“Some people say to survive it, you need to be as mad as a Hatter…”
Directed By: Tim Burton
Written By: Linda Woolverton
Starring: Johnny Depp (duh), Helena Bonham Carter, Mia Wasikowska, Crispin Glover, Alan Rickman
I caught myself looking at my watch about twenty minutes into Tim Burton’s latest film wondering when I’d be able to leave. “Alice in Wonderland” is one of the most disappointing films I’ve ever had the misfortune of seeing. Now I say disappointing because it doesn’t quite reach the level of horribleness of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” or “Twilight” or “A Troll in Central Park”. But it is bland, despite it’s ambitious visuals, and the dialogue is an atrocity thus making the performances all around rather weak. So if you haven’t figured it out by now, this will indeed be a very ugly review. Come along with me as I pick apart Alice’s extremely apathetic journey in Wonderland. Or “Underland” as it is called in this film for no explicable reason. This leads me to my first major grievance:
NUMBER 1. WHY THE FUCK IS IT CALLED “UNDERLAND” NOW?
As mentioned above the titular Wonderland is now called Underland. Why you ask? To what purpose could this possibly serve? Well buckle my britches, you’re asking the same questions I did! This interpretation takes place thirteen years after Alice (Mia Wasikowska) first fell down the rabbit hole, and the rationale is that she misheard the name. Still looking for a point? Well I guess it could mean that this is the land Under the world above. But I’m just throwing the screenwriter a bone. It’s an unnecessary change resulting in useless expository dialogue. Speaking of dialogue, Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter inquires as to why a raven is like a writing desk so often that it seems like it’s the only line that was brought over from the original text, which brings me to my next point.
NUMBER 2. ARE YOU FINISHED RAPING LEWIS CARROLL YET???
The dialogue is so bad, it feels like something George Lucas wrote on an off-day. The screenwriter picks a few lines that have stuck in the pop culture lexicon and just repeats them over and over. Lines like the aforementioned raven and writing desk, off with their heads, and Frabjous Day Calloo Callay are constantly spouted from the various characters that they lose whatever absurd meaning they had to begin with. One would think that the original text, which has been beloved by the young and old alike since its first publication, would be adequate enough to get a live action big-budget treatment. But nope, almost the entire story is jettisoned in favour of a banal hero’s quest to slay the evil Jabberwocky and restore peace to Underland (it still feels weird to say that), culminating in a standard and very poorly executed battle sequence that cheapens the whole sordid affair even further.
NUMBER 3. VISUALS ARE ONLY AS GOOD AS THEIR STORY!!!! (Unless the film in question is “Avatar”)
The visuals in this film have been said to be the biggest reason to see it. I don’t think so. At all. They’re not good. We have entered into an age where computer effects should be almost unnoticeable and only serve to enhance the story and the movie-going experience, but in this particular film the effects are simply distracting and gawky. It’s hardly impressive, in fact it feels disturbingly dated for how much money went into this project and because the effects do not integrate themselves into the sparse story, it is impossible for the audience to get involved. The character of Alice is supposed to be the audience conduit into this incredible world but even though there are so many fantastical things occurring around her, she just reacts to it with little more than a glance and a shrug, and as such so does the audience.
NUMBER 4. I DON’T REMEMBER THE LAST TIME I FELT ANYTHING BUT APATHY DURING A TIM BURTON MOVIE
That’s actually not true. I remember that I felt sympathy for Edward Scissorhands and frustration for what Ed Wood was going through. But that was more than fifteen years ago. Tim Burton seems to be incapable of telling an engrossing story. A lot of critics have pointed out that he obviously favours style over substance and lots of people think that’s ok. But it’s not. Not at all. If there isn’t a good story to go along with the style then the whole movie is just BLAAAAHHHHH. If your film looks pretty, but is unable to engage anyone enough for them to care about it, then your movie is a failure. And that’s what this movie is. It alienates the audience from minute one, and in doing so it is guilty of the biggest sin that a movie can possibly commit: it is fucking BORING!
NUMBER 5. GET OVER YOUR DADDY ISSUES TIM!!!
The same theme of a misunderstood misfit unable to live up to his father’s expectations or being alienated from his parents somehow is present in almost every Burton film and quite frankly I am getting sick of it. This is a central theme in ‘Batman’, ‘Batman Returns’, ‘Edward Scissorhands’, ‘Corpse Bride’, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, ‘Big Fish’, and now ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Oooh but the misunderstood misfit is now a girl and the father is dead and replaced with a disapproving mother. Wow. Fucking original. I can’t handle how this guy is called a ‘visionary’ and yet every one of his films look basically the same and more than half of them rehash the same themes and motifs over and over and over. He isn’t a visionary. He’s just stuck in the same expressionistic nightmare world where Johnny Depp is every character and Danny Elfman’s bombastically out of place music is constantly playing so loud you can’t understand anything any character says. Branch out Tim. You’re over forty, it’s time to try something different. Start with a shave and a haircut you raggamuffin.
NUMBER 6. STOP TRYING TO DO ACTION MOVIES TIM!
I honestly thought that Burton had learned his lesson when he directed the Batman films. The man didn’t know how to piece together an action sequence then and he doesn’t have a clue now. If this ‘Alice’ was faithful to the book instead of a conventional wanna-be epic then I think I wouldn’t have had a problem with the way Burton had interpreted it. But, like all ‘epics,’ this one culminates in a massive battle at the end between good and evil for the fate of Underland…YAWN! As I said, Burton is like a young puppy when it comes to action: constantly chasing his tail, around and around and even if he catches what he’s after, he’s just bit himself in the ass. Ok so that metaphor kind of fell apart at the end, but my point is that the climactic battle sequence is clumsily shot and staged and doesn’t build any tension, and not for one second did I believe that Alice was in any danger.
NUMBER 7. Last Point: THERE’S NO HEART IN THIS STORY!
All of these grievances culminate to this: ‘Alice in Wonderland’ simply feels like Burton and company are just going through the motions. It plays on audience preconceptions of previous Burton films: it expects people to think “Well ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is a fucked up book, and Tim Burton makes fucked up looking movies, it must be a match made in heaven right?” NOOOOOOOOOO.
Here’s how I think Disney got Burton to sign on:
DISNEY: Say Tim, Sweeney Todd was a pretty big hit wasn’t it?
TIM: You know it was.
DISNEY: Haha, good one. So anyway, we got this old book called ‘Alice in Wonderland’ ever heard of it?
TIM: I guess.
DISNEY: Yeah, well, we’ve been looking to do a live action adaptation for a while now and we think you’re the guy to do it. You know, since you’ve been doing remakes and nothing original for the past decade.
TIM (Still not convinced): I’m listening
DISNEY: We’ll give you this U-Haul truck full of money!
U-Haul truck appears out of thin air, it is bursting with money.
TIM: Well, I do love money…
DISNEY: We know you do Tim.
TIM: Can I make it completely different from the book and not in a good way?
DISNEY: How do you mean?
TIM: I want it to be a stereotypical action/epic with a parental alienation motif.
DISNEY: Done. We’ll get a screenwriter incapable of writing good dialogue on it right away!
TIM: I also want Johnny Depp and my wife to play supporting parts but still get top billing.
DISNEY: We thought you would, we have Depp on speed dial right now.
Tim disrobes and jumps into the U-Haul truck and swims around in the money Scrooge McDuck style.
DISNEY: Would you mind making it in 3D too, so we can cash in on this ridiculous craze before it peters out and dies forever???
TIM (from inside the truck): Yeah sure! I love being a corporate whore, just as long as I don’t have to put any real work into the film!
DISNEY: Of course you don’t!
They both laugh maniacally, content with their decisions they made in life…
It’s at this point that I would like to say something positive about the film…um…well…the talking dog was pretty cute. He was the best character in the whole movie. Yay talking dog!
Shit, I forgot about one more thing: There is a disturbing amount of sexual tension between Alice and the Mad Hatter. It is very uncomfortable. I’m not sure if it was intentional, but if it was….yuck…