Sunday, March 14, 2010
Film Review | Alice in Wonderland
Alice in chains
by Thomas Delapa
Digital “3-D” is quickly multiplying into Hollywood’s latest high-tech rabbit hole. Even before the colossal (shall we say titanic?) success of James Cameron’s Avatar, the studios had been re-opening their eyes to the tantalizing box-office of 3-D filmmaking. But if ever the tail was wagging both the dog and Cheshire Cat, look no further than Alice in Wonderland, director Tim Burton’s shaggy adventure in one-dimensional storytelling.
You won’t need to lower your glasses to see this Alice as a fuzzy, pre-feminist pipe dream. In place of a Victorian little girl, Burton and screenwriter Linda Woolverton makeover Alice into a cheeky, corset-intolerant 19-year-old (Mia Wasikowska). On the verge of falling into an engagement with a dyspeptic fop (Leo Bill), our runaway heroine tails a scurrying white rabbit to a magical underworld that’s famously “curious and curiouser.”
Curious indeed is Burton and Disney’s looking-glass that reflects a knee-jerk need to turn Alice into a premature teen rebel. Perhaps more glaring is the charmless transformation of Lewis Carroll’s beloved, mind-bending fables into a shallow 3-D action film.
Not everything good in Carroll’s 1860s originals goes underground. In bulbous head and flaming hair, Helena Bonham Carter (Burton’s wife) is delightfully imperious as the Red Queen, bellowing “Off with his head!” across her topsy-turvy realm. Burton and his techie wizards fluidly mix live action and digital effects, especially when Alice magically seesaws from tiny to giant before our eyes. Those rotund buddies, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, are another sizable addition to the gallery of oddballs.
While Bonham Carter and Wasikowska seem to have fallen down one rabbit hole, the American cast members hop to a different drum under Burton’s blustery direction. Speaking of big heads, there’s nothing wonderful in Johnny Depp’s inflated performance as the Mad Hatter. Accessorized in Bozo hair and bizarre, Bambi-sized green eyes, Depp comes off as neither quaint nor cute, only Willy Wonka weird.
Amid this flashy menagerie, it’s also a wonder why Burton cast such colorless co-stars as Anne Hathaway (as the White Queen) and Crispin Glover (as the Red Queen’s henchman) Both readily fade from the screen not unlike the Cheshire Cat, but neither leaves us with much of a smile.
Carroll’s paradoxical tales unfold with deliberate, almost mathematical precision, carrying adult-sized undercurrents on the multi-dimensional power of the imagination and the mind-numbing traps of growing up. Burton not only falls head-over-heels for the 3-D effects, but egregiously kicks in a battle climax pulled from the hat from C.S. Lewis, not Lewis Carroll.
In the Jefferson Airplane’s trippy “White Rabbit,” the Dormouse tells Alice to “feed your head.” Burton pays that prescription no mind and aims lower, streaming us a steady diet of eye candy.