Tim Burton has always had that slight madness about him that makes his work appealing. The dark, gothic overtones that he sprinkled liberally over Batman, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas made those films unique and fresh compared to the more slushy, over sentimental product coming out of Hollywood during the late eighties and early nineties. Of course, he has had his share of misses too but even then, his eye for set design and detailed characterisation made most of his films interesting, even if the storytelling was lacking somewhat.
Alice In Wonderland is one of those interesting films.
Unusually for me, I had read few reviews and my expectations were simple. The film was called Alice In Wonderland and therefore I was going to see Alice In Wonderland. It wasn’t called ‘Alice 2 – The Return Of Alice’ or ‘Revenge Of Wonderland’ or ‘Indiana Alice And The Temple Of Tarts’. It was called Alice In Wonderland.
We entered the cinema, took our 3D goggles and sat down. The film began with a garden party and Alice taking part in a quaint dance on the lawn. It soon transpired that her suitor had chosen that day to propose to her.
‘Hmm,’ I thought. ‘A little bit different to the book which had her picnicking by a river bank with her sister but hey, it’s Tim Burton, it will be okay.”
The film continued. Alice received her proposal but became distracted when she spotted a rabbit in a waistcoat. She chased it to a tree and fell down a rabbit hole. The next minute – surely in an attempt to utilise the new 3D technology and provide some early instant thrills to the viewer – we had Alice falling at great speed down the rabbit hole, followed by pianos, bookshelves and the like, all falling in and out of shot in an energetic action scene.
Wait a minute. At great speed? In the book, the fall is extremely slow, which provides it with all of its charm. Alice falls at such a sedentary pace she is able to examine jars of marmalade on the shelves that she passes and at one point, even drifts off into a brief dreamy doze before she lands.
In the film however, she seems to accelerate as she falls until she lands with a crash right into the hall and then we enter the classic ‘drink me, grow small, eat cake, grow tall’ sequence which although omitted the wonderful inventiveness of the book (Alice nearly drowning in her own tears, for example), worked quite well.
Then, suddenly, I had the first clue that this definitely was not the book. The camera suddenly cut to a shot outside of the room where a group of characters hidden in shadow had a whispered conversation between themselves.
“Is this the right Alice?” said one.
“No, no it isn’t,” said another.
“She’s doing well so far,” said a third.
“Oh Good grief,” (that’s me). “Tim Burton has gone an done a ‘Planet Of The Apes’ and ‘re-imagined’ Alice In Wonderland. Fuck it.”
As soon as Alice leaves the hall she meets Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee and within ten minutes we have the first chase scene. The first of many pointless, sell-out, unnecessary chase scenes, clearly added to appeal to a younger audience who possibly had not read the book and had grown up with cinematic chase scenes.
There were redeeming features. I enjoyed the understated (though some may say bland) performance of Mia Wasikowska as Alice. Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter gave a competent performance, but certainly did not seem at his best. Helena Bonham-Carter was miscast as all she brought to the Queen Of Hearts was a poor impersonation of Queenie from Blackadder II.
Ending the film with a climatic battle scene was another huge mistake and is clearly the fault of Lord Of The rings. Virtually every fantasy film that has come along since has felt the need to end with a huge battle scene. The Chronicles Of Narnia, Stardust, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Jane Eyre – all ended with vast armies fighting with each other across barren wastelands. Alice In Wonderland is not much different.
As far as I am concerned, Tim Burton lacked the confidence to tackle the original material and do justice to it. To play it safe, he took the characters and created what he felt was a better story. That has to be the case for if he felt his story was not better, then why not tackle the original?
The original book has so much potential. Can you imagine if the beginning of the film contained the poem that features at the beginning of the book?
“All in the golden afternoon,
Full leisurely we glide;
For both our oars, with little skill,
By little arms are plied,
While little hands make vain pretence,
Our wanderings to guide…”
And so it goes on for seven beautiful verses. Can you imagine Morgan Freeman or Anthony Hopkins narrating that to a collage of images drawn from the writings of Lewis Carroll, before the film begins proper?
Can you imagine the falling down the rabbit hole and the drink me/eat me sequences being absolutely faithful to the book?
Can you imagine the Jabberwocky design being based on Tenniel’s original drawing and how much more effective that would have been compared to the bland design that featured in Burton’s film? Even Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky was scarier than that atrocity.
Alice In wonderland? More like Burton In Blunderland.