Alice in Wonderland – Review

ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010) 

Directed by Tim Burton. Starring Johnny DeppMia WasikowskaHelena Bonham Carter

On paper this movie is something which had all the potential to be the movie of the year: Tim Burton’s visionary genius re-imagining one of the most fantastic and imaginative stories ever.  Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen. Mia Wasikowska (from the wonderful “In Treatment”) as Alice herself. Special Effects extravaganza in 3D. And a never-ending list of great actors and  actresses lending their voices to all those loved characters from our childhood. I would have said “count me in!” anytime!!! And yet, this ended up to be possibly the biggest turkey of the year!

It’s not really an awful film, but knowing what this could have been like, it just leaves you really disappointed.

How could it have happened?

In a way it reminded me of Steven’s Spielberg’s Hook, one the (few) big missteps of his career. In that movie too Spielberg had made the terrible mistake of messing with a classic story: for example we had a grown up Peter Pan going back to Neverland. Here Alice has grown up too and forgot everything about Wonderland which is now a run down place with a Gothic feel, typical of any Tim Burton’s movie. Well, that would probably be all right, except that Burton, by updating the world really managed to take the wonder out of “Wonderland”.

Tim Burton’s film is essentially a sequel/re-imagining of the Lewis Carroll without all the joyful surprises, the sense of discovery and  fun of that book and more crucially, without a single good original idea! None of the liberties the makers took seems to work culminating with fight scene with a dragon at the end  of the end which seems to belong to a different film altogether. And (big spoiler here… watch out) what’s point of all that going to China at the end? What a mess!

There was another Disney’s movie back in the 80s called Return to Oz, which made the same mistake and used the same device of having Dorothy going back to Oz only to find it all changed and half-destroyed and now look almost like a kind of post-apocalyptic landscape where everything seem to be covered in ash. However in that film the story and the characters were so compelling that somehow they got a way with it, in Burton’s Alice in Wonderland all the characters are so annoying and only just half-sketched that it’s hard to care about any of them. In fact it seems like their accents, make up  and CGI enhancements have replaced their personalities.

Michael Sheen‘s White Rabbit appears a couple of times and is probably the most confusing of them all, since it relies on your knowledge of the character from the previous incarnation of the story to make any sense of it. Where is he going? Why is there at all? What’s his point? is he there to help Alice or the Queen? Stephen Fry‘s Cheshire Cat and  Alan Rickman‘s Blue Caterpillar are just as superfluous to the story. Once again, it all feels rather over-blown, over-crowded with characters.

And finally Johnny Depp who’s impersonation of the Mad Hatter is the most annoying of them all and possibly one of the actor’s worse performance of his career . Now, I really used to like Johnny Depp, but it seems that in the last few years he’s only been playing the same over-the-top character over and over again. His Mad Hatter seems an extension and a mixture of his previous “mad characters”: there’s a little bit  from Tim Burton’s previous creations, from Willy Wonka in Chocolate Factory,  to Sweeney Todd and even his previous Edward Scissorhands but there’s also lots of reminders to Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and hints from The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Is Johnny Depp playing the same character over and over again? What happened to the sweet, restrained and understated performances of his early work like the beautiful What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and Donnie Brasco? And most awful of them all Anne Hathaway‘s take of White Queen, who’s mannerism is just as annoying as her eyebrow. It might have been all intentional (in which case, even worse) but it was certainly a very bad choice to have her acting like that.

Helena Bonham Carter‘s impersonation of the Red Queen is one of the few redeeming factor in the whole film and the scenes with her are probably the highlights in an otherwise flat and misjudged series of sequences. Though even her bizarre creation becomes a bit tedious after a while.

Even the special effects (which by themselves are top class) are so diluted in the poor story that somehow failed to strike a chord and surprise us. Not to mention the use of the 3D which is probably one of the poorest use of it I’ve seen this year (together with “Clash of the Titans”). I guess it has to do with the fact that the movie was actually filmed on 2D and then retrofitted (I am not quite sure whether this is the right term for it) afterwards. This is a technique that not only doesn’t work but also brings a bad reputation to 3D itself (I keep on hearing a lot of people complaining about how bad 3D is, but they’ve only seen Clash of the Titans of Alice in Wonderland,  and they believe that’s what 3D really is).

Just a quick word about the music score: yes, it could have been good, if only they had work out where to use it, as opposed to ending up having music throughout the whole film, thus diminishing the effect that music should have. Overblown is once again the word that comes to mind.

I wonder what this film could have been like if maybe Tim Burton had made it, without Disney behind his shoulders. But as it is, on the whole, this mish-mash of Disney and Burton doesn’t really hold together and it proves once again that Tim Burton is the “director-that-could-be-great-but-rarely-really-is”.

5.5/10

OTHER RELATED REVIEWS (or, you’d better watch something else, instead of this)

Toy Story 3

Tron: Legacy

Back to the Future

 

The Kids Are All Right – Review

The kids are all right

The Kids Are All Right  (7/10)

USA 2010 – Directed by Lisa Cholodenko. With Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson

This is one of those film that walks the fine line between comedy and drama and for most of its length succeeds in doing so pretty well. It’s not going to be on anybody’s list as a top favorite film of the year, but it certainly does a good job in being honest and to be fair it always manages to avoid falling into that cheesy Hollywood swimming pool of clichés.

What really elevates this film to something above your usual average comedy is the tight and fresh script with particular attention to details, but more than anything the acting of every single character in the film. Annette Bening will probably get her nomination once again for this: the moment when she (SPOILER ALERT!!) finds out about the betrayal of her partner and especially the moment where Julianne Moore apologizes to her and her kids, is probably one of the finest moment in her acting career. Julianne Moore is good too, but then again this doesn’t really surprise me anymore (nor it surprises me to see her taking her clothes off once again!). Mark Ruffalo manages to portray a character who full of flaws and acts badly as sympathetic and likeable. Even the two kids are very very good. The are given a proper script through which they can actually act their age instead of having to stick to unbelievable characters (like in June for example, which I did like, but it was all a bit unreal). Mia Wasikowska had already shown she could act in the beautiful “In treatment” on TV. I truly hope she’ll be able to do a lot more in the future.

The film is about an unusual family in an unusual situation and yet behaving in the most usual way. Even though the couple is a lesbian couple, the film doesn’t really linger on that too much. In fact it could probably work just as well if the couple had been a non-gay one. I didn’t find it offensive or exploitive (maybe because the director is actually gay herself and she’s willing to play with the clichés without making it all about them. It’s all about the characters and the details.

This is a very gentle film, about family values and emotions. though it might not have any stand out laugh out loud moments it certainly manages to keep a smile on your face pretty much for its entirety and I have to confess, by the end of it I even found myself shedding a few tears here and there.

7/10

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