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Alice Hamilton, a fiercely independent twenty-something suddenly finds herself on the other side of a looking glass. She is a stranger in an outlandish city of twisted towers and casinos built out of playing cards, all under the rule of the deliciously devilish Queen of Hearts. With the Queen hot on her tail, Alice isn't certain which of the many characters of Wonderland she can trust to help her escape - and maintain a level head.
For more about Alice and the Alice Blu-ray release, see Alice Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on March 1, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Caterina Scorsone, Tim Curry, Harry Dean Stanton, Matt Frewer, Kathy Bates
» See full cast & crew
Alice Blu-ray Review
SyFy goes back to its 'Tin Man' well but fails to find much enduring wonder in Wonderland.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, March 1, 2010
The names Robert Halmi, Sr. and Robert Halmi, Jr. may not ring a bell with many of you, but if you've watched any "event" television over the past couple of decades, chances are you've seen their handiwork. Halmi père and fils occasionally tackle original material, or at least new adaptations of never before filmed material (as with the spectacularly successful Lonesome Dove), but their real niche is redoing classics of yore with relatively big budgets, at least in television terms. Among their many, many, many productions are the Sam Neill Merlin, the Patrick Stewart Christmas Carol, the fantasy spectacular The 10th Kingdom, and a 1999 Alice in Wonderland that radically reinvented the story and featured a number of star turns by such actors as Martin Short, Ben Kingsley, Peter Ustinov, Whoopi Goldberg and Gene Wilder. Their (pun intended) Willing collaborator on Alice was director Nick Willing, who teamed with the producing pair again a couple of years ago for what turned out to be SyFy's biggest audience grabber ever, the Wizard of Oz re-do Tin Man. Probably due to that repurposed classic's success, the trio went back to the Alice looking glass and reimagined it yet again, updating Lewis Carroll's classic with a postmodernist twist that allows for some interesting ideas and twists, but will probably leave Carroll purists fuming. One can only imagine how these purists will react to the new Disney Alice in Wonderland, helmed by Tim Burton, which is due to open momentarily. One also can't help but wonder if the Halmis and Willing got their version greenlit based on the knowledge that a big, big, big budget remake was coming down the pike to a multiplex near you.
This particular Alice finds our heroine a 21st century 20- or 30-something single woman, played by Caterina Scorsone, a kickboxing instructor who finds herself ensconced in a rather dark and foreboding Wonderland after she chases after her potential boyfriend, who has been kidnapped by agents of the "White Rabbit" (Alan Gray). Wonderland it turns out has devolved rather spectacularly in the 150 years since Carroll's Alice first visited. It's become a sort of seedy Las Vegas-esque jail for "oysters," otherwise known as the inhabitants of our world, who are imprisoned and drained of their emotions (their figurative pearls, as it were), which are distilled and disbursed to the addicted denizens of the mirror world. Obviously, to paraphrase Oz or Tin Man, we're not in Kansas, or Carroll's Wonderland, anymore.
As with Tin Man, Alice at times very creatively reworks the source material to its rather twisted ends. This time around Alice's aides-de-camp are Hatter (Andrew Lee-Potts) and, as the story slowly (too slowly at times) develops, a sort of Don Quixote-esque White Knight played by Matt Frewer. Alice wends her way through this nefarious underworld, ruled over by the imperious Queen of Hearts (Kathy Bates) and her lackey husband (Colm Meaney). Though Alice never really can escape its obvious telefilm roots, performances from all of the principals are quite good, if Frewer is his typical mugging self. Scorsone, an unusual brunette Alice, manages to evoke some of the classic Tenniel illustrations despite portraying a character who may share Carroll's heroine's bravado, but who is otherwise quite a different conception from the original. Also helping the miniseries along is an at times quite spectacular physical production. While some of the matte paintings are obviously fake looking, the production design of Michael Joy is astoundingly effective quite often. We travel from sylvan forests to high tech casinos, and some of the "interior" worlds are, well, wonder-ful to behold, including a sort of demented Op Art hypnosis center manned by Drs. Dee and Dum, and, later, a spooky darkened cell in which Jack Chase, Alice's kidnapped paramour, finds himself surrounded by disembodied eyes.
Where Alice really can't come through is with any real human emotion, something considerably ironic when one considers Willing's screenplay's emphasis on Wonderland inhabitants needing those very feelings to make their existences worthwhile. This is a surface deep Alice, often very shiny and pretty to look at, but with none of the subliminal horror and dissociative qualities of Carroll's original. Alice's fumbling attempts to find her long lost father (two guesses where he's been for twenty years, and the first one doesn't count) or to connect with Jack seem halfhearted at best and a simple screenwriting ploy at worst. Even Willing can't follow through with the latter, tacking on some empowerment hokum at the end which supposedly frees Alice up to be the woman she's always dreamed of becoming, only to fall into the arms of her real true love a few seconds later. If that isn't pure fantasy, I don't know what is.
Part of the reason Tin Man succeeded probably beyond anyone's expectations is that it was a largely unknown quantity, and one which both played off its source material while subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) undermining it. Unfortunately, you can't stick your foot in the same river twice, and audience members are now hip to Willing's bag of tricks. Too much of Alice plays like a sort of weird amalgam of Tin Man 2 with the original Carroll conception. It's too much of a hodgepodge to ever amount to anything much more than an amorphous mass of muddled ideas. It's interesting as an intellectual exercise, I guess, but it lacks the viscerally compelling quality that lured most viewers into Tin Man's alternative universe.
It's one thing to honor a source's literary tradition, as indeed Bates as the Queen of Hearts does at one moment, when she describes herself as the most powerful woman ever in the history of literature. It's quite another to so radically chop, cut and paste characters and story elements into something so completely different from the original conception, while still trying to retain the magic and, yes, wonder of that very original. Willing managed to walk that tightrope fairly successfully with Tin Man. Unfortunately, he's fallen down his own rabbit hole with Alice, an effort that is glossy but ultimately meaningless.
Alice Blu-ray, Video Quality
This is one of the most maddeningly uneven Blu-ray transfers I've experienced in a long, long time. Alice's AVC encoded 1080p (despite its television heritage) 1.78:1 image is at times breathtakingly sharp and detailed. Elements of CGI bristle with nuance and precision. And yet large swaths of this piece are virtually devoid of color, leaving fleshtones anemic at best and all colors seemingly largely desaturated. Wait a few moments, and then suddenly we're greeted by robust blues and reds, with relatively normal looking fleshtones. Contrast is acceptable but never pumped to the levels it should be, leaving some of Alice lacking not only in color but in gradations between light and dark. The most egregious thing about this transfer is the completely inexplicable flicker, the likes of which I have never experienced on anything other than an old silent. Look, for example, at the scene when Alice and Hatter are about to enter "the library." The entire background's light values surge and ebb, creating an almost seizure inducing effect. It's completely weird, and it unfortunately occurs fairly regularly throughout the film. When Alice looks good, it looks very good indeed, but when it looks bad, it's truly horrible.
Alice Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Luckily the DTS HD-MA 5.1 soundtrack is a good deal more consistent and robust. While this mix is a little light (unexpectedly so, I might add) in surround effects, what is here is a lot of fun. The best segments are the wilder fantasy moments, as when the Jabberwock chases Alice through a forest. Thundering LFE mixes with some great surround activity to completely immerse the listener. Even in less showy moments, this is a solid piece of sound mixing, with good, directional dialogue and well placed foley effects. Crowd scenes have some great surround ambience (especially in the casino scenes), if not a wealth of rear channel activity. For a television minseries, this is effective work. It may leave you lovers of blockbuster films a little nonplussed, but it's an effective, if not overly bombastic, soundtrack, with excellent fidelity and clarity.
Alice Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Don't go looking for any supplements in this Wonderland. There's a chatty if not overly informative commentary by Willing and Scorsone (listed under the audio options). Otherwise, you get Bookmarks. Yes, bookmarks.
Alice Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
There's no denying that Alice provides some fun moments as its approaches Lewis Carroll's classic Alice stories from a completely different perspective. This is often a lot of fun to watch, but it's just as often bloated, pretentious and lacking in the charm and whimsy that so define the original source material. You could do worse as a rental, but the flaws of this Blu-ray probably outweigh the pluses for you library collectors.
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Alice Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Lightning Deal: Dollhouse Season 1, Home Alone Collection, Alice - November 29, 2010
Amazon is kicking off "Cyber Monday" with an early-bird Lightning Deal, comprised of three Blu-ray titles: Dollhouse: Season One for $9.99 (86% off MSRP); Home Alone Collection for $14.99 (63% off MSRP); and Alice (2009 Miniseries) for $7.99. This deal expires ...
• Alice Announced for Blu-ray - December 16, 2009
Lionsgate Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring the Syfy miniseries 'Alice' to Blu-ray on March 2nd to coincide with the theatrical release of Tim Burton's 'Alice in Wonderland'. Technical specs have not been announced at this time, though you can ...
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