Alice in Wonderland’s review was published in March, 28th’s issue of iMAGES in MKJ and Farheen Jawaid’s column ‘Animadversion’. Below is the unedited version.
Mad-Hatters and Disappearing Cats. We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, Alice!
By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
In the 2010 re-version of “Alice in Wonderland”, Alice’s height keeps shifting between big and small, in subtle 3D, depending on what she has gulped down – a flavorless “eat-me” biscuit, or a bitter-ish formula made with a spoonful of wishful thinking, two coins from a dead man’s pocket and a dash of human spit.
Like Alice’s height problems – she shrinks and expands only to shrink again to fit into door holes or get away from sticky situations – the movie moves like an all-too modern formulaic expedition, as gray-cast and uninvolving as “Wonderland” or the majority of the cast written by author Lewis Carroll.
“Alice in Wonderland” starts with a young Alice, who is constantly plagued by nightmares. Delirious, she asks her father (Marton Csokas) that has she gone mad. He replies “I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are”. Somehow this sounds like a cry from director Tim Burton.
Alice (played by Mia Wasikowska, who stumbles through the movie in an open-eyed stupor) is now 19 and pale-faced – a trademarked fetish she shares with most of Burton’s female leads – and she “doesn’t quite fit into Victorian society and structure”.
With the recent death of her father, Alice is invited to her own engagement party, one she didn’t know about, and decides to run after a strange white rabbit (who talks later through the voice of Michael Sheen). As the story goes, she falls into a rabbit hole in tree – a subway of falling pianos and cliff-side beds, one of which she bounces off from – into Underland.
Underland is an eccentric and dismal dreamscape with grinning, disappearing cats (Stephen Fry) and chain smoking doleful caterpillars (Alan Rickman). It also has one of its few distinctly human looking people – the Mad Hatter – a pathetically heartfelt, mad-eyed oddity played by Johnny Depp with limited pomposity (he has little to do in the movie). Depp’s head is a carrot-top and his face is bleached Kabuki-white, but that’s as far as he goes with his Joker persona. His Mad-Hatter is benevolent, delicate and conflicted and he’s build up from the single-lined stereotype he’s written in other adaptations (he only shows a flicker of madness in one small scene).
The screenplay by Linda Woolverton consistently yells about the authenticity of this visiting Alice without conviction. Is this the same Alice who visited Underland in her childhood? Have all memories of her previous adventures evaporated from her consciousness? At least Alice thinks so. Alice vehemently (as vehement as Mia Wasikowska can be) believes she’s in a dream even when she is poked in the foot with by a thick needle or cut by the beastly, bulldog like, “Bandersnatch”.
The recurring characters strewn away (mostly in distracting 3D) every five minutes speak in hush about the prophesized coming of a savior who will slay the Jabberwock – a lizard-tongued dragon voiced by Christopher Lee – the guardian of the Red Queen Iracebeth (Helena Bonham Carter, a portentous bobble-head doll on a mean-streak, who shines as much as Johnny Depp) who’s taken over Underland by stealing the ruling crown from Miranda, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway).
Knowing Tim Burton’s take on remakes (he shifts them into his own mold rather than remake), think of this “Alice in Wonderland” as an extension of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass“.
Burton, the once consistent extraordinaire of strange quirky and weird flaunts only signs of his rousing lunacy without indulging in them (he does that every other film now like Ron Howard).
Like “Big Fish”, “Alice in Wonderland” feels too over-worked in paper. It builds on frantic pace and shuns any connection with the audience. We wouldn’t care if anyone would have died in the movie (there is one decapitation and many “Off With His Head” yells from Bonham Carter).
What this adaptation needs is a touch of Neil Gaiman, the British comic book extraordinaire who wrote “Coraline” and “Mirror Mask”, two mesmerizing re-imaginations of Alice and her wonderland. Or it could have been as tenderly nifty as “Edward Scissorhand”, “Sleepy Hollow” or Burton’s last “Sweeney Todd” (all three are Johnny Depp collaborations). Maybe it could have been as over-the-top as “Beetlejuice”. But it isn’t. What it is, is safe and controlled. Like its flamboyant 3D cinematography.
Rated PG-13, Alice’s fantasy is a faux spectacle teeming with modern screenwriting, flavorless and at times worn-out, storytelling that has an unswerving craving to be different.
“Movie goers (are) Mad about Alice”, says the headline at Boxofficemojo.com – a box-office data tracking website. Debuting on the star power of Johnny Depp, Tim Burton and the recently inflamed draw of 3D, Alice in Wonderland opened with a staggering $116 million in the U.S. with a total of $210 million worldwide.
“Showing on approximately 7,400 screens at 3,728 sites, Alice in Wonderland’s opening stands as not only the all time biggest for the month of March, but as the highest-grossing ever for a movie released outside of May, July or November and sixth overall” the website reported.
Lewis Carroll’s weird and wonderful characters also topped the blue-skinned Na’vi from Avatar by an $80 million opening in 3d on 2,251 sites (Avatar opened to $55 million and 2,038).
Opening at this breakneck momentum, Alice in Wonderland still has enough spur to out-last next week’s big releases “Green Zone” staring Matt Damon, the romantic–drama “Remember Me” with Robert Pattinson and the comedy “She’s Out of My League”. Budgeted at $200 million expect Alice’s numbers to settle somewhere in late $500 millions.
By Farheen Jawaid
The most depressing aspect about Tim Burton’s extension of “Alice in Wonderland” is that it generated no audience reaction. No Boos, when the Red Queen, played by an ominous and Bobble-headed Helena Bonham Carter said “Off With His Head” (in a tone conspicuously distinct from Disney’s animated Alice in Wonderland ). No Oohs for the infrequent, if traditionally, used 3D cinematography. And no applause or fits of laughter for Johnny Depp who plays the whimsy and alluring Mad-Hatter.
The reason for the silence is simple. The silence is there because there is nothing to get excited about.
Tim Burton, who now looks like a distant relative of Ron Howard in his consistency of alternately making good movies, makes “Alice in Wonderland” a foreign adventure, that’s too alien to be involved with.
Like a tourist, we see Underland with a dream-like Alice (Mia Wasikowska) as a foreign locale that looks grand on the guide books, but looks just above good in real life.
Even with the box-office and critic pleasing Burton-Depp formula in effective place, “Alice in Wonderland” falls down, face-first in its own rabbit hole. It’s a good thing the landings is not cushy.
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