Title: Alice in Wonderland
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helene Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Linda Woolverton (screenplay), Lewis Carroll (novel)
Runtime: 108 min
Release Date: March 5, 2010
Blu-Ray Release Date: June 1, 2010
Tim Burton's slightly darker twisted take on Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland introduces us to an Alice that is no longer in her childhood. Alice is now a young woman, a woman who has had her life preplanned and dictated to her since her father passed away. Alice is a constantly distracted, fiercely independent individual who wants nothing more than to live life on her own terms. When Alice is unwittingly proposed to by a pale, smarmy and entirely repulsive young Lord in the interest of a beneficial marriage she sprints away from the crowd of onlookers as the hapless Lordling looks on.
In the process of chasing what Alice can't help but assume is a rabbit wearing a waistcoat she falls into a rabbit hole that is much more than it appears. After a dizzying fall sequence Alice finds herself in a bizzarre and strangely familiar world where the impossible seems to happen with great frequency. The talking animals of Wonderland have lured Alice here in the hope that she can save them from the tyrannical rule of the Red Queen, played brilliantly by Helena Bonham Carter. Alice is once again finding the world spinning out of control around her.
Alices adventures find her chased by all means of creature and characters, from card shaped knights to a strange cross between a tiger, a snow leopard and a beachball called a Bandersnatch. After running for her life for most of the first few minutes of the film Alice and doormouse are cornered by the Bandersnatch. Doormouse managed to poke out one of the Bandersnatch's eyes but not before Alice is scratched by poisonous claws. With the help of "Ches" or the cheshire cat, Alice has her wounded arm bound and eventually finds her way to the Mad Hatter (Depp) who has hatched an unsurprisingly mad scheme to bring down the red queen.
The Knave of Hearts, Stayne is portrayed by Crispin Glover - who delivers a great performance that I found myself enjoying even more the second time I watched this film. His character is the perfect portrayal of a weak willed individual who finds himself drunk on the power afforded by his position. His false love of the Red Queen and his obsession with large heads create an amusing and convincing character that I enjoyed watching on screen.
The Red Queen sends Stayne to hunt for Alice with the assistance of a ransomed bloodhound - who leads Stayne and a contigent of knights straight to the Hatter's tea party where Alice is promptly shrunk and hidden in a teapot whilst the march hare throws teacups at everything in sight, including Stayne. As the bloodhound pushes his nose to the teapot the Hatter mumbles "downwiththeboodybighead" and the dog runs in the opposite direction. The Hatter explains to Alice that she must steal the Vorpal Sword from the Red Queen and take it to her sister - the White Queen so Alice along with the White Queen's army can fight the Jabberwocky on the Frabjous Day (the day that Alice is prophesied to free Underland from the Red Queen's rule).
Alice must find a way to inflitrate the Red Queen's castle, steal the Vorpal Sword from beneath the nose of the deadly Bandersnatch, and escape. The final half of the film moves at a fast pace and keeps the viewer interested, though the many breakdowns in the script continue to drag down the storytelling process. The film ends in typical Disney fashion - with Alice victorious and the hero of the day. Alice returns to the real world as expected and refuses the marry the young Lord and chooses to follow in the footsteps of her father as a business person.
This film received a rating of PG. There is very little content that would be considered inappropriate for a young audience though some themes may be a little dark or scary.
If there's one thing Burton usually brings to his movies it is a unique visual flair - and Alice in Wonderland is no exception. Filmed entirely in the digital domain on Panavision Genesis cameras with some high end Dalsa, Zeiss and Angenieux lenses this is a beautiful film. The color palette used in many of the early Wonderland scenes is outstanding with a huge range of hues. Detail is finely resolved and there is no noticeable artifacting visible from the digital post production process.
The film comes to Blu-Ray in a 23mbps AVC encode with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. While the aspect ratio is slightly atypical for blockbuster films, it works well for the subject matter ( We don't need many pan shots of massive vistas in this film). In my box offie review I stated:
Most of us are now permanently spoiled when it comes to 3D after the Avatar experience - we now expect immersion to be seamless, no headaches, perfectly natural 3D that helps bring the movie to life. Alice in Wonderland does attain this at certain moments, however most of the time the 3D does unfortunately leave a little to be desired. I would not go so far as to say it detracts from the film, but I did leave the theater thinking that I would be completely satisfied if I had seen the movie in 2D instead.
The result of my first 2D viewing of the film is indeed that 3D didn't add all that much to the presentation. The 2D presentation was just as, if not more enjoyable - perhaps because there was no attention grabbing 3D gimmick distracting me as I watched the film. The Blu-Ray encode is of superior quality, with no noticeable grain, sharpening artifacts or banding. The black levels are inky and grayscale detail is well preserved which lends a 3D like "pop" to the film even in 2D.
This film is a great experience for viewers who love color and texture - as Burton uses both to great effect. While there are some minor softening issues due to the heavy use of CGI this seem to be an unavoidable side effect of effects driven films that use live action as well. Overall this is a fantastic video presentation that even the most discriminating viewer will have trouble faulting.
The DTS-HD MA audio mix in Alice in Wonderland is capable and well thought out. The music is quite haunting and fits very well thematically with the movie - in fact the music is the most memorable part of the audio from my experience. There are no massive explosions to induce heart pounding bass in the film, though one scene does dig quite deep for a moment or two. Dialogue is clear and well resolved with excellent level matching to ensure no detail is obscured by other channels. The film's score conveys a large part of the story and in my opinion does this more effectively than the script does. The score is beautifully rendered and steals the show on Blu-Ray just as it did in theaters. Microdynamics are used to great effect in some scenes and this detail is well preserved. The surround and LFE channels are used conservatively but their presence does not go unnoticed - their use is preserved for scenes that demand their presence. The soundfield is very coherent and forecful when required - resulting in a nicely balanced but not overtly attention grabbing presentation. This is an enjoyable aural experience that neither disappoints nor impresses me in any meaningful way, it is simply a well put together compliment to the film.
It's nice to see a larger proportion of HD extras coming with Blu-Ray discs in the past few months and Alice is no exception. While most of the extras are short, the majority are HD and have a lot of good information.
Finding Alice [HD]
The Mad Hatter [HD]
Effecting Wonderland [HD]
The Futterwacken Dance [HD]
The Red Queen [HD]
Time-lapse: Sculpting the Red Queen [HD]
The White Queen [HD]
Scoring Wonderland [HD]
Stunts of Wonderland [HD]
Making the proper size [HD]
Cakes of Wonderland [HD]
Tea party props
DVD of Alice in Wonderland
Digital Copy of Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland is an interesting take on Lewis Carroll's classic story. The characters are true to the literary archetypes they are based upon, with Depp, Glover and Bonham Carter capturing the essence of their characters extremely well. Unfortunately, Alice, the character who should be the star of the film is portrayed so tamely by Wasikowski that she is at times washed out by extremely colorful characters surrounding her.
This film had moments where I saw something truly original and enjoyable - but was continually dragged down by a trite and unrefined script. The screenplay seems to also suffer many of the same problems - while pacing is acceptable the story telling process is so often confusing and poorly conveyed that the viewer can't help but feel a bit bored. The major detraction from Alice in Wonderland isn't that it's a poorly executed film - because it isn't terribly executed. What I do sense is that there was a massive amount of potential for this to be an amazing film - and it fell far short of its capabilities. Burton assembled a star studded cast and had the budget to do whatever he pleased - ultimately the result was a film that wanted to be much more than it was and never quite got there.
Script and storytelling issues aside, the show is quite literally stolen by Burton's vivid portrayal of Wonderland - a mash up between Avatar's neon color palette one moment and an almost monochromatic scene the next. Whatever shortcomings Alice in Wonderland does have, many viewers enjoy nothing more than a twisted, garish, vivid world brought to life by Tim Burton - and this he delivers upon in spades.