Sunday, March 14, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

Let's face it... Tim Burton may or may not be a weird guy, but his work is definately out there... let's discuss his biggest hits, and my favorites of his work...

"Pee Wee's Big Adventure" (1985)... Most people now recognize Paul Reubens as Pee Wee Herman and automatically associate him with that, ahem, adult men's theater incident, but back in the 80's, he was a rockstar.  This movie was quirky, it was an oddity, and it was absolutely hilarious.

"Beetlejuice" (1988)... Michael Keaton went from Mr. Mom to an absolute genius in this flick, again, a really odd, but absolutely fantastic dark comedy.

"Batman" (1989)... Before "The Dark Knight", before the franchise became a joke in "Batman & Robin", there was Tim Burton's first movie, with Michael Keaton, fresh off of "Beetlejuice", being the most unlikely Bruce Wayne--and perhaps the best until Christian Bale.  But, let's be honest, Jack as The Joker is what everyone remembers.

"Edward Scissorhands" (1990)... Tim Burton's first real collaboration with Johnny Depp was very unusual.  It was a love story... with knives for fingers. 

"Mars Attacks!" (1996)... After "Independence Day" a few years prior, this film was timed perfectly.  A campy send-up of alien invasion flicks featuring Jack Nicholson as the President, uttering the classic line "I want the people to know that they still have 2 out of 3 branches of the government working for them, and that ain't bad."  Oh, and if you don't know who Slim Whitman is, you will after seeing this film.

Tim Burton is also known for his more recent collaborations with Johnny Depp, which includes, "Sleepy Hollow"... "Charlie & the Chocolate Factory"... "Corpse Bride"... "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" and now...

"Alice in Wonderland"

To say that the Tim Burton vision of  "Alice in Wonderland" is strange is not a stretch.  Its a strange, strange movie.  Its a strange, colorful, imaginative journey that doesn't so much re-tell the story of Alice in Wonderland as much as it expands and continues the story. 

It begins with a now 19 year-old Alice who only remembers her journey through the land she knows as Wonderland as a dream that she keeps having night after night.  Alice is bossed around by her mom and her potential dorkface suitor, much like Rose DeWitt Bukater was before running around the ship with Jack Dawson, and ends up running away from it all... right into a rabbit hole.

You are immediately re-introduced to the characters, or a close image of what you think those characters are.  I would imagine that most people's concept of Alice and characters like Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the March Hare, the White Rabbit and of course, the Mad Hatter are from the Disney animated film, not necessarily from Lewis Carroll's two books, that being "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass"... that's my perspective because I have seen the 1951 Disney film and have never read the books at all.

Tim Burton's characters in this story somehow have backstories, and some of them even have real names other than "Caterpiller" and "Mad Hatter" and "Red Queen".  Alice finds them, and they tell her that because of a... well, a prophecy of sorts... she has to face a creature called The Jabberwocky (also known as a poem written by Lewis Carroll about a creature of the same name), slay said creature and order will be restored to the land--ie, everyone will stop following the Red Queen, played in essence by Helena Bonham Carter, aka Tim's boo, and start following her sister, The White Queen, played dreamily by Anne Hathaway.

The story itself is fine, the plot is somewhat silly, even for a movie that is sort of supposed to be silly, and Danny Elfman's score really kind of underwhelms you.  That being said, I had a good time with it.  Much of Underland (which is the real name for Wonderland) is done in CGI, and I enjoyed many of the characters in a way that I had not really gotten to know them in the original animated film.  Remember, in that version, Alice goes from scene to scene to scene, with some characters to not be seen again, while here, most of the characters remain throughout the entire movie.  Burton himself said he never felt a emotional connection to other film adaptations and always thought it was a some girl wondering around from one crazy character to another. So with this, he attempted to create a framework, an emotional grounding, which he felt he never really had seen in any version before. He said that was the challenge for him - to make Alice feel like a story as opposed to a series of events.

Anyway, to finish up the plot, there's the big creature named Jabberwocky, and the Red Queen screamed "off with your head!" alot, and for some reason there is a battle at the end that doesn't last long and... well, you'll just have to see it to make any sense out of the silliness. 

Maybe the weakest link in the entire movie is Alice herself, played by relative newcomer Mia Wasikowska.  She does Alice very subdued, almost too quiet, possibly in an effort to play up the fact that Alice spends much of the movie assuming she's dreaming everything.  I almost wanted her to be more... well, vocal.  A little louder, a little more surprised by the things she found, a little less whiny when presented with things she had to face. 

Crispin Glover, the dad from "Back to the Future" and known in Hollywood as a very weird guy, played Stayne, the Knave of Hearts and 2nd in command to the Red Queen and he was brilliant. 

Of course, the star of the film?  Johnny Depp.  Much ado had been made about his Mad Hatter costume and performance, and really, love him or hate him, Depp delivers, no matter who he is playing.  And here is no different.  Hair like Bozo the Clown, gapped teeth, wide-eyed and strange accent that wavers between British, Scottish and Nonsensish, Depp immerses himself into The Mad Hatter in a way that you'd never imagine from the original Disney film. 

I liked the film overall, and in many ways, I think I liked it better than the 1951 animated version.  That one was okay, it was a bit trippy for my tastes, and to me, Tweedledee and Tweedledum whole scene in that one was... well, ridiculous.  In this Tim Burton version, I loved T'dee and T'dum, I loved their accents, I loved the way they were presented onscreen, I loved the interaction between them, it was great. 

Perhaps its not really fair to compare the animated version with this one, as it is so completely different, but I guess there were just more things about this one I liked.  I always like Anne Hathaway in anything that doesn't include "Royal Engagament" or "Brokeback Mountain", and the voice cast was stellar.  Listen up for Alan Rickman's voice here too.

Oh, and I loved the cards.  Again, the movie was a bit too much CGI'y for me, but the Card Guards were great.

The Lovely Steph Leann and I ended up watching it in 3D, not because we thought it would be worth it in 3D--it wasn't, I would suggest all of you go see it in 2D and save about $4 per ticket... but because the 3D version not only had the new Toy Story 3 trailer, but also the new trailer for "Tron Legacy".  And if you think I wasn't as giddy as Brad Latta at a Dubya War Crimes hearing, you'd be wrong.  

By the way--and I speak to all those 30 and up... was there a cooler movie when you were a little kid than "Tron"?  And to think, here's a sequel coming, one that has real potential.  Did you know that Walt Disney World is going to put a light cycle overlay on its monorails this fall, in promotion of the movie? 

I think I need to go find the original "Tron" and watch it again.  Just not tonight.  I'm tired.  That's why this review rambled everywhere...

For all you kids who think the interweb has been around forever, here's the trailer from the original movie in 1982... cheesy as it might look, remember back then, this was revolutionary.

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