Thursday, May 13, 2010
A walrus and a carpenter walk into a bar...
Reader beware, you're in for a scare.
It took some time and dedication, but after much grinding and self-inflicted torture I have managed to finally scrape the bottom of the barrel in the remaining adaptations of Alice In Wonderland that Arch was able to waste his hard-earned money on. To make things interesting, I have decided to review them in order from, in my opinion, worst to comparatively best.
The only version I have not been able to locate and wanted to review was the porn version, but I guess it's okay to except that. (Interestingly, however, I have seen a few clips that prove they put more work into original and clever wordplay than most of the other versions that tried to do so, which is just fucking sad).
Note that included with these entries is a continuation of a previous review, the 'Natalie Gregory' version. I forgot that I had only seen the second half of it in my first round of reviews - the half depicting (loosely) the events of Alice Through The Looking Glass. But here I have kindly included the first and equally terrible half, Alice In Wonderland.
I'd also like to point out that I watched Alice's Adventures In Wonderland again while watching these movies to keep myself sane, and I have to say it's a film I appreciate more with every viewing. It still is (and probably always will be) my favourite version.
BUT FIRST, THE WORST
Overall score: 0/10
Arch and I are in contension over what to call this one because the actual title is identical to several other versions but "the shitty one" doesn't even begin to do it justice.
Our first attempt to apply a name to this barely animated poke-in-the-eye was "the Abyss version". Over time, however, Arch didn't feel this quite did it justice, and so decided to go deeper and call it "the Hadal version".
In marine terms, the Hadal zone is the lowest part of the marine environment, lower than the Abyss, and shares its etymology with Hades, the Greek king of Hell and his cold, desolate domain.
All in all, rather fitting.
But I think "the Torture Method" has a nice ring to it.
"And, uh, I think they did a really-" BLEEEP "-job."
^ Do you think that's an oesoteric injoke? Well, it's not. This is from the DVD making-of documentary (yes, we are suckers for punishment), and shows the "producer" showering his "crew" (of three) with compliments, before this sentence creeps in and the mystery word is censored out.
What did he say?
Was he really saying what Arch and I were thinking the whole time we watched it? That they did a fucking piece of shit cunt-vagina assbleed Muhammed-Depiction pedofuck job? Because no one can really blame him for saying that.
How the hell do I even begin.
Alright, let's start with the basics.
This film has no sound design, voice acting or music of its own. It is taken from a public-domain (and pretty terrible) radio play of Alice In Wonderland. Hence Alice sounds about thirty years old, and the White Rabbit is voiced by the man who voiced Elmer Fudd in the old Bugs Bunny cartoons. In fact, he uses Elmer Fudd's voice to portray the White Rabbit. To make matters even worse, the file they used is clearly an MP3 of poor quality, which combined with the fact that the play itself is from the forties or fifties means that it's quite awful to listen to, with lots of static and compression.
The idea of using a RADIO PLAY as the basis for an animated film seriously fucks my brain up the arse. I already have one complaint with nearly all adaptations of Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, and that's that there is way too much dialogue. This isn't the forties, people don't like sitting and watching people talk for an hour without doing anything, particularly in Wonderland of all fucking places.
Oh?? But Alice does PLENTY!
Not in this version.
She just stands around, talking to herself for several minutes at a time. Because it's a goddamn radio play.
Moving right along, the animation is vulgar, and the character designs sinfully bad.
Upon watching this version for the first time, Arch and I had no idea who the hell made it, and I am not kidding when I say that I have seen high school kids learn flash while producing better animation than this. Arch joked that it probably took the animator as long to animate the film as the running time of the film itself, and at that quality, I could probably actually do that if I was shameless enough to cheap out anywhere near as much on the animation as these guys have. But I'm not.
This movie isn't even so bad it's good. It's not hilariously crappy like the Mr. T version, it has no saving graces like the 1999 version. It's just...
Now here's the clincher. They spent six months making it. And they claim they were six months of bloody hard work.
Arch and I had to investigate the making of just to see how something this terrible could concievably be made. And lo and behold, we are introduced almost immediately to a cheery guy who has clearly written and rehearsed every word he says "candidly" to the camera beforehand. We both have serious suspicions that he has Aspergers syndrome or something similar.
It's Michael Conroy, the director.
Well, okay. Arch and I concede that maybe he's just some lonely guy who decided to kill some time by trying to draw / animate an entire film on his own and suddenly realising that it's a lot harder than it sounds. But no. He wants to introduce us to the man who "brought the characters to life". Wow, he needed help with these designs?!
So we're introduced to some burnout who shows us how he turns pencil scans of these eyesores into animatable, coloured files to give to Mike to animate.
Incidentally, he has the slowest and most mind-numbing method of doing this in Photoshop I can possibly imagine. For a start, he doesn't fill in large spaces or increase his brush size - he scribbles in a red dress with a very small brush and it takes him fucking ages.
He also keeps talking about layers.
Layers, layers, layers!
Yep, layers. That's what animation is all about.
Okay but seriously, alright, it's just two guys. Two guys who wanted to make a film. They don't have an artistic bone in their body between them, but that isn't going to stop them from designing a whole cast of monsters guaranteed to scare children into never watching Hey Arnold again.
But wait, there's more! Let us introduce you to the CHARACTER DESIGNER
Okay, now this bit really is sad. The artist seems to be a very nice person, probably someone I'd be friends with if I knew them. But her drawings are cringe-inducingly ugly, in some cases scary.
She recounts that back in high school, her art teacher gave her some words of encouragement on her cartoony designs and this inspired her to become a cartoonist.
Okay, so this is what Alice originally looked like.
It's no Da Vinci, but I guess it has a kind of childlike, simplistic charm to it.
She then recounts that she took this design to Michael Conroy who laughed it off and told her to redesign it, give her black hair, and a more alternative look.
And she came back with another design, which he rejected. Told her to make Alice a bit more this, a bit more that.
Okay, let me just show you the chain and you can judge for yourself if Conroy knew what the fuck he was talking about.
And THAT'S the one he settled on.
What even the hell
The best is saved 'til last as Michael Conroy attempts to spruce up the documentary by self-inserting a horrifying, nightmare-inducing DOODOOCACA-style portrayal of himself falling down the rabbit hole.
Actually, this is a pretty fitting end to the review of this version and of the documentary.
MICHAEL CONROY, WELCOME TO THE HELL THAT YOU HAVE CREATED.
Okay thank fuck that's over so we can get on with the others.
Three mind-blowing dimensions of vile
Overall score: 1 / 10
Now we come to an amusingly poor production entitled: Alice in Wonderland - What's the Matter With Hatter?
That's actually a very good question.
See, there's nothing wrong with the Hatter in this movie. There's nothing the matter with him. But the reason we should be asking what the matter is is because he acts nothing like the Hatter in any other version of Alice in existence.
Why is he ethnic?
Why is he sane? Apparently he's called the Mad Hatter because he 'makes people mad'? (Though he only angers the Queen of Hearts, which isn't exactly difficult or specialised.)
Why is he yet another fucking pseudo love-interest to Alice? Seriously, are all these ripoff artists secretly fanfic writers who slash Hatter / Alice pairings?
Why is he teeth-grindingly American?
What is the matter with Hatter, I'm losing my mind here!
But really now, let's move on, there are a lot of things wrong with this piece of shit so let's power through
A lot of these characters are horribly ugly anthro designs for some reason. The one above is the Queen of Hearts as you may have guessed, but would you have taken the chaps below as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum?
The movie starts out as a pretty awful adaptation of the Alice story, but as time goes on it kind of veers off into its own thing. There comes a point where you are wondering if you are still watching something that was in any way influenced or inspired by the book.
They shove in their own characters willy-nilly, like King Cloudy.
And Jesus Christ, they have the ugliest fucking Cheshire Cat I've ever seen. I no longer have the right to complain about the laid back performance of Roy Kinnear from Alice's Adventures. At least he wasn't CREEPY.
He also talks in this weird black man's voice and does like, this "CHESSHIR... CHESSHYEH... CHESSSHEH..." routine like he thinks he's being cool. But combined with that face it's just terrifying.
Come to think of it, all of the voice acting in this film is obscene. Alice has a grating, irritating voice, and the Queen of Hearts has a distractingly strong Bawwwstin accent. And Hatter is voiced by your usual stuck-up adolescent prick.
No seriously look at Alice.
Okay, her dog's called Jabberwock. Why they felt the need to replace Dinah the cat with Jabberwock the dog is beyond me. I guess the director was a dog person, and thought that randomly picking a name out of the Looking Glass book would be clever. It's not. Actually, Jabberwock is one of the ugliest designs in the movie, right below the Cheshire Cat.
Unsurprisingly, all the names below the line on this production have Indian-looking names. Above the line are all English-sounding names. So yet another one of these godawful moneyshots that were shipped to a country where they would work twice as hard for half the money on a product one quarter of the quality.
THE FORBIDDEN VERSION
Overall score: 2/10
Now this one is just weird.
Ladies and gentlemen, this version of "Alice Through The Looking Glass" needs to be seen to be believed, it really is that bad.
The acting is hilariously camp, be it comedic types failing spectacularly at being funny (or in some cases, coming off as sexually creepy) or serious types going for a dramatic performance and killing it (or in some cases, also coming off as sexually creepy).
The lead who plays Alice is a wonderful singer, but a terrible actor. It doesn't help that the lines they give her and the way she delivers them gives off an incredibly powerful vibe that she is borderline mentally retarded.
A "favourite" bit of the movie is when Alice first meets Lester the Jester, a character invented specifically for this adaptation. Which actually makes it one of two versions of Looking Glass that inserted a Jester character for no reason, the other being the Mr. T version. Weird.
The intercourse between Alice and Lester is in equal measures forced, disturbing and hilarious. Obviously none of those things were intentional.
Alice asks who he is, and Lester immediately tells her that he is her friend.
Alice seems over the fucking moon to have finally found a friend of her very own. The overacting is outrageous and she really does come off as a downie at Christmastime. Despite the fact that they have literally just met, Alice inquires if he will always be there for her. When he explains that he can't always be there for her, she seems incredibly distressed and begs him to explain why he can't.
You just met him, right?
You don't want to scare him away, do you? 'Cause I'd sure as hell be searching for the doorknob behind my back at this point.
However, soon after she lets out a great big belly laugh and he drools, "there's music in your laugh. I like that. I like you."
At this point I'd be searching for the doorknob behind my back if I were Alice but alas she takes it as a glorious compliment and they become ever such good friends.
Would you believe me if I told you this isn't the only time something like this happens in the movie.
The White King hilariously has a thick Spanish accent.
Alice comes and sits next to him while he is fishing, and after they talk for a bit, she loudly bursts out, "I LIKE YOU! A LOT! 8D"
The White King looks at her like he's been trapped in the room with a gorilla on heat and awkwardly replies, "I like you too, Alice."
But it's not long before he has a quick moodchange.
"You are very pretty. Like a flower."
Dear god, how can the characters in this film get any fucking creepier?
...okay I should have just kept my mouth shut
Enter the Jabberwock. A man dressed like a drag queen bondage-master with a gruff, Texan accent. I have a sinking feeling he represents communism in this film. No, not just because the film is from the sixties. When the red and white kings and queens first tell Alice about the Jabberwock, they reveal that he is pushing them around and taking over their kingdoms, and they are too afraid to do anything about it.
Alice proudly responds in her American accent, "THAT wouldn't happen in MY country!"
BEHOLD, THE FACE OF SOCIALISM
The funniest thing about the Jabberwock is that everyone is fucking terrified out of their wits of him but he never actually does anything. Like, he doesn't... um. Punch anyone, or...
Tickle them, or... uhm...
Do anything, really, except snarl and threaten people.
Jimmy Durante was brilliantly and spectacularly miscast as Humpty Dumpty (why Jimmy Durante? WHY?), and if you don't know who Jimmy Durante is, he's the guy they always used to caricature in Warner Brothers cartoons by giving cats really big noses and shit-eating grins and have them say, "HA cha cha chaaa~" in gutteral voices. That's Jimmy Durante.
One of the most puzzling things about this particular piece is that it was obviously made for TV, and features some horrid special effects such as blue screen, but they have designed, shot and acted it like a stage show. They have even gone so far as to drop in canned laughter and cheers. It's about as convincing as the laughter in Scooby Doo or The Flintstones. But not quite.
The DVD includes a lengthly and quite boring series of interviews with Bob Wynn as he recounts all the famous people he's sucked the dicks of, all the commies he told to get their vodka-swilling asses back to Russia and all the great times he had working in show biz.
The most amazing thing about these interviews is that you kind of pick up most of the best stuff if you read between the lines.
"Roy Castle was British, and well... there are a lot of problems with the British, but... he wasn't one of them."
THE NATALIE GREGORY VERSION
Overall score: 2/10
I decided to start off this particular segment with the above picture so you would know where one of the points came from.
And that's the other one.
This version was covered briefly in my last bout of Alice reviews, but interestingly, although there are a lot of Looking Glass adaptations in this round and mostly Wonderland reviews in the previous lot, I had only seen the Looking Glass half of this straight-to-TV adaptation and not the Wonderland half, which is here. And I'd hazard to say it's even worse than the second half.
Honestly. Would you enjoy the Walt Disney version as much if the characters looked like this?
Actually, the Ringo Starr Mock Turtle might have been one of the better-looking attempts at creating a suit for a human actor in this character (honestly, what an ask - putting someone in a big shell with flippers) if it weren't for the incredibly out-of-place hoop earring. But I digress.
Basically, everything about this version sucks.
There are constant moments of song-and-dance that don't assist the story in any way, they just take one single line of dialogue and start singing about it out of context for a good five minutes. The production hits its lowest point when Sammy Davis Jr. raps Old Father William.
While dressed like this.
Then again, it's better than the costume he wears when they're not singing the awful number:
I WONDER WHERE HIS BODY IS
DOES IT REALLY FIT INTO THAT SLUG SUIT
One of the things about this version that infuriates me the most is that they can't make up their minds as to whether Hatter and co. are malicious pricks or jovial, friendly presences. They should be one, the other, or somewhere in between, but not all of them within the one scene. They also sing a very long song about nothing in particular and add in a shitload of extra dialogue and WITTY PUNS that frankly have the verbal charm of an episode of The Osbournes next to the original wit and genius of Lewis Carroll.
Probably the strangest part of the film is the courtscene, which for some reason (i.e. budget) takes place outside. The strange part is that whenever a witness is called, music plays and people applaud like it's the David Letterman show. Just what exactly were they going for here?
THE "SESAME BALL Z" VERSION
Overall score: 2/10
No, sadly, this is not an Alice's Adventures In Wonderland movie adapted to the screen by the Jim Henson company. Now, that I'd like to see.
Nor is it an episode of Dragon Ball Z where they base the plot roughly around the events of Wonderland. I guess I'd also like to see that.
No, the reason I call this version the Sesame Ball Z version is because it was a western production directed by a Japanese director, who told everyone to draw in a weird Manga style. He also brought over his crappy, low-budget-anime sensibilities and decided the whole thing should be animated at six frames per second. But the reason why it reminds me in particular of Dragon Ball Z is because it starts off with a really, really serious-sounding narrator bringing the audience up to speed like at the beginning or end of an episode of DBZ.
The 'Sesame' part comes from the fact that it features a number of songs that are basically ripped straight out of an episode of Sesame Street. Dinky-donky-doinky music that failed musicians expect children to find catchy with syrupy lyrics juxtaposed with disembodied, unconnected imagery of crayon drawings coming to life and teaching you to count and sing the alphabet. You think I'm fucking with you?
M IS FOR MOUSETRAP, WHICH CAPTURES THE MOUSE
M IS FOR MAMMOTH, WHO'S BIG AS A HOUSE
M IS FOR MONKIES, WHO LIVE IN THE TREES
M IS FOR MOOSE, WITH GREAT, KNOBBY KNEES
Whoah seriously, this is so much creepier than the picture in the book.
One thing that really cracked me up about this version in particular is that it's the only one who decided the Caterpillar shouldn't be smoking. So they gave him a large straw and a drink instead.
Oh, the Japanese~
THE KATE BECKINSALE VERSION
Overall score: 3/10
How many of you have heard of the Isle of Man?
Alright, so a few of you.
How many of you know they had a film commission? Yeah, me neither.
I remember watching this version with Arch and listening to him squirm as he tried to decipher what they were saying with their overpowering British regional accents.
And if an Aussie can't figure them out, you Americans have no chance.
I'm giving this version of Alice Through The Looking Glass three out of ten because at least they tried. In fact you can tell they tried pretty hard.
It just came out all wrong. Like Delgo, basically.
Right, first thing's first.
The creepiest thing about this version is that Beckinsale is clearly an adult woman and yet it is written as though she is thirteen years old. This results in some very strange scenes.
Everyone mumbles their lines inaudibly, and accents or no accents, it's a strain to concentrate on what anyone is saying. I find Beckinsale has a perfectly straightforward accent and she's one of the hardest characters to make out in the film.
There's a weird bit I wanted to show you where she literally grows wings and flies like, the distance you can throw a sledgehammer, and just goes back to normal for no reason whatsoever. But the cinematography in this film is universally so bad I can't pick out a good screenshot of it.
No effort has been put into the costumes. At all. These chicks are the flowers. They're just well-dressed women with some makeup, and you have to suspend your disbelief that they are actual, literal flowers as implied by the dialogue.
The train scene was INCREDIBLY disorienting. You can tell it's been ... I've never used this term before, but overdirected. You can tell they were "going for something", but failed as you can't hear what anyone is saying, see what anyone is doing or make out that the Newspaper man is a Newspaper man unless you've read the book, because he's HIDDEN IN DARKNESS. The whole thing comes off as a very bad Harry Potter-movie knockoff.
Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are BEYOND CREEPY. This whole scene makes me want to cry but once they start reciting the Walrus and the Carpenter it just keeps getting worse.
See, they recite the Walrus and the Carpenter, with incredibly low-budget special effects, and as though to hide these shortcomings, have put it against a swingin' jazzy beat, oldschool film grain and an improvisational, freeform style of the poetry recitation. Unfortunately they don't speak the poem very loudly and most of it gets drowned out by this shitty music.
They decided to include the "missing chapter", known as the Wasp in the Wig. It's missing for a reason. It's boring.
Or maybe that's just how it's acted, but watching it just adds a good few minutes of time-wasting to the runtime.
The winning performance here is by Siân Phillips as the Red Queen.
Despite the fact that her costume seems suspiciously dominatrix-like (which I have a strange feeling was intentional), she is hands down the best actor in the entire film and steals every scene she is in. You could say she is like a shot of morphine to alleviate the grievous bodily injury that is this movie. Also those glasses are kickass.
Now many versions of Looking Glass have a creepy white knight.
The reason he's creepy is because he appears to be the closest thing to a love interest in any movie he appears in, and yet he looks like (and in one case, I believe, is played by) the old man from Back To The Future. Some knobbly-kneed comic relief character who is about seventy years old.
Now you can just barely stomach it in some versions, but in this one they pretty much turn it into a sweet little romance.
Alright, so the White Knight doesn't look like a doofy old man in this one, but he's still old. We'll say fifty or sixty. And Alice hasn't gotten any younger. Okay, so Beckinsale as an actor is a grown woman, but the Alice character is just a little girl and watching them make pillow talk while stroking their thumbs over each other's interlocked hands is well creepy. I probably wouldn't mind if the scene doesn't last as long as it does but the scene never ends.
Wow, I forgot how crappy this version was.
But still. Three out of ten.
THE SILENT FILM
Overall score: 4/10
They say silence is golden.
Obviously whoever said that never saw this movie.
I actually feel pretty bad rating this movie so lowly. But I am being realistic. It's hard to sit through and this is just not a story that works as a silent film.
The costume and set designs are actually very impressive. The film was made in 1915 and it's easy to keep asking yourself, 'is it really that old?'
Alright, so they're not perfect, but they are bloody good for a 1915 silent film. Particularly impressive is the Cheshire Cat, who they have managed to actually make disappear up to the neck using film exposure techniques. I have no idea how they would have done that with their incredibly primitive technology and thus I was very impressed indeed.
So why did I give it such a low score? Is it really that hard to sit through?
Well, think about it. It's Alice. That should be obvious.
An hour. Of this. ^
The text plates, predictably, are juxtaposed by a lot of footage of the characters in their costumes sort of just jumping around or miming talking. It gets very tiring quite quickly.
Imagine Romeo and Juliet acted in its entirety by mimes. It's something like that.
THE UGLY COSTUME VERSION
Overall score: 4/10
Another adaptation of Alice Through The Looking Glass.
For the most part I don't actually mind this version. It's okay. Nothing special, but okay. I quite like their depiction of Alice, she's spritely without being annoying, and the scene at the beginning of the film was quaint, if a little slow. But I had to deduct points for the special effects.
Unfair, maybe, to a film made in 1933? Well, no. The costumes in the silent version were quite good, even if their mouths didn't move. But I won't ask you to strain your imagination as to how "The Ugly Costume Version" got its name.
Incidentally, this version actually predates the Disney film by eighteen years with the Walrus and the Carpenter animated by the Fleischer brothers (best known for Betty Boop and Popeye).
Of course, Walt Disney had technically done something like it before them, with his animated shorts 'Alice's Adventures in Cartoonland', but the shorts were not actually connected to the Lewis Carroll mythology.
The Fleischer version is fun to watch, but not brilliantly animated because everyone was still kind of finding their feet in animation at the time. The Fleischers were, after all, self-taught.
But I digress. One more to go and I can think about things that don't hurt again.
THE HIPPIE VERSION
Overall score: 5/10
This version of Alice In Wonderland has the closest to an acceptable rating, and is actually a rather enjoyable viewing experience if you are prepared for it. It does, however, have its problems, leaving it settled at an average score.
I call it the Hippie version because, not only was it made in the sixties, but it features a soundtrack (which very bizarrely fits) by Indian musician, Ravi Shankar. Overall, it feels rather like an art film. It is not an adaptation of the Lewis Carroll novel so much as an interpretation, and this is where the work finds its strength. Director Johnathan Miller does not attempt to surpass Dodgson's perfect writing, nor does he attempt to capture the imagination of the book in the limited constraints of film. He just makes his own version of Alice. For better or for worse.
There are two things in particular that bother me about this film, and they are big things. One is that there are a lot of "artsy" shots where Alice just kind of stares off into space. Arch warned me of this before I watched it, and I thought I would only notice it because he pointed it out to me. But no. Every time someone talks to Alice, she stares through them, into the astral plane. She willingly refuses to make eye contact with anyone or anything. It's bizarre.
The other is more or less related, and that is that the portrayal of Alice in this film is uncharacteristically melancholy, even severe. She is a cold and dismissive character, distancing the viewer from the film.
One thing I quite like about the film was the casting choice of choosing a rather plain girl as Alice. She looks a little more human and real than the sugar-coated pseudohumans they usually cast as Alice.
I also like how Johnathan Miller has taken advantage of his strange, Art Film-style approach to the film to carry Alice's internal thoughts, conversations with herself and general musings in the form of a disconnected soliloquy. I've never seen anyone make it work until this version. A similar thing is done with the White Rabbit's orders to Alice - he whispers, almost psychically into her head, to fetch his gloves and fan.
A slightly creepy choice was to include taxidermed animals as a recurring motif throughout the film. None of the actors portraying animals wear costumes; they simply adopt the persona of the character they are playing, and perhaps the name. I actually quite like the White Rabbit.
Fun fact: That's actually Peter Sellers in the middle
All that said and done, the film does get a little boring and there are many moments that are weird, but more in a disorienting, discomforting way than an enjoyable one. When the Mad Hatter is summoned to court to give his evidence, he keeps running back and forth into the courtroom and the camera follows him. The motion lurches, and everyone in the court "feels" it and seems to feel physically ill as they are pulled in and pushed back out by this unseen force of motion. I find it difficult to describe because I still don't know what the fuck is going on or why it happens. And the film is full of weird moments like that.
That about sums it up. I think the Hippie version is a lot like the 1999 version with the Napoleon Dynamite girl in that way - it's good, but flawed, and if it had been a little bit better (in this case, more accessible rather than less lame) I would have loved it as a favourite.
Now, that's enough Alice for me. I've had my fill for a while, thank you very much, unless you count the versions that don't suck and the original books.
Be right back, soaking brain in acid to burn away the filth