Sunday, 14 March 2010

FILM REVIEW: Alice in Wonderland

Once upon a time Tim Burton was one of the most exciting and visionary directors in the world. He was the master of the gothic fairytale, bringing us cult masterpieces such as Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice. He was also responsible for the phenomena that is Mr Johnny Depp. Together their collaborations of dark beauty and black humour could be relied upon every time to produce both awe and big takings at the Box Office. Arguably Alice in Wonderland was the most anticipated film of 2010: the material lends perfectly to Burton's love of the twisted and curious, and the opportunity to create a world of unhinged characters, unearthly landscapes and magical prevalence. The ingredients were right, and they were stirred by the right man. But something went awry in the oven...

I was looking forward to this for a long time, then became flooded by a sense of sameness. This was Tim Burton doing what he does best, but it was also Tim Burton doing what he always does. I briefly became excited again after seeing the trailer in 3D and thought perhaps that would enrich the standard Burton experience, but I should know better than to place such weight onto the impact of 3D (more on that later). But the final thing was a big disappointment. The story fails by succumbing to a battle plot more reminiscent of Narnia than of Wonderland. Burton gives Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter a needlessly puffed up role just for the sake of it, and many of the supporting characters are aloof and confused - I know this is how they're supposed to be, but in this production it hindered the flow of things massively. There were big stretches where I wasn't following the interchanges and character dynamics at all. I appreciate this was Tim Burton giving us his own take on the classic tale, but it didn't work. It may have been different for the story, but in terms of modern cinema it wasn't anything particularly memorable or original.

That's not to say there weren't some good merits - the best performances came from the two queens, with Helena Bonham Carter terrifically juvenile as the Red Queen blessed with some of the best lines, and Anne Hathaway a quietly disturbing and unbalanced White Queen channelling Nigella Lawson with real relish. Mia Wasikowska was a perfectly fine Alice if a bit bland. Johnny Depp would have stood out more if he had appeared for less time and with more fanfare. Instead he drags on and becomes - clumsily - Alice's 'faun' (what was with the odd dance at the end?! What a load of futterwack!)

It was very pretty to look at, I'll give that to 3D - the colourful swollen mushrooms to the castles rising up out of tangled forest and wasteland. But apart from that the 3D added very little, and if you haven't already seen this and want to I would say don't bother forking out the extra four or five pounds. If anyone could have sold the 3D concept it's Tim Burton, and he hasn't done anything extraordinary here. I won't be bothering with the glasses again.

As for Alice in Wonderland, it's entertaining but that's about all. Burton & Depp certainly haven't lost their sparkle: Sweeney Todd was fresh for them and it worked; this is just the same stuff we've seen churned out time and time before.Great for new audiences, but for the tried and tested majority we want the next level please.

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