Friday, March 12, 2010

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Burton's Blunderland

As far as movie go, the new Alice in Wonderland is about as lifeless as the decapitated heads in the Red Queen's moat.

Now, I'm sorry that I had to spoil that visual, because it's one of the only truly remarkable things about this lazy adaptation of/sequel to Lewis Carroll's popular children's books. While I understand that the source material is but a series of vignettes, this didn't stop Disney from making two -- TWO -- remarkable adaptations. One is the famous cartoon, of course, while the other is the made-for-TV movie with Tina Majorino and Martin Short. I guess the third time is not the charm.

Tim Burton is one of my favorite directors. From "Vincent" to Sleepy Hollow, and everything in between, I thought he could do no wrong. Then of course came Planet of the Apes, which I realized wasn't very good, but which kept me entertained throughout most of it. (Tim Roth's performance helped, of course, and I still feel that he was snubbed for a Supporting Actor nod) But next was Big Fish, which I think is only second to Edward Scissorhands in the director's oeuvre. It wasn't until the beautiful but clearly rushed Corpse Bride that I began to worry. I loved it, but I wished the movie had been fleshed out some more. Then came Sweeney Todd, an adaptation of one of my favorite musicals. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I couldn't help but feel a little let down. Depp and Bonham-Carter were great, and the material is perfect for Burton...but I couldn't help being a little disappointed. Maybe if he had gotten, you know, singers...

And now there's Alice, which is the last straw. Paycheck grabs are all well and good, but shouldn't this, too, be in Burton's territory? Isn't he the obvious choice for an adaptation of Alice? Why is this so lifeless?

Perhaps the obviousness of the choice is part of the problem. I've seen the lawn figures, the creepy trees, the Colleen Atwood costumes, the Depp/Bonham-Carter pairing...been there, done that. But it really seems to be the only thing Burton wants. Every scene seems like it's just marking time until we can get back to The Red Queen or The Mad Hatter. The worst offense comes at the beginning, before Wonderland, when Alice is at a garden party outside London and meets all these characters who she'll have to FINALLY CONFRONT in the end. Yet these characters remain ciphers. I have no idea who Alice's sister Margaret is until she speaks to her at the end, yet she is constantly referenced. Actually, I don't even care.

The reviews I've been reading seem to praise Mia Wasikowska's performance as Alice. What what WHAAAAT? She's got a pretty face and a nice smile, but Mia's Alice is so apathetic and lifeless, it's no wonder I can't get into the story. I find her Alice obnoxious and difficult to identify with. Her line readings are insincere, though the script certainly doesn't help by flatlining her character arc. I mean, if one is going to make the Alice story into an actual story, shouldn't they try some dramatic tension, character development, a sequence of events that makes sense? Why, when the Mad Hatter starts a rebellion in the middle of the Red Queen's court, do the Queen, her knight, and the soldier cards just sit there, watching. It's like they're just waiting for their next line.

Which is odd, because generally speaking, Helena Bonham-Carter and Crispin Glover are the only things of note in this film. Certainly not Depp, whose "madness" amounts to sometimes doing a Scottish accent. Why? Because it's mad! Or...maybe it's because Johnny likes to do accents and his bff Tim doesn't know how to say no? That seems more likely. And after the haunting John Dillinger in Public Enemies, which is my favorite Depp performance, this same "bag of tricks" approach to the Mad Hatter is more than irritating, it's disappointing. Meanwhile, Bonham-Carter and Glover are actually playing mad characters, and doing so in such a natural manner that you completely buy into it. It's a shame we're supposed to root against the Red Queen, because Bonham-Carter actually brings some depth and sympathy to the role.

It reminds me of The Devil Wears Prada. Meryl's got all her people in the conference room, and the chick from Lost mentions doing something about flowers for the Spring issue. Meryl says dismissively, "Florals? For spring? Ground breaking." Then in comes Stanley Tucci, and he's already done the work he should do, to which she replies, "Thank God somebody came to work today." That's what this is like. We've seen these parlor tricks before, but it means nothing, it's unoriginal, it's dull. Christopher Lee cameo? In a Tim Burton film? Groundbreaking. Thank God Helena Bonham-Carter came to work today.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

What was the point of putting Christopher Lee in this movie? He had literally one line.

Apart from that, I think you've become overly critical in your old age.