Sunday, 16 December 2012

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

“I’ve been shrunk, stretched, scratched and stuffed into a teapot!”

Well, it was only a matter of time until Tim Burton had a go at Alice in Wonderland, wasn’t it? Three things were pretty much inevitable: it was going to feature Helena Bonham Carter, it was going to feature Johnny Depp, and it was going to be good. Lo, all three of these things come to pass.

Of course, Tim Burton, being Tim Burton, doesn’t actually make an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland; he jumps straight to Through the Looking Glass, but still calls it Alice in Wonderland anyway. It all looks amazing, and as trippy as all versions made since Jefferson Airplane did White Rabbit have to be by default. The early flashback scenes to Alice’s childhood have a very stylised, uber-Victorian look, while the present day scenes have a very un-Burton realism to be contrasted with the, er, wonders of Wonderland. I only saw this film in 2-D, and I’m gutted; lots of shots were quite clearly composed to look amazing in 3-D, and I’d imagine that the contrast with what I assume would be a 2-D “real” world would be even more effective.

The cast is, obviously, brilliant, and Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen and Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter are both as extraordinary as you’d expect. (Depp effortlessly switches between RP and Scottish; is there any accent he can’t do?) But there are far too many gloriously whimsical performances to. I ought to mention, though, that this is the last ever screen credit for Michael Gough, who was ninety-four years old when he voiced this role.

There’s obviously a moral behind the story: as the White Queen says, “You cannot live to please others. Alice arrives down the rabbit this time in the midst of a very public marriage proposal from an absolute drip of a man, a proposal she’s under huge pressure to accept, and the film shows her gradually coming to realise that she doesn’t need to. In this sense, Wonderland is the “looking glass” of the original title, although the plot is very different. There is also a nice philosophical conversation at the end between Alice and the Hatter in which Alice comes to realise that this world is real, and not a figment of her imagination, subjective though this is; which one of them is real and which dreaming. It’s nice to see the Jabberwocky poem crowbarred in, too; the mosyer itself is a magnificent bit of CGI.

Of course, there’s a heavy dose of feminism in here that was lacking in the novel. There is only a Red Queen and White Queen; kings are absent. The moral of the film presents what would in Victorian times have been a rather shocking message about the role of women. And, of course, the conclusion, in which Alice becomes an apprentice in a huge trading company, is not exactly realistic for the period but is necessary for our modern, and rather more enlightened, sensibilities.

One day I’ll probably give a bad review to a Tim Burton film. But I don’t see that day coming any day soon.

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