Friday, March 5, 2010

Tripping Down The Rabbit Hole: Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland

Don't be afraid by the Disney logo preluding Tim Burton's latest film -- be worried knowing that the logo will try to leap off the screen in 3D. Burton isn't a stranger to Disney, nor is he a stranger to family friendly entertainment. After all, he had his start with Disney as an animator on films such as The Fox and the Hound (1982) and has found popularity with contemporary fables like Edward Scissorhands (1990), Big Fish (2003) and Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (2005). On the other hand, grandiose 3D epics are new territory for him. So it comes as a bit of a shock that he would use the technology to neglect the hand-crafted set pieces which have become a more appealing staple of his usual style. Burton may want us to follow Alice through the rabbit hole, but instead of going on a marvelous exploration into the surreal, we find ourselves tripping along a path paved with only green screens. The problem Burton has isn't with Alice, it's in Wonderland.

Burton's choice to adopt a third-dimension unfortunately doesn''t add much depth to the film. The landscapes are largely flat, lifeless and barren. They might exist within a computer, but on the movie screen they feel like they don't exist at all. Burton regulars like Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter stand out in front of the processed backdrops, but they often look like cardboard cutouts even if their performances are quite to the contrary. It would appear that James Cameron's advancements with the technology have spoiled us, because the 3D at work here makes this movie appear flat and dated. The special effects often don't feel all that special and you end up with a film that's hard to fall in love with despite it's pedigree. The world Alice explores looks processed and segmented and one that's lacking in texture and finesse.

There are elements which still shine though within the all-too-dreary wonderland (dubbed "Underland" by it's inhabitants). Burton's vision perhaps comes across strongest when his Alice is at her smallest. Some moments look wonderfully fantastical; a tiny Alice hiding among blades of grass twice her size, under the hat of a hatter, Alice's brief stay below the lid of a teapot and a quick shot of the Mad Hatter behind skewed prison bars to name a few. These scenes might be aided by special effects, but they are thankfully not reliant on them. They serve more as reminders of the magic we all know Tim Burton is capable of pulling off. Sadly, they are all but lost in a film that doesn't really feel like his own.

A few choice visuals aside, Johnny Depp as the Hatter and Mia Wasikowska as Alice both offer up solid performances. But it's Helena Bonham Carter who is the life of the party. Her big-headed Red Queen with a childlike grasp on villainy is simply divine. In the end, Burton's panache for characters does survive his dependence on technology. I just wish he had focused more attention towards making a world which we could believe in. I was onboard for this trip, but I wound up wishing I was anywhere else.

-- Andrew Dupuis is a devoted cinephile and graduate of Brock University's Film Studies program with an extensive background in Canadian and popular cinema. He is currently working on his first book.

1 comment:

  1. Well, took the kids to see this re-make of the classic Lewis Carroll wrote. Did I mention we had to buy our tickets a day in advance! Guess the Movie industry is really hurting from downloaded movies. I remember hearing the same think about music, cassette tapes and VHS/BETA.
    Well I have to admit that the Digital 3D is quite amazing, I was very impressed, it is stream less and very clear. I did notice a lot of the upcoming 3D movies are all sequels again. Toy Story, Shrek etc… Not impressed with that, time to move on in the storyline department.
    On to the movie: I give it 4 stars out of 5, it stuck well with the book and strayed very few times but backed it up well for the kiddies. Otherwise no young child would even have a clue what is going on and will only care about the Cheshire Cat and Dormouse. The March Hair seems to have Turrets Syndrome and was very funny. Kids all got a kick out of his character. Depp pulls off another off the wall character and does quite well, he makes his parts so believable. The Knave Of Hearts is played by Crispin Clover, who played George McFly in Back To The Future, pulls off a stellar role, I found his performance to be very strong. The Queen Of Hearts played by Helena Bonham Carter was quite intriguing. The makeup and special effects were amazing as usual. I really liked the background settings that Tim Burton used this time around, very bright opposed to his usual “dark” scenes.
    All in all I would still have to say, The Cheshire Cat is still my fav character. Was well worth the money to enjoy this movie and it touched an intrest in my 9 year old daughter to want to read the book.
    Hats Off Tim Burton, you pulled another one out of the rabbit hole