Thursday, March 18, 2010

Alice in Wonderland **

Alice in Wonderland
** out of ****

The long-awaited adaptation of Lewis Carroll's famous books, directed by Tim Burton, no less, has finally arrived, although it would seem that it was more fitting for a Christmas release rather than in the spring. This film certainly stands apart from other films and TV movies, but sadly, it is not the best film of the bunch.
You'd think that Burton, the master of the weird, was born to make this movie. After all, it's the most famous- and most beloved- nonsense novel of all time, and Burton has created some of the craziest- and yes, most beloved- characters and films of the last couple decades. The fact that he recruited his star pupil Johnny Depp to play the Mad Hatter should have made it even better. Unfortunately, Burton threw everything he had at this film, and the result is something of a mess.
The plot itself is a red flag that something is off: Alice is nineteen and dreams of Wonderland every night. After receiving a marriage proposal from a man she despises, she chases a rabbit and falls down the rabbit hole, where she has trouble getting through the little door using drinks and cakes that can shrink her down or make her grow bigger. Apparently this is her second trip down the rabbit hole. She first came when she was six, but doesn't remember the experience. Also, the place is called Underland, for no real reason. She quickly meets up with several weird creatures who wonder if she's "the right Alice" and tell her she is supposed to slay the evil Jabberwocky. She resists, but the Red Queen is aware that she's back and wants to kill her, so Alice goes on the run. She interacts with weirdo after weirdo, all spouting gibberish, and the whole time she is convinced it is all a dream. She also has a knack for losing her clothes, over and over and over again, although a new dress always seems to magically appear for her. The plot also involves Alice rescuing the Mad Hatter from the Red Queen's castle, and finding an ancient sword with which to slay the Jabberwocky, a lanky dragon. None of it makes any real sense, but that's ok because the movie centers around its many colorful characters and relies heavily on its active special effects.
First of all, newcomer Mia Wasikowska is horribly miscast as Alice. She plays her as a big bore of a girl, even though she is supposed to defy conventions. Wasikowska shows no real emotions and distances the audience when she is supposed to embrace them as they follow her on this adventure. Luckily, all the other actors and voice actors are entirely devoted to their roles. Burton capitalizes on Depp's Jack Sparrow fame by making his Mad Hatter very similar to that famous pirate. Helena Bonham Carter is fun as the Red Queen, a one-note villain who has a giant head and likes to watch people get decapitated. Crispin Glover (Back to the Future) and Anne Hathaway add nothing to their interpretations of the Knave of Hearts and the White Queen, respectively. Among the voice actors are Alan Rickman, Michael Sheen, and Christopher Lee (who is wasted with just two lines of dialogue).
Luckily the visual effects are so good because that is really the film's focal point, in making this land a place we can believe exists. The 3-D is kind of clunky; after all, the film wasn't made for the format, it was converted to it, but it does offer some nice wow-did-you-see-that moments. Humor throughout, mostly in the inane babblings of all the characters, and a rocking closing-credits song from Avril Lavigne help. I would have given the film a harsher rating except that the film is clearly aimed towards children, who don't need their films to make sense, as long as it's entertaining.
I would recommend this film to fans of the books, of Tim Burton, people who like fantastical quirky films, and any kids who might be interested in fantasy.

You can watch the trailer here:

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