It is fitting as the new Alice In Wonderland movie is in its own way very epic, but there are many elements of it that are epic fail.
I hope you brought your popcorn because I will also be going into quite a few other versions of Alice while I'm at it. But for now...
First thing's first.
Is Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland enjoyable?
This is, of course, a subjective question. I left the cinema with mixed feelings. Arch hated it. We were both subjected to a couple of loud, raving fans who loved the film like their first born. One guy let the world know he was going to dye his hair white. Arch and I shared a little stomach churn.
My feelings are thankfully easy to explain because the mixture is quite distinct and it is very easy to point the finger of blame in a black and white fashion - often difficult with big budget movies with many hands at the controls.
Quite simply, this movie feels exactly like what it is: a terrible screenplay given to a great director.
("WELL I TRIED, LOL")
Linda Woolverton is responsible for the script. This is slightly odd as she wrote The Lion King, which I thought was a great movie with a great story. On the other hand, The Lion King wasn't based off anything - but with Alice, she's out of her depth. I'm sure Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) would be rolling in his grave if he knew what she has done to his stories.
Since posting this, a lot of people have pointed out to me that The Lion King was in fact based off Hamlet, which I think is an interesting point to briefly discuss.
That shouldn't matter.
The fact is, The Lion King is a fun movie to watch, and unlike this version of Alice, the story it is based on has been referenced for plot movements and not the universe. The universe of that film is Africa, with the story and characters modeled off Hamlet.
Is that such a crime? Akira Kurosawa repeatedly (and fucking brilliantly, might I add) adapted Shakespearean works into Samurai stories.
That said and done, Linda Woolverton is still a scumbag.
The problem here is Alice In Wonderland. This time she's done the opposite. She has taken a universe - the Alice stories - and mangled it to fit a script she couldn't write. Perhaps she should have stuck to stealing old plots instead of old characters.
The movie is off to a good start with a surprisingly long Victorian-era dramedy that feels like something from a Jane Austen book. It's surprisingly witty and enjoyable, but just as we begin to wonder if this is indeed the CGI-saturated blockbuster we were assaulted with in the trailers, she sees the White Rabbit and all hell breaks loose.
First she falls down the rabbit hole. This has been interpreted in many ways before but I think in this one Tim Burton goes a bit too far and you are suddenly reminded (well, I was) that you are sitting in a cinema with a pair of 3D glasses and surrounded by speakers. There's none of this slow, gentle falling you see in many adaptations (which is how her fall is described in the book), but rather a Brendan Frasier Journey-To-The-Centre-Of-The-Earth-style "AAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGHHHH!!!!" moment, with lots of furniture flutting past our ears with 'fwoofs' and 'fwips'. Rather than using 3D for immersive purposes, like in Avatar (complain as I do about that film, it was brilliantly executed), it actually serves to distance the audience in Alice.
Upon finally landing in Wonderland (which Woolverton thought would be a terrific idea to rename "Underland", despite the fact that the film is called Alice In Wonderland, but okay), the CGI saturation and special effects assult begins.
Unfortunately, the story is about as crappy as what you'd find in Avatar, but the effects aren't as good. James Cameron has just made things harder for all other not-so-sophisticated "Hollywood" directors - forever. This may be a good thing in the case of Michael Bay, but it's alarming to see the visual genius of Tim Burton begin to lose its touch.
That said, however, the designs of the characters are exquisite. I love Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum in particular, and the Knave of Hearts took me a long time to register as unnaturally tall. It's a shock when it finally occurs to you.
Burton and his team of concept artists have, of course, taken liberty with Dodgson's lack of description of the Bandersnatch or Jabberwocky and proceeded to create their own wild creatures with them. They fit in the dark 'Underland' that Tim Burton has fashioned quite comfortably, and the Cheshire Cat is so incredibly beautiful he needs to be seen to be believed. The eeriness of his aquatic floating and magical disappearing acts are, in my humble opinion, a hilight of the film. And don't get me started on Stephen Fry's acting.
I'm less impressed with Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter. I had hopes when I first saw the posters for the movie, but essentially he's playing Jack Sparrow with a lot more makeup. As if to compensate, they have added a "multiple personalities" slant on him which means, annoyingly, he will randomly break out into speaking Scottish with a much more grizzly voice. I know what they were trying to do, but no. It just doesn't work.
Depp's Hatter would have been a lot more welcome if he had not outstayed his welcome, but alas, because he's the most iconic character (and played by an extremely popular actor), they fucking milk him.
Take it from me, block your ears and cover your eyes when he does the dance. >_>;;
To elaborate on Linda Woolverton's stupid story, she has set it long after the events of the original Alice's Adventures In Wonderland / Alice Through The Looking Glass stories, which was done once before in the "Science Fiction" *cough* serial Alice (I will cover this further down the post). It didn't work then, and I guess old Linda thought she could make it work. It's better than the travesty of a series, but not much. Some narrative corpses should remain in their graves undefiled, no matter how sensitive and gentle your necro-loving skills.
Sorry, that must be the Burton talking.
The screenplay, while occasionally very funny and sometimes quite tense, is very poorly paced (honestly, how hard is it to pace a story?) and disrespectful to the original story to the point of irony. It also suffers a number of those niggling little hollywood blights that have been popping up in the past decade or so - specific quotes being repeated by another character later, with new meaning (I used to find that clever but now it's just irritating) was perhaps the main offense. A close second would be (apologies if this can actually be considered a spoiler once you've been watching the movie for forty minutes) the fucking Chronicles of Narnia ending.
DEAR HOLLYWOOD. SAVE THE LORD OF THE RINGS BATTLES FOR LORD OF THE RINGS. THANK YOU. YOURS TRULY, PETER.
Watching Alice take up arms against a beast in mortal battle is pretty stupid. Linda Woolverton said she was really bothered by how the Alice of the book and other adaptations cried and broke down too much, and she wanted a stronger character. So she made Alice a man, basically.
Tim Burton didn't ruin this film. He saved it. If Linda's script had made it into less experienced hands it would be a certified fucking Razzie.
If you are into special effects and would like to taste a new and very (and I mean, VERY) different interpretation of the Alice myth, look no further.
If, on the other hand, you are a genuine fan of the Alice works and think Burton / Depp / CGI / Hollywood scripts are big pieces of shit on a stick then I seriously suggest you do yourself a favour and avoid it at all costs. I happen to like Burton and Depp, so that was at least two out of four and I came out of the film "half-liking" it.
Now on to Part Deuce. How others have handled it.
THE BEST VERSION
Read the book. Seriously. The original Alice's Adventures In Wonderland and Alice Through The Looking Glass are sheer literary genius.
The wordplay is so exquisite that, sadly, it is totally unable to be reproduced on film. Many versions include Alice whispering to herself, "curiouser and curiouser". This is from the book. The effect is completely lost on film.
Alice thinks to herself, she talks to herself, she gives herself good advice. In film versions, this is either ignored completely (most versions), implemented patchily (Disney version) or overplayed to the point where it is boring (1999 version). Never is it as engaging or as funny as in the books.
It's also worth noting that the Bandersnatch and Jabberwocky are poems recited WITHIN the Alice books, totally separate from the story. They like to ignore this in movie adaptations for delicious set-pieces, but Alice never actually encounters either.
MY FAVOURITE VERSION
1972, the appropriately named Alice's Adventures In Wonderland. There is a majesty to this version that has never been matched by another version of the film.
It actually begins with Charles Dodgson (who, probably out of respect, does not stutter - he had a terrible stutter in real life) on a boat with the Liddell sisters, including the real-life Alice. This is very similar to how the book begins, and that similarity remains throughout the film. This work is by far the most respectful to Dodgson's writings, and the attitude which he imbued with the story.
For a movie so dated (it really does feel like something from the early seventies), the special effects are surprsingly good and many a time I found myself asking, "how did they do that?" Isn't it more impressive when the default answer isn't "with a computer"?
Like many other film adaptations, this version features actors in makeup portraying the animals. Although there are a couple of characters who are chuckle worthy in their design, most of them (particularly the white rabbit) look exquisite. It never looks like some creepy furry porno, which unfortunately cannot be said about all adaptations of the book.
Special mention goes to Spike Milligan who plays the Gryphon. If you've ever listened to the Goon Show, you will recognise his voice instantly.
The scene with the Hatter isn't as manic as many other versions, but it's one of the most accurate.
While this version doesn't bugger around with mixing Wonderland and Looking Glass, it does also feature Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. And in my humble opinion, they are the most incredible Tweedles to have ever graced the screen.
Fred and Frank Cox are real-life twins and can dance like nobody's business. The first time they hopped into the scene I burst out laughing, and I'm not kidding when I say that despite being live action with typical dancing, it is actually funnier and more impressive than the Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum dance-in from the Disney version.
The costume designs, sets (if occasionally fairly low budget), tone of the film and writing are all perfect. If I had to make a complaint it would be that their Cheshire Cat is probably the least impressive or appealing version I've ever seen. On the other hand, you've got to give it to a movie that stuffs songs in left, right and centre that are actually enjoyable.
Alice movies tend to be a prime target for terrible song-and-dance sequences, but the ones from Alice's Adventures are actually quite entertaining and, pivotally, assist the story.
But of course, you don't want to know about this film, do you? You want to know what I think of the version you and everyone else grew up with.
THE MOST LOVED VERSION
Those oysters are the cutest bloody things I've ever seen.
Ahh, but of course - the Disney classic.
This version is often brought under fire for being inaccurate, but it's a lot closer than the Woolverton/Burton version. More importantly, it's faithful to the spirit of the book.
Let's face it, folks, if it weren't for the Disney adaptation, we probably wouldn't have any of the versions that came after it. As the most explosively popular and iconic version of the film to date, more people know the Alice story through the Disney effort than from the book. Problematic for scholars, of course, because the story diverges and goes on complete tangents at many points, but it's all in the nonsense-logic that served as the engine of the literary version. This version has love in it, from top to bottom, and its inaccuracies can be forgiven for its attitude and warmth which make it a pleasure to watch. It's also probably responsible for everyone in this day and age having actually read Alice in the first place. God forbid the original tales may have been forgotten by now otherwise.
The Caterpillar scene was particularly enjoyable for me because although it added in a completely new element - the smoke-blown letters - it was completely funny and still faithful. The Caterpillar's character is very well defined. Perhaps my only criticism is that Alice talks a lot in the scene about not knowing who she is. This makes sense if you've read the book, it doesn't when you watch the movie.
The choices for voices were also quite good. It took me a while to adjust to Alice ("I'm ever so blah"), but the characters are drawn and voiced with the zaniness and smoothness of the book in mind. Sterling Holloway's Cheshire Cat does sound like his chief role of Winny the Pooh, but in a seductive, menacing way.
Before the Tim Burton version, this was the one interpretation of the Alice film that everyone knew. It revitalised interest in Dodgson's work and is imbued thoroughly with the charm of the Disney Magic.
THE CUTEST ALICE AWARD
The cutest Alice captured on film was, of course, Natalie Gregory, from the two-part direct-to-TV 1985 version, featuring both the Wonderland and Looking Glass stories.
Hell, just look at her.
Apart from the cuteness of Alice, however, this version was a pile of fail on many fronts. It had a gigantic cast of very well-known actors, but not a budget to accomodate much more than that - which meant cringe-inducing costumes (remember I mentioned some versions looking like furry orgies?) and ghastly special effects. The main villain of the piece, the Jabberwocky, looks so terrible I couldn't actually take a screenshot that could do it justice. You need to see this guy to believe how bad he looks. It's Godzilla fare - I was literally keeping an eye out for the zipper.
Disturbingly, it also features a female Tweedle Dee. For no reason, whatsoever.
While it goes to some effort to remain accurate to the book, it takes other broken liberties and generally mangles the order of events. The ending is also completely bizarre and the resolution is suspiciously similar to anyone who has seen Jim Henson's Labyrinth. Labyrinth came out a year later, and I'm not accusing this version of ripping off Labyrinth's ending. But then again it's bound to happen by accident because both of them feature the most sap-laden, headache inducing happy ending that humans can withstand without cracking their pain thresholds.
HIGHLY COMMENDED (BUT NOT QUITE THERE)
Alice In Wonderland (1999) was a made-for-TV movie that went to some effort to truly realise the visual wackiness potential in Alice's Adventures by using every tool they had available at the time.
This included CGI and compositing (both of which now look horrifyingly dated), animatronics and puppetry (which I believe will never date) and people wearing costumes. So it's basically a really odd visual mixture, but I think it actually helps the film in a lot of ways.
What I don't like about the film is that there are needless and painful-to-listen-to songs shoved in willy-nilly, extremely patchy writing (not to mention effort put into special effects) and a lot of Alice laughing along with whoever's singing the song. Which, you know, prompts the kids to as well, I guess. Because kids are stupid.
Hey, speaking of the Alice in this version:
Hmm. Where have I seen her before? I know I've seen that face somewhere...
Quality of the character designs varies greatly. Some of them are gorgeous, others positively lazy. Comically, you're able to see an example of both at once in the scene with the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle (who is played by Gene Wilder... which is kind of weird). The Gryphon is a surprsingly pleasant-looking CG character (he doesn't look anywhere near as dated as many of the other effects in the film) while poor Wilder is treated to one of the shittest costumes I've ever seen. He has a turtle shell which obviously looks like folding, padded material and they didn't put so much as a drop of makeup on his face. It's just Gene Wilder's face. Kinda scary.
The congretation at the Tea Party, on the other hand, is mind blowing. Martin Short is quite possibly my favourite versoin of the Hatter of all time.
They even have Whoopi Goldberg playing the cheshire cat which is all kinds of freaking bizarre. The Cheshire Cat in this film is one of my favourite characters and that is an achievement, as I should point out that I hate Whoopi Goldberg. She's ugly, scary, sexist and really, really gross. But then again that kind of makes her the perfect Cheshire cat.
Has anyone ever read The Whoopi Goldberg Book? It's fucking revolting. She goes on at length about how when she was a teen she could lick her own pussy and how guys shouldn't make women swallow cum unless they have the courage to swallow their own cum themselves. She has a whole chapter on farts and she talks about how some of them are so juicy that you end up "wetting" yourself with liquid shit in public. It's foul.
To make me like anyone she portrays is definitely some kind of achievement. Especially with that trademark shit-eating grin.
Black Adder fans will recognise the Queen of Hearts. I distinctly remember Miranda Richardson playing a certain other big-headed queen who had a fondness of ordering people's heads to be chopped off. They even gave her one of Edmund Blackadder's old lines - the one about how talking to yourself is the only way to be sure of intelligent conversation - but unfortunately she can't really pull it off in this film. Her acting seems hammier than usual which is a shame, because I like Miranda Richardson.
This version is definitely worth a look but it's far from "definitive".
With more polish and effort it might have been my favourite one.
THE SCARIEST VERSION
Ahhh... Něco z Alenky. Known to non-Czechs as Alice (1988, the year I was born).
Jan Svankmajer is the king of scaring the shit out of people. His films are so creepy as to be permanently disturbing, and he does it all through suggestion and subtlety. There's no blood and guts, no sex scenes... just puppets. Dead, soulless puppets.
Admittedly he doesn't have much competition on the front of making Alice scary, but I'm going to award him with the scariest version anyway because the film is actually the only movie of all time to ever have genuinely creeped me out. Like, gave me nightmares. It may not have the same effect on you but I've never been able to look at a pair of socks the same way again.
In lieu of the falling-down-the-rabbit-hole scene where Alice falls slowly down a tunnel (or in the case of Tim Burton's version, rapidly in mind-blowing 3D with edgy sound design), we are introduced to Wonderland by Alice standing in the shadows and watching as an elevator takes her deeper and deeper into the earth's core. And instead of seeing pieces of furniture and shelves on the walls of the rabbit hole, she goes down past countless shelves full of jars of... things... animals, and eyes, and I swear, that one looked like an embryo... eeegh...
If you are already well versed with the beautiful, hypnotic and utterly dirty visions Svankmajer, you'll know what to expect. If not... don't say I didn't warn you.
And now on to the versions I DIDN'T like. The hall of shame awaits, and many more will undoubtedly deserve to be in here but I haven't seen them yet. I've only seen these three and they are shockers.
MOST CONSPICUOUS DISNEY RIP-OFF
Alice In Wonderland, also 1988.
I'm ashamed to report that Australia is responsible for this piece of shit.
Unfortunately, the funniest and worst part of the film is something I can't show you: the sound.
They made one single theme song for the movie which plays about eight times, complete with vocals. Obviously they hired someone off the street to do the sound engineering for them, because at several points of the film characters' voices clip and distort or are drowned out by loud music or sound effects.
Though it distorts from the volume, the main song is actually pretty good (despite the fact that it tramples half the film's dialogue), but most of the music is handled by some schmuck on a Casio. The Caucuss Race is reminiscent of a Wesley Willis-style mashing on the drum sampler, and synths blare at every single opportunity.
LEAST RESPECTFUL ADAPTATION
Alice (2009). Syfy miniseries. Hands down.
Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum - criminally insane psychoanalysts who I believe are played by a guy who usually voice acts creepy bad guys for kid's cartoons.
I don't even know where to begin with this travesty. How about the "story"?
It follows the same vein of the Linda Woolverton script in that it is set long after the events of the original Alice In Wonderland / Looking Glass stories. The difference being that this is set much further into the future - present day, to be precise.
Hence the new Alice (usual 'destined', 'chosen-one' crap) is a strong, capable woman who is a black belt Karate instructor (moan) who is whisked away into Looking Glass Wonderland Mashupville because the writers wanted to draw from as many loose ends from the originals as possible.
The best way to describe this never-ending eyesore (Arch and I could barely survive the first episode, which was an hour long, and gave up after that) is what the new Woolverton movie would have been like if it had been given to a director-for-hire. On a direct-to-TV budget. That's what Alice is.
It puts just as much unnecessary emphasis on the Hatter, in fact probably more so, except this smug, British cunt doesn't have the fact that he's Johnny Depp to fall back on. You know how some English people just have this undeniable charm and charisma? Well, he's not one of them. It also grates because he has this indie-musician vibe about him and everyone else in the series is a fast-talking American who is rly rly srs bsns. He's by far the most irritating character in the show and they give him the most screen time, and make him the love interest.
The one thing I liked about this series - the one thing - was the Mad March character. Oh, did I mention the Queen Of Hearts runs a casino now? No, unfortunatley I'm not kidding. But she hires the Walrus and the Carpenter (cringe) to create her favourite hitman, Mad March, to put a hit on Alice. I'm trying really hard to keep a straight face while typing this.
Anyway, the March himself is a cyborg hitman with a really overdone Gangster accent, and considered in isolation, he's pretty cool. Of course, the story he's in doesn't make any sense and therefore his appeal is lost when you're like, "so wait, what was the point of him being in the story?"
Tim Curry decided it would be in his best interests to lend his talent as the Dodo, and although I am a huge Tim Curry fan, his performance was boring and disappointing. They gave him nothing to work with and he gave nothing back. He was one of the only reasons we decided to watch it in the first place. In general, the piece was torture, and if poor Dodgson were alive to see it he probably would have killed himself.
OVERALL GRAND PRIZE FOR SHITTIEST PRODUCTION
Alice Through The Looking Glass (1987). The prize stinker.
Everything about this animation that could have been done wrong, was.
Floaty animation, unappealing character design, boring narrative, terrible voice acting, dated synth-laden soundtrack, stuffing in God Mod characters that were never in the book? Check, check, double-check! It's actually amusing how terrible this version is. And also kind of sickening. A lot of people put a lot of work into this, the mind boggles.
That's supposed to be Humpty Dumpty. Yeah, I know.
They've also Americanised and modernised it (like the ghastly Alice syfy series), so as to be completely removed from any of the Carroll spirit. I think it could be done if you handled it properly, but that hasn't happened yet. Instead it just feels like a really nasty, low-budget cartoon.
This is Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. They're like high school P.E. coaches that come up to Alice's thighs. I still don't know what the hell the creators were thinking when they dreamt up these horrid designs.
Holy shit this is creepy.
(Must avoid double-action big dick joke)
And last but definitely not least, what the hell is up with the Jabberwocky?! What's with all that jewellery and the mohawk? Don't they realise how stupid he looks? Why on earth would they dress him up like that? What the hell?
Wait a minute.
Oh, my god.