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Alice In Wonderland(2010)
19-year-old Alice returns to the whimsical world she first encountered as a young girl, reuniting with her childhood friends: the White Rabbit, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Dormouse, the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, and of course, the Mad Hatter. Alice embarks on a fantastical journey to find her true destiny and end the Red Queen's reign of terror.
For more about Alice In Wonderland and the Alice In Wonderland Blu-ray release, see Alice In Wonderland Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on May 26, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Michael Gough
Director: Tim Burton
» See full cast & crew
Alice In Wonderland Blu-ray Review
Burton's Wonderland is heavy on spectacle, light on wonder.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, May 26, 2010
In recent years, the grotesque landscape of director Tim Burton's mind—a dark realm filled with stark, leafless trees, crooked windmills, and dead-eyed, white-as-a-sheet waifs—has been overrun with remakes, rehashes, and reimaginings. Once the go-to-guy for strikingly original gothic fairytales —the suburban satire of Edward Scissorhands, the creaky majesty and gloom of The Nightmare Before Christmas—Burton is now seemingly preoccupied with applying his twisted aesthetic to other people's stories. Occasionally, it works. Who better than Burton to helm a live- action version of Sleepy Hollow, with its headless horseman and flaming Jack-O-Lanterns? His last three films, however, with the exception of 2005's brilliantly bittersweet Corpse Bride, find Burton increasingly self-indulgent and predictable, putting his crackpot spin on adapted stories that don't really need to be re-spun. There are elements to love about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd, and now Alice and Wonderland— Burton's visual sense is as acute as ever—but his storytelling faculties have suffered, and the Johnny Depp-as-mad-genius-wearing-makeup routine is beginning to feel just that: routine.
And no adaptation of anything by Lewis Carroll—the godfather of nonsense literature—should ever feel routine. The genius of Carroll's style—a brain-bending amalgam of wordplay, magic, math, and spontaneity—is predicated on his ability to surprise at every turn of the page. We don't really get that in this new version of Alice and Wonderland. Burton's film, a loose sequel to Carroll's books Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, is heavy on spectacle but nearly devoid of actual wonder. That is to say, it's all style and very little substance. Screenwriter Linda Woolverton—whose pedigree includes Beauty and the Beast and a co-writer credit on The Lion King—tries to shoehorn a conventional narrative into Carroll's anything goes world, and the result is emotionally aimless and all- too- typical, one long fetch-quest of a plot that leads to an oddly anticlimactic all-out battle. Who'd have thought a Tim Burton film, Alice in Wonderland no less, could feel so normal?
The narrative hook of Woolverton's script is borrowed wholesale, in fact, from Hook, Steven Spielberg's story of an aging Peter Pan returning to a Neverland that he's since forgotten. Here, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is a nineteen-year-old non-conformist—she speaks her mind and refuses to wear stockings or a corset—who finds herself being proposed to by a red-haired, buck-toothed idiot. Societal conventions dictate she accept his offer—he's a local Lord, and she's not, god help her, getting any younger—but just as the doofus pops the question, Alice runs off into a hedge maze, following a rabbit in a waistcoat, and tumbles headlong down the old rabbit hole. When she emerges in Wonderland—after no amount of confusion regarding a shrinking potion, a big-ifying petit four, a key, and a tiny doorway—there's some speculation, on the part of The White Rabbit, the Dormouse, and the Tweedle brothers, on whether she is the same Alice that they all knew thirteen years prior. You see, the "right" Alice is prophesized to retrieve the Vorpal Sword from the den of the Bandersnatch, kill the dreaded Jabberywocky, and overthrow the rule of the horrid Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) on Fabrous Day. You follow? And this is exactly what happens, though there are numerous and largely inconsequential complications along the way.
Young actress Mia Wasikowska is the film's gem, giving us a willowy, dewy-eyed Alice that's naïve and open-hearted, and she's aided on her quest by many of Carroll's now-iconic characters, who pop in to lend a hand or dole out some wizened wisdom. Alan Rickman gives Absolem—the hookah-smoking caterpillar—his grave, molasses-y intonation, and Stephen Fry voices the Cheshire Cat, who ethereally dissipates and reappears, his mouth turned up in a creepy grin. As the White Queen, Anne Hathaway floats along as if on ice skates, her arms perpetually held aloft in a strangely regal pose. Reportedly, she based her character on a "punk rock vegan pacifist," but she's much kookier than that. (In fact, knowing what she was aiming for, some actual punk rock vegan pacifists may be offended. I mean, this is Anne Hatheway we're talking about, an actress that's as far removed from "punk rock" as you can get.) And Crispin Glover, the guy you'd expect to be a complete nut in a film like this, plays perhaps his straightest role ever as the one-eyed Knave of Hearts.
To make up for Glover's relative saneness, Johnny Depp goes off the deep end as the Mad Hatter, giving the famous haberdasher a bipolar, split personality that flits between a fey English lisp and a Scottish, Robert Burns-aping brogue. With his shock of orange hair, pallid face, and sunken eyes, he looks like a three-way cross between Carrot Top, a kabuki doll, and the demonic face from The Exorcist. There's nothing particularly surprising about his performance, but it works— at least until he's forced, during the film's denouement, to do The Futterwacken, an incredibly stupid dance that completely negates the seriousness of the ordeal Alice has just been through. (It'll also date the film almost immediately. Watch the end of Alice in Wonderland in five years and try not to wince. Actually, watch it now and try not to wince.) Equally bonkers is Helena Bonham Carter's tantrum-throwing, balloon-headed Red Queen, who coos about her "fat boys" Tweedledee and Tweedledum, props her feet up on a pot-bellied big, and screams "OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!" every chance she gets.
All of these characters, in some way, are essential to the plot, but they also feel tangential somehow, unimportant, almost arbitrary. And this is mostly because the story itself seems arbitrary, working periodically in pieces—like the well-executed Bandersnatch chase or the Mad Hatter's tea party—but never coming together as a cohesive whole. There's a kind of weightlessness to the entire film; we drift from one impressive CGI landscape to the next, meeting curiouser and curiouser characters, but there's no thematic gravity to anchor the visual flights of fancy. Randomness is essential to Carroll's books, but at the end, you always sense the emergence of a purposeful pattern, whether it be the chess motif of Through the Looking Glass or the mathematical symbolism of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. More so, the books are united by the themes of growing up, finding identity, and recognizing the absurdities of the adult world. Burton's Alice in Wonderland touches on these—and it does partially work as a female-empowerment fable—but it gets lost when it tries to marry Carroll's literary nonsense with the by-the-book plotting of a standard-issue fantasy film. The ending, with Alice fighting the Jabberwocky while a battle rages below on a giant chess board, seems incongruous, less Lewis Carroll and more Lord of the Rings-lite. The biggest disappointment, though, is that the film, as a whole, feels so expected, so typically Tim Burton. The aces up his sleeves are, by this point, cards that have already been played.
Alice In Wonderland Blu-ray, Video Quality
It's not quite as eye-meltingly stunning as Avatar—everyone's top-runner for the year's best picture quality—but Alice in Wonderland is a visual treat from start to finish, and makes for a fantastic Blu-ray demo disc. The vast majority of the movie was shot digitally, and the image is simply immaculate, almost entirely noiseless, ultra-vivid, and super-sharp. A few scenes were obviously shot on film—the engagement party, most notably—and even here the picture is tightly resolved, with a thin grain structure and a beautiful pale pastel cast. Once Alice drops down the rabbit hole— announcing the start of the all-digital, green-screened, CGI backgrounds—the picture intensifies appropriately, somehow looking both Burtonesque-ly bleak and incredibly saturated. Dark landscapes are contrasted with bold splashes of color, like the Mad Hatter's fiercely orange shock of hair, the sweaty green of a nervous frog-guard, and the Red Queen's crimson coif and cerulean blue eye shadow. The CGI creatures aren't as detailed, texture-wise as the flora and fauna of Avatar's Pandora, but they really aren't supposed to be—Wonderland is more cartoonish than photo-realistic. Still, everything is crisp and defined, and close-ups reveal the intricacies of the costume design and actors' faces. Black levels are strong, crush is never an issue, and contrast is punchy throughout. Finally, there are no compression blemishes to be found—no banding, blocking, or overt noisiness. You really couldn't ask for anything more.
Alice In Wonderland Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The film's lossless audio track is just as strong, and works well to accompany the on-going action. The back of the case states that this is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, but my PS3 actually identified it as a 6.1 mix, for what it's worth. And the film certainly makes use of all those channels, allowing for some bombastic sonic showpiece sequences and immersive ambience. You'll hear dragonflies dart seamlessly between the rear speakers, dirt spraying from front to back during the Bandersnatch chase, a Jubjub bird flapping across the soundfield, and the Jabberwocky's tail swishing through the space above your head, among many other fine touches. It's not as non-stop or showy as what you'd hear in a dedicated action film, but rest assured, your home theater set-up will get lots of love. Plus, the audio is just as solid dynamically as it is directionally, with appreciable low-end rumble, a grounded mid-range, and crystalline clarity in the upper registers. This applies to both the sound effects—which often pop out at you just as vividly as the 3D theatrical visuals—and Danny Elfman's score, which isn't quite as memorable as some of his prior Burton collaborations, but is still wonderfully rich and layered. Dialogue throughout is perfectly prioritized, and if you need them, English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles are available in easy-to-read white lettering.
Alice In Wonderland Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Wonderland Characters (1080p, 27:56)
Alice in Wonderland is surprisingly light on special features, especially given the tech-heavy nature of the film. The supplementary experience consists of twelve relatively brief, somewhat fluffy featurettes. The first six fall under the Wonderland Characters heading, and as you might surmise, focus on the wily individuals that traipse through Tim Burton's crooked CGI landscapes. Finding Alice, The Mad Hatter, The Red Queen, and The White Queen feature interviews with actors playing the respective characters, Time-Lapse: Sculpting the Red Queen compresses Helena Bonham Carter's three hours in the make-up chair into a few minutes, and The Futterwacken reveals the secrets behind the incredibly stupid dance that the Mad Hatter does at the end of the film.
Making Wonderland (1080p, 19:29)
The remaining six featurettes are devoted to the "making of" aspects of the film's production. Scoring Wonderland shows composer and perpetual Burton-collaborator Danny Elfman doing his thing, Effecting Wonderland hones in on the visual effects required to bring Burton's vision to life, and Stunts of Wonderland profiles the physical handiwork of the actors and stunt-people. Making the Proper Size is probably the most interesting segment on the disc, as it showcases the digital manipulation required to shrink/grow Alice and make Helena Bonham Carter look so freakishly grotesque. Finally, Cakes of Wonderland and Tea Party Props let some of the production design specialists show off their handiwork.
The behind-the-scenes stuff is decent, but it's all surface-level. I would've loved a commentary by Burton or, better yet, an in-depth documentary on the history of Alice in literature and film.
Sneak Peaks (1080p)
Here we get an anti-piracy add, not so cleverly disguised as a promo for Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, and trailers for Beauty and the Beast, James and the Giant Peach, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue, and a Fantasia/Fantasia 2000 combo pack. Plus, a somewhat incongruous anti-smoking advert. Oh, and the top menu of the disc, for some undisclosed reason, tells you the forecast for the day.
Alice In Wonderland Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Like Avatar, Alice in Wonderland is a visual tour de force—and Burton, it should be said, for all his predictability lately, is more compelling a stylist than James Cameron—but the film lacks the sense of wonder implied by its title and inherent in Lewis Caroll's books. Perhaps it's partly because we're already so familiar with Alice's dream world, but I think it's mostly because we expect more from the mind that gave us Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Burton is clearly at his best when he's exploring realms of his own creation. For a film so deeply concerned with imagination and the intersection between dreams and reality, Alice in Wonderland is disappointingly pedestrian. Still, I'll give it this—it's livelier than Disney's 1951 adaptation, and kids seem to love it, drawn perhaps by the sense of darkness and danger present in nearly all of Burton's films. This one really is divisive, so if you didn't catch the film theatrically, a try-before-you-buy rental might be a good idea. For A/V-aholics, though, the tech specs on this Blu-ray are superb—a vivid picture, pristine sound—which may be enough to sway some to a blind buy. As a side note, those looking for a truly original take on the Alice story—one that, in some ways, seems more Burton-esque than Burton's own version—should check out Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmajer's 1988 film, Alice, a creaky and frequently unnerving combination of stop-motion animation and live action.
Alice in Wonderland: Other Editions
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