By Gordon Meyer
Disney and Lewis Carroll’s adventurous Alice go way back to the 1920s when a young Kansas City based cartoonist introduced a series of silent shorts called “Alice in Cartoonland” featuring a live action little girl interacting with animated characters. 30 some years later, Walt and his colleagues presented a more traditional Alice, combining elements of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass.” Now director Tim Burton and screenwriter Linda Woolverton (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Lion King”) give us their reinvention for the 21st Century.
My first impression of the new Alice, based on the trailers, was that it was kind of creepy. After seeing the completed film, I’d revise that to say, “dark and often disturbing” more than creepy. But then we are talking Tim Burton here, whose sensibilities lean towards dark, disturbing and visually imaginative. For those who have yet to see this version, Rather than simply re-tell the original Lewis Carroll story of a little girl, Burton and Woolverton have imagined it as a young woman’s return to a land she thought was simply the location of over a decade of nightmares.
Yes, pretty much all the classic characters are there, including the White Rabbit, the Caterpillar, the Red and White Queen, the Cheshire Cat and of course Johnny Depp’s top billed interpretation of the Mad Hatter. This story revisits some of the more memorable sequences from the earlier versions while adding new ones with the basic theme of the now grown Alice returning to what the local residents refer to as Underland, to slay the Jabberwocky, a magnificently realized dragon-like creature, and restore the balance of power from the nasty Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) to the benevolent White Queen (Anne Hathaway).
Earlier this year, I wrote about Robert Zemeckis’ use of motion capture technology for his version of “A Christmas Carol” and how the more photo-realistic he made his characters, the creepier they looked. Burton avoided that pitfall by combining the actual faces of his actors with the CG rendered bodies and it works really well! For the Red Queen with her huge head, Burton’s FX wizards took Ms. Carter’s real head (with the appropriate makeup) and used CG effects to almost double the size of her head and neck for a striking, yet very human result. Mr. Zemeckis should explore that option come his next mo-cap feature.
This “Alice” was one of the top grossing films of 2010, credited in part to its higher priced 3D presentation. The 3D itself was an interesting hybrid since key parts of the film were shot in 2D and converted to 3D. While Burton planned and designed the film for 3D from the beginning, he shot his green screen live action using 2D cameras because he felt they’d give him the mobility he wanted that was not yet available with 3D rigs. Since the visual effects were rendered in 3D from the beginning and the whole movie was designed for 3D, the stereoscopic conversion turned out very well as audiences are immersed in this fantasy world. The climactic fight with between an armor-clad Alice (looking like a blonde Joan of Arc) and the Jabberwocky is one of the best fantasy action sequences of all time.
While this “Alice” is not emotionally engaging enough to make it a true classic, thanks in large part to Linda Woolverton’s screenplay, it does have much more depth and dimension (no pun intended) than I expected based on the trailer. And with subsequent viewings, it definitely grew on me. As for the kid friendly factor, I’d definitely advise parents that, unlike Disney’s cartoon version of “Alice,” this one is a bit too dark and scary for really young kids.
Movie Rating: ****
The Show Off Factor:
Much of Burton’s use of 3D is actually on the subtle side, so it looks good without drawing attention to itself. But as mentioned above, the Jabberwocky battle is stunning and a great demo sequence to show off your display.
Show off rating: ****
There is no 3D bonus content. All the bonus features reside on the 2D disc, which is literally the same disc that came out in the spring, right down to the trailer for the Jerry Bruckheimer production of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” as “Coming Soon to Theaters.” But if you don’t already have the 2D Blu-ray, the two sets of bonus features, “Wonderland Characters” and “Making Wonderland” are very informative. I especially liked the sequence in which long time Burton collaborator Danny Elfman described his process in creating his lush and memorable score for the film. I also liked the way the behind the scenes break down of how many of the visual effects and stunt work was achieved. Although the amount of bonus content is smaller than releases like “Toy Story 3” what’s there is quite good.
Bonus Feature Rating: ****
Overall rating: ****
Viewing Platform: Custom-built personal computer powered by an AMD Phenom II X4 CPU, EVGA/NVIDIA GeForce 480 graphics adapter with 3D Vision and LG Flatron W2363D display.