaneously recognizable Danny Elfman score. 5) Quite a beautiful imagination to think up all these cool things. 6) Alice should definitely get some award nods for costume design.

Negatives inherit in the production: 1) I never thought it was possible, but Anne Hathaway has given perhaps the most obnoxious performance in her entire career. As the White Queen, she walks around cluelessly like a ditz, her hands spread up in the air as if told to "Freeze!" by the cops, and the tons and tons of white make-up with a little bit of black lipstick is hideous. Her whole character was stupid. 2) Even more stupid, the Mad Hatter, in the film's conclusion, pulls off a 200% random 'dance' with his feet jerking all over the place. Fine, I can deal; but then Alice mimics this dance to basically say 'F U' to the adults at her real-world ceremony. It truly was ridiculousness on a epic scale. 3) Continuing with the Mad Hatter, Depp switched between accents on multiple occasions - plenty of time in the same damn shot. Additionally, his character was the most difficult to hear. I would assume, what with the Mad Hatter being a favorite character of many, extra special attention would be paid to the performance and sound quality - Johnny's performance is fine, but the sound sucks, and why didn't the change of voice go unnoticed for so damn long?

4) Crispin Glover's character, whoever he may be, was horribly, horribly animated. In a landscape where companies can create fully rendered digital characters and make them look perfectly real - even damn transforming robots - this character's obvious CG body and utterly fake movements is embarrassing at this stage of digital achievements. But the Jabberwocky was pretty cool.

Alice in Wonderland falls into the OK category. It wasn't fantastic by any means, and a repeat screening isn't in the cards anytime soon, nor a DVD purchase. It was serviceable fun, and a nice way to waste a afternoon. I do think it didn't deliver on a bunch of the hype surrounding the production, and I don't think there's enough of a difference to truly differentiate this from any other Alice film. Because if you're gonna re-imagine or create a sequel to a popular work, you gotta add a little something something to make it worthwhile - Burton just doesn't really have that.

In the end, it's sadly entirely forgettable. Oh well, when is that Dark Shadows project gonna move forward, eh Burton? What? Pushed back again? Damn. Now THAT's something I'd like to see!

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