Friday, March 12, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

It’s taken me a week to write about Alice in Wonderland because I haven’t been able to process it; I’ve been trying to sort out the actual film from my pre-existing feelings about Tim Burton. Before you start thinking I’m one of those people that has Jack or Sally tattooed on my body or can recite the Beetlejuice chant by heart I am the exact opposite – Tim Burton is a director that I respect but get aggravated by.

Let me explain, I think Tim Burton is a talented director with an incredibly unique visual style. You can’t see a Tim Burton film and not feel his hand all over it. However, that is also my problem with Tim Burton. I think he’s a very one note director that’s all about the visuals and while he gets good performances out of his actors he merely makes the same movie over and over again – dark theme, angry characters, blue/gray visuals, lots of stripes and clouds. The one notable exception to this rule is Big Fish; that movie is far different than anything I’ve ever seen him do and proof that if given the inspiration Burton can think outside his box and do it beautifully. Despite all hope to the contrary, Alice in Wonderland is not Burton thinking outside is box. Burton is fully in his box, and again not trying anything new.

I knew that it was going to end up being the same old Burton film right from the opening shot. The camera panned down a cloudy night sky onto a full moon ringed by clouds and I literally groaned and complained out loud – I have a witness – it’s such a Tim Burton shot, there’s no other way to out it. Alice in Wonderland may have more color and effects than I am used to seeing in a Burton film, but at the end of the credits it’s just the same old Burton gothic film.

The one saving grace to my feelings about Burton and Alice in Wonderland is that I don’t think the film falling flat is all his fault. Throughout the film you are given hints of a darker side of the story, a hints of a romance between Hatter & Alice and other elements that tell you perhaps Burton was trying to go another direction with his reimagined Alice and was prevented from doing so by some higher power, probably for the sake of a PG rating.

Also, there is the fact that Alice herself seems to be going through some kind of emotional change and turmoil through the film that is never actually explained…even though the film thinks it explains it. What I mean is from the moment we first see adult Alice she’s grappling with some very adult issues and is obviously lost in her own life. Through the course of the film everyone keeps talking about how Alice needs to figure out who she is, and Mia Wasikowska does a great job of showing on screen that Alice is going through something, but by the end when Alice seems to have completed her emotional transformation you realize that nothing has happened to actually make Alice go through this character arch. She’s merely been told she needs to become this person and then she does…there is no motivation, no greater plot, no connection between what is happening on screen and her emotional journey – it just happens.

That may in itself be the best way to summarize Alice in Wonderland - it just happens. You spend the first twenty minutes of the film waiting for Alice to get to Wonderland, then you are told exactly what is going to happen in the film and of course then it just happens and credits roll.

Director: Tim Burton
Writer: Linda Woolverton
Alice: Mia Wasikowska
Mad Hatter: Johnny Depp
Red Queen: Helena Bonham Carter
White Queen: Anne Hathaway
Stayne: Crispin Glover
The Tweedles: Matt Lucas
Cheshire Cat: Stephen Fry
White Rabbit: Michael Sheen
Blue Caterpillar: Alan Rickman

Mad Hatter: You were much more... muchier. You've lost your muchiness.

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