So, I should say first, that you should probably go see it. It’s pretty. Tim Burton is good at pretty things. But I hated it. And that’s what I keep telling people when it comes up. Hated it.
The movie delights the visual senses in every frame. Even in the film’s beginning, before we descend into Underland, as they call it. It’s amazing. Every fabric begs to be stroked, each flower begs to be smelled, each ray of light begs one to pierce the veil and step onto the screen. There were so many frames where I wish I could have paused the film to soak it all in. The rich synthesis of color and imagery is truly one of Burton’s best. The film is sexy.
And the cast: bravo! It really was cast perfectly. Depp’s Hatter enchants, Bonham Carter’s Red Queen enthralls, and who wouldn’t want to follow Mia Wasikowska into the rabbit hole? Even the voice acting was spot on. I was expecting a little more from Alan Rickman, to be honest, but it could have just been that all his lines sucked. And I want to be clear that playing these characters was no easy feat. Consider Bonham Carter’s Red Queen. Who doesn’t remember the queen from the Disney classic, with her her grim, absolute sentencing: “Off with her head!” Bonham Carter did not attempt to out-bellow the classic character that we all know. Her performance was more subdued and emphasized the queen’s puerile brattishness.
So we had a lot of good things on the table.
But the story… oh the filthy story. Looking back over Tim Burton’s films, I realize that storytelling was never his strongest suit. His best films follow an earlier work, be it play or novel, as closely as they can. I think that Sleepy Hollow compares with Alice best. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen it, but I remember the scenario being similar: amazing cast, amazing visuals, complete afterthought of a story.
But this story is one I hold rather dear. The fact is very simple: The last thing Alice in Wonderland ever needed was a plot. In fact, its lack of plot is if not part of the point, then at least tangential to it. Carroll’s classic was an episodic narrative game. Its puzzles and logical inversions engage the reader, just as they engage the book’s hapless protagonist. While some puzzles have solutions, and some are clearly playful parodies of cultural realities, so many of them are simply beautiful nonsense. Attempting to corral these episodes and sew them into a good old fashioned three act structure is a vulgar insult to one of the few books in history that has always, since its inception, been in print.
The only saving grace that I can find with the film is that Burton loves his Alice just as much as Carroll loved his. This, I think, is the one thing that makes me hesitate from condemning the movie as outright shit. (I think a lot of people will like the movie.) And while, I’m fine with Tim Burton bringing his very own, very special Alice back into this world, I can’t help but feel that it’s our Wonderland. A grown up Alice lost in the strange, beautiful, and utterly non-sequitur Wonderland might make an interesting film indeed.
But Burton instead brought us into an echo of that familiar world. And while it might have sprung to life as a most beautiful verisimilitude, it is as hollow as the bluescreen that most of the damn thing was filmed on.
Like I said, you should probably go see it. But seriously: fuck that movie. I hated it.