Pretty Pictures, Lots of Chases
I got a chance to see a sneak preview of Burton's Alice in Wonderland, and now I'm thinking about how franchises have got detached from the source of their inspiration.
It certainly happened with Sherlock Holmes. Robert Downey played a character who shared a name and an occupation with his progenitor, but little else. There were people with names like Irene and Moriarity in the film, but they could have been named Sadie and Murgatroyd for all it mattered to the story.
And now Alice. Which is a Disney franchise, re-envisioned by Tim Burton, that now has less to do with Lewis Carroll's creation than ever.
I'm very happy that I didn't have to pay ten bucks for it.
The film is not the original story, but a sequel. (Forgive me for thinking that it really ought to be called Alice II.) Somewhere in the long process of making this film, someone should have noted that sequels are never as good as the originals.
Among the joys of Carroll's work are the fine logic visible behind all the nonsense, the joy in wordplay, the satire, the parodies, the puns, and the songs. Obviously not all of this would make sense to a modern audience, but Burton chose to chuck all of it and replace it with a Grade C fantasy plot, complete with plot coupons.
Alice is the Chosen One who must get ahold of the Orb of the Bandersnatch in order to find the Key of Mystery that unlocks the Chest of Hiding in order to get the Blade of Vorpal that is the Only Weapon that can behead the Jabberwock and restore the Rightful Queen of Wonderland.
I'm not joking. Not joking at all. That's literally what happens in the movie.
Add a bunch of characters chosen randomly from the two Alice books, and a villainous one-eyed assassin brought in from some other movie, and there you go.
There are some lovely bits. The Cheshire Cat is very wonderfully done, and splendidly voiced by Stephen Fry. Alan Rickman is very good as the Caterpillar, for all that the movie isn't up to dealing with his philosophical speculations. The Queen of Hearts is very well envisioned, though she's played less as a playing card and more as The Remorseless Evil Poisoning the Fantasy Landscape--- Sauron, or perhaps Saurette. (Gandalf, by the way, is played by a dog named Bayard.)
Mr. Depp's fans will scream at me for saying this, but there is way too much Mad Hatter. (And the Hatter is not mad enough, at least not in an interesting way.) I understand why's he's horning in on so much of the movie: the studio had to fork over the big bucks for him, so they're determined to get their money's worth. But really, how does the heroic resistance fighter Mad Hatter swinging a claymore in deadly combat with the Assassin From Another Movie make any sense? Either in terms of his own character or the movie or anything at all?
(And really, do we need another reason for Depp to wear full makeup? Does he have complexion problems, or does Burton just enjoy smearing goop on his mug?)
I yawned through the climactic scene, which I'd seen before in other Grade C fantasy films. Perhaps I am unique in this regard, but I never can be brought to care which special effect skewers which other special effect.
It was the same as any other franchise movie sequel, which is to say that it took all the gnarly stuff that was special about the original and replaced it with lots of modern chase scenes and combats. Which can be done well--- I liked Robert Downey as Holmes--- but in this case the film was left detached from its moorings, scattering torn plot coupons as it floated off into that big computer-generated sky.