Saturday, 23 March 2013

Alice in Wonderland (1999 TV Film)

“Chop, Chop! Blood everywhere! Proud to be Queen!”
It’s both odd and refreshing to watch such a straight adaptation after Tim Burton’s Whimsical and action packed version. It’s such a wonderfully straight adaptation, even though this means it’s rather long. The whole look of the production has an ineffable late ‘90’sness that recalls many television films from the period. It has a gloss and a picture quality which, though they have dated slightly, look gorgeous.

The cast are as glittering as can be, so much so, in fact, that it was an agonising task narrowing down those cast members who would appear in the tags. Nevertheless, the stand out performance is from the young Tina Majorino, who gives us a likable and realistic Alice while maintaining a flawless British RP accent throughout. The other stand-out performances are from Miranda Richardson as the Queen of Hearts and Martin Short as the Mad Hatter.  This Queen of Hearts is gloriously eccentric and wonderfully homicidal, and perfectly cast, given her performance as Queen Elizabeth I in Blackadder II fourteen years previously. This Mad Hatter is arguably the best version I have ever seen, at the same time utterly mad yet unthreatening and child friendly.

The special effects, courtesy of sparing use of CGI and the muppetry skills of the late Jim Henson’s Workshop, are superb and a huge contribution to the success of the film. Some of the choices made are intriguing. The caterpillar is made to look very SGT Pepper, while the Queen of Hearts, as my girlfriend noticed, is carrying what can only be described as “The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. It must be said, however, that the Griffin looks uncannily like a raggedy Big Bird.

Perhaps this could be said equally of the book, but, well, this is in no way druggie, is it? I know this is hardly the most original observation, but, well, a hookah smoking caterpillar (in no way a reference to opium); mushrooms that make you grow or shrink; and the general sense that the logic of stoned conversations applies here…Well!

The ending, with Alice having gained confidence from her experiences, is mainly fun because of the chance to see all the same actors out of character, per se. It has to be said, that the film is bloody long, but there is certainly value in a thorough version. The only moment where the film flags is the sequence with the Griffin and the Mock Turtle, where Gene Wilder somehow fails to capture his usual charisma. I admit, I’ve only seen two, but this is my favourite version of the story.

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