puddlesofun: (Default)
I should really stop my habit of reviewing movies and then not posting the review. So:

Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland, and its sequel, differ from your average epic fantasy in that they do not have any of the following:

*A Prophecy
*A group of heroes banding together on a quest, or heroes at all for that matter
*Character arcs where people learn things about themselves
*Much in the way of characters that can be loved or relied upon
*A climactic sword battle at the end

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland has all of these. And funky hip hop dance. And a closing number by Avril Lavigne.

I suppose I shouldn’t get too bent out of shape that, in turning Alice into a Hollywood movie, Burton turned Alice into a Hollywood movie, but it’s my blog and I’ll rant if I want to. It might be excusable to turn the Hatter into a friend and ally, into a hero even, but that he has a dramatic swordfight at the end, just because that’s what heroes do in this sort of movie, is a little too much for me to swallow.

It’s all done exceeding well of course. Characters are fleshed out and various other bits of Lewis Carrol are inserted skillfully (a Bandersnatch turns up quite early on, and is convincingly frumious), but most of the changes are all in service of Story, and when I say Story I don’t mean that force of nature that binds humanity by a billion threads, I mean the Hollywood conviction, held by people who read Robert McKee books, that every story must be exactly the same. Essentially, Burton makes the story of Alice in Wonderland more . . . normal. What the hell, Tim? This is possibly an enduring testament to the weirdness of Alice, but it might also be a glaring sign that Tim Burton just isn’t as weird as he wants us to think. There are moments in the past when I’ve thought he knew what he was doing (I cried in Edward Scissorhands, but then, I was ten at the time), but if what he is doing is schmaltz in black eyeshadow, then maybe Wonderland isn’t where he should be. Wonderland (and keep in mind that this review comes from the perspective of someone attached enough to the books to care about the distinction, which you may not) does not have that kind of schmaltz.

The basic premise, that Alice returns to Wonderland at the age of 19, on the cusp of being proposed to by some upper class twit, holds promise. There are all sorts of possibilities there. Alice Liddel would have been only a little past the age of Alice in the movie when Through the Looking-Glass was released. Admittedly, the sort of places I might take such a story (about the stories her creepy/beloved uncle Charles used to tell her, before that Summer the family stopped speaking to or about him all together, and how that effected who she became, and the impact of finding out the magical place was real) probably would get the whole thing axed by Disney.

Much of the casting and fleshing out of characters is wonderful. Helena Bonham-Carter’s Queen of Hearts (doubling as the Red Queen – whatever, I’ll allow it), is enjoyably angry, and suitably presented in the dimensions of a giant toddler, and her toadying courtiers are just right. Matt Lucas was perfect as both the Tweedles, and Stephen “goodbye, sweet hat” Fry is always a pleasure. Depp turns up the wacky as the Hatter, but any character with a murderous Scottish alter-ego has the unfortunate effect of reminding me of Mike Myers at his worst. And of course, he can act as crazy as he likes, but he has to be sane in ways that the Mad Hatter of the books was not. Because the wild mishappen peg of the Hatter is forced with little grace into the square-hole cinematic archetype of hero and dependable friend, he is rendered predictable.

There are but a few other bum notes with the characters. I don’t know who plays the dormouse, but they seem to be a female version of Reepicheep now. Why? And Christopher Lee is now as close as a man can come to a walking cliche, and his presence in anything vaguely fantastical completely destroys the illusion.

Most problematic, plot-wise, is Alice herself, despite a good performance from Mia Ziwhatserface. Why, if she is so rebellious and independent-minded, does she end up doing exactly what the poe-faced prophesisers of Wonderland tell her to do, rather than at least come up with her own plan to save the day (one course of action, involving cake, suggests itself as an obvious alternative)?

And at the end, Alice chooses to return home, which in the land of the books would make perfect sense because Wonderland, though sometimes fun, is dangerous and confusing and home is comforting to a young girl. It makes less sense in the movie because she has friends and agency in Wonderland but pressures back home and the lack of freedom incumbent on a young woman in that time. But what’s this? Oh ho, she turns down the engagement, of course she does, and she insults various people above her station and then takes control of her destiny by grabbing her aspiring fiance’s father, a lord, and offering to go into business with him as an apprentice. And she shows everyone her ankles. The lord in question is quite thrilled at the prospect of giving a job to the woman who just humiliated his son in front of roughly a hundred people, who she then exposed herself to, and he listens in awe as she outlines her brilliant plan: “What if we were to trade with China?” That he thinks this is novel despite the fact that Britain have been trading with China for years and have had several quite terrible wars over that very issue perhaps doesn’t bode well for their business venture, but I suppose that’s another story.

I enjoyed much of this movie, honestly, and would recommend it for kids of a certain age, but for fucks sake people, your stories DON’T ALL HAVE TO BE THE SAME SHAPE. In Oz, you can find a new way to appreciate your home. In Narnia, you can live as a monarch and come back as a painfully british but decent hearted chap or lass full of the love of the Lord, er, I mean Aslan. In Never-never land you might grow up despite yourself. You might come back from wonder land with nothing more than a sense of child-like wonder in tact. I don’t know. But you wouldn’t come back with a working knowledge of how to wear armour and slay dragons*, would you? Because that’s bloody Narnia or middle-Earth.


*Yes, I know it was a Jabberwock, but a Jabberwock could be any monstrous thing, and this one was quite clearly and unimaginatively a dragon.
puddlesofun: (twins)
I switched on the tv tonight to find out that SBS was changing its movie lineup and that Des Mangan will no longer be presenting the cult movie. This is a sorrowful day. Without Mangan and his wry introductions I would never have seen the zombie classic Dellamore Dellamorte or the gay-detective-story-set-in-New-York-but-filmed-in-Germany Attack of The Killer Condom. I would never have learned the true meaning of butt-kicking-kung-fu-action in Jackie Chan classics such as The Young Master. Without Des I would never have seen Ripa Hits The Skids. And this is not to mention the Godzilla films. Damnit, the man practically raised me, cinematically speaking.
Where will the youth of tommorrow go to get a solid education in worldwide cinematic trash? How will they survive?
And where the hell am I going to get my fix?

He will be sorely missed.

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