Film Review – Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland
Alice Kingsley, now 19, attends a party at a Victorian estate shortly after the death of her beloved father. Alice spots a white rabbit wearing a waistcoat and pocket watch. In shock and confusion, she runs off into a maze and follows the White Rabbit through it. She eventually tumbles down a rabbit hole into Underland, more commonly referred to as “Wonderland” by its inhabitants. She had visited this place 10 years earlier, but had entirely forgotten about it. She is also told that she is the only one who can slay the Jabberwock, the dragon who terrorizes the inhabitants of Wonderland under the rule of the Red Queen.

Tim Burton’s long-anticipated ‘Alice in Wonderland’ 3D will open in UK cinemas on the 5th March 2010 and I will be right at the front of the queue. Again.
Geek Syndicate were lovely enough to send me to the press screening of Alice, and as I wedged the 3D glasses on my excitable face and the opening bars of Danny Elfman’s soundtrack filled the cinema, I settled down for 108 minutes of surreal and fantastical adventure which has the trademarks of Tim Burton stamped all over it.

Fans of Tim Burton have been awaiting Alice in Wonderland for years and while they will be thrilled with what Burton has achieved through a combination of animation, green-screen and live action; fans of the original Lewis Carroll book may be disappointed. Screenwriter Linda Woolverton & Burton have created a whole new AiW – one that’s darker, creepier, changing Wonderland to Underland, with an older lead, significant deviations from the original text, and the inclusion of several characters from the sequel ‘Through the Looking Glass’.
I believe the film is magnificent, and all the changes worked for me, and made it a stronger film – but I heard a few grumblings from the press about how Burton had manipulated both books in order to make the film that he wanted, but surely this is common practice in Hollywood these days, and if it’s done well then so be it. One thing most of the press did seem to agree on though was how visually stunning the film looked and also how impressive the acting talent was.

The set design, as is expected in a Burton film, is lavish and surreal and made even more impressive by the 3D experience. Also helped by the 3D were the visual effects, in particular the elusive Cheshire Cat whose smile would appear before he did, and remain while he evaporated into swirling smoke. The stunning costumes and make-up must be mentioned too, with particular kudos to the Red Queen’s pencil-thin eyebrows, bright blue eyeshadow, and geisha-like heart-shaped lipstick all on a head twice the size it should be….think Bette Davies as Elizabeth I on acid.

As well as a top-of-his-game Depp (Mad Hatter), and crazy-as-a-rabid-badger Bonham-Carter (Red Queen), Burton has summoned a vast range of, predominantly British, brilliant voice actors: Michael Sheen (White Rabbit), Christopher Lee (Jabberwocky), Stephen Fry (Cheshire Cat), Alan Rickman (Caterpillar), Paul Whitehouse (March Hare), Matt Lucas (Tweedledum & Tweedledee), and even Eastenders favourite Barbara Windsor (Dormouse).

The majority of the remaining acting cast was superb, with Crispin Glover getting extra points for performing all his scenes on stilts in a snazzy one piece covered in ping pong balls (his Knave of Hearts is over 7 foot tall). Mia Wasikowska is perfect as the late-teen, fanciful and rebellious Alice, and even though she is pretty new to major feature films she doesn’t let anyone act her into a corner.

Depp and Bonham-Carter are predictably and insanely brilliant. Bonham-Carter has compared her character to a precocious toddler who demands her own evil way. She bellows her way through all her scenes, terrifying all her subjects, and being beastly to all of animal kind. Depp has spoken of how he sees the Mad Hatter as a tragic figure, and plays him in equal parts as insane, adorable and terrifically sad. He shifts between accents like he is changing gears – Scottish, English and others in between, dependant on his mood. As a previous critic of Depp’s accents (From Hell anyone?), I can definitely say he’s got it right this time. I’d been enjoying the film so much before he makes his entrance I’d forgotten he was in it, but once he arrived he does kinda own the film.

Finally, Danny Elfman in his kajillionth collaboration with Burton, once again provides a blinding score which perfectly matches the fantasy world of the creepy Underland, veering between soft, twinkly music for Alice and the White Queen; to crashing, thunderous music for the Jabberwocky.

Overall, AiW looks incredible, has a stellar cast, and while I had a few niggles (which I can’t say without spoiling), overall the story was just right and had me hooked all the way through. Young kids may find several of the characters terrifying, but everyone else should find something they enjoy. I for one can’t wait to see what Burton, Depp et al come up with next.

GS Reviewer: Iz McAuliffe

Coming Soon –  listen to the full Press Conference with Johnny Depp, Tim Burton, Helena Bonham-Carter, Crispin Glover, Danny Elfman, Joe Roth, Richard Zanuck, Mia Wasikowska, and Anne Hathaway

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