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Thoughts on "Alice"...

I went to see "Alice in Wonderland" last night with MT's class, and wanted to put some thoughts/reactions down here.

I should probably note at the outset that I am a huge Alice fan. In the sense that it is one of the oldest and most beloved of childhood books that is imbedded deep in my consciousness. So I couldn't help but watch this movie through that lens. What I can say for it, briefly, is that it wasn't as bad as MT and I feared it might be, but IMO, it wasn't anywhere near as good as it could have been.

The Good:

* I really liked many of the performances. Alice was good, and gorgeous to look at (more on her in a moment). Depp as the Hatter was not, as feared, a retread of his MJ-impression as Wonka. HBC had fun as the Queen. And I was particularly taken with Stephen Fry's Cheshire Cat; great design, great feel to the character.

* The world was beautiful to look at, certainly. Most of the time, the 3D wasn't too obtrusive, seemingly used more for depth of field effect than things whizzing at your head. (But there were a few instances of the latter.)

The Bad:

* no Gryphon. :(

* I'm in the middle of a reread of the books, so I will see how well my memory matches up with reality, but... in the movie, there was too much emphasis to me on the "Wonderland dream" as something terrible for Alice -- a recurring nightmare that she sought comfort from as a child, and a nightmare-world that she fell back into as an adult. I guess that I always had the impression that one of the strengths of the books was that Alice was surprisingly matter of fact about the world and the experience. It was WEIRD, sure, but she wasn't terrified by it. Yes, she occasionally sat down and cried at some obstacle, or just wished she could go home, but then she would almost immediately scold herself for doing so.

Perhaps in the movie this was in service of creating the opportunity for Alice to have an arc. She had grown up, obviously, and there had to be some suggestion that she had "lost" something she'd had as a child. She had to rediscover her moxie, essentially -- characters in "Underland" pretty much stated that to her directly. Which... fine. But in that case, I felt like the framing scene at the beginning in which she is shown as a child, waking up from the "nightmare" and seeking comfort from her father, was misplaced.

So, in summary: Alice should have kicked more ass than she did. A little "but that isn't me / but I can't do that" could be forgiven in the beginning, but I felt like it went on too long. (To be fair, though -- in the end, she did kick some serious ass. Which I liked.)

* Biggest Gripe: I think that I can sum up my biggest criticism of the movie by saying that the writers tried to impose TOO MUCH ORDER on Wonderland. I don't think they even realized that's what they were doing. But that's the effect of what they did.

The books work, and have been so enduring, I think, because they are such nonsense. There's a little political intrigue in both, but it's simplistic and somewhat silly. The characters are just themselves, and don't truly have "backgrounds", nor do they need them. Often, the point is that they don't have understandable motivations by any sane yardstick.

The movie tries too much, I think, to create background and connections, and by doing so, it imposes an ordered structure that feels out of place with the world of Wonderland.

Even something as simple as giving names to everyone... The Queen of Hearts (Iracbeth), the Knave (Staine), the Hatter (Tarrant), the Cheshire Cat (Chessur), the Caterpillar (Absalom), etc. They shouldn't have names. IMO, they shouldn't have backgrounds. Showing me the Hatter before he was Mad, when he was some kind of page to the White Queen... ? Ehn. Telling me the Queen of Hearts and the White Queen are sisters??? EHN. "Mummy and Daddy always liked you best?" Man, trying to picture who the hell could be the parents of those archetypal figures makes my brain hurt.

In that vein, the whole plot structure of a deep civil war in Underland was also too ordered, I think. The political "plot" of the books is simplistic, small-scale, and nonsensical (who stole the Queen's tarts? let's have a very wacky trial about it), or... profound and disturbing in a mysterious way (the Red versus White on the chess-board countryside of "Looking Glass", the sleeping Red King, etc.). It was too... coherent, without feeling mysterious or disturbing. IMO, there is something far more disturbing about the idea that if the Red King wakes up, it might be the end of the world, because that works in dream-logic. That was the kernel of "Looking Glass", and the Red versus White fighting across the land was almost kind of "this is what we're doing just because this is what we DO", rather than something that seemed to have a goal to it.

* Second Biggest Gripe: related to the above, I have been griping about this since seeing the first movie posters, but I was holding out hope that the movie might actually explain it with a plot point. It didn't.

The Queen of Hearts and the Red Queen: NOT THE SAME CHARACTER. In the books, that is. But the movie conflates them.

Queen of Hearts = Playing Cards = Wonderland. Red Queen = Chess = Looking Glass. Queen of Hearts = Tyrant to be Opposed by Alice. Red Queen = Severe but Helpful Guide to Alice's Goal to Become a Queen herself.

I kind of wanted the movie to say that in the Queen of Hearts' quest to become a tyrant of all of Wonderland, she had supplanted/usurped the role of the Red Queen. BUT NO. In the movie, the Queen of Hearts and the White Queen are *sisters*, for crying out loud.

Fail, movie.

* Also, what happened to the fact that in the "past", Alice DID become a Queen in her own right? Boy was THAT dropped. I mean, the Wonderland creatures all knew that she had been there before, and they remarked on the fact that she didn't remember it. But if she'd been there before, then she should be Queen Alice. She wasn't. At most, she was cast as maybe the "champion" of the White Queen.

* To be perfectly honest, I felt that the movie lacked a sense of necessary whimsy in key places. The best example I can give for that is: okay, fine, the Jabberwock is the big bad. (And please note, MOVIE, it is "the Jabberwock" -- "Jabberwocky" is the title of the poem ABOUT IT. Grr.) So you create a big CGI Jabberwock and you make it reminscent of the Tenniel illustration, but also its own design, okay.

The Jabberwock in the film would have been 10 times more awesome if they had CGIed a little waistcoat onto it. That's all I'm saying. A tiny detail that would not have been difficult, but would have added to the visual WTF of the whole thing, which when you are talking about Wonderland, is the POINT.

* Finally, let me take a moment to remark that I'm not sure what to do with the framing sequence. On the one hand, okay, Alice as a grown woman being practically forced to become betrothed to a loathsome guy is somewhat "believable" for the Victorian times in which it should be set. But the ending in which a newly-empowered Alice rejects the guy and, um, declares that SHE is going to take over her dead father's half of his entrepeneurial company, and the not-fiance's father, who bought out the company upon his partner's death, is all "Sure! Awesome! You've just rejected my son, but I'm going to make you my business-partner! I see your father in you! I love your idea of expanding our company into trade with China! I think I'll send you there by yourself to negotiate that!" ??????

I was just like... look, movie. I can't figure out what to do with you.

(Also, note to Movie / Alice: you are set, charitably, in the 1880s. Britain was trading with China through Hong Kong as early as like 1783. So, Movie Alice, no, you wouldn't be the "first" to trade with China, OMG, have you never heard of the Opium Wars???)

I'm sure there's a lot more, but I'll leave it at that for now.

No... I'll leave it at this:

MEMO TO DISNEY: when people go to see a film, they often come out of it with a desire to buy things connected with the film. You would think that a SMART COMPANY, one that, oh, say, has built its empire on merchandising, would be hip to that by now.

Why, then, can I not purchase a plush Cheshire Cat based on the Burton movie?

And I do not mean this one, because while that's cute, and clearly in the color scheme of the Burton movie's Cat, it really doesn't look a damn thing like the Burton movie's Cat. (What the hell? The tag on that plush isn't even in remotely the same font as the Burton movie's titles.)

The Disney store has a section for the Burton movie, but it is filled thus far with an unenticing selection of apparel, bags, some jewelry, and books, not TOYS.

Some Googling around turned up the idea that Medicom is going to have some action figures out... in JULY???

Again: WHEN people go to see a movie, it is usually upon emerging from the movie that they experience the desire to purchase things related to the movie. Banking on them having that desire 5 months later seems like Marketing Fail to ME.

Look, Disney. I know that you feel the need to back your 1950s animated Alice designs. That's been a big seller for you for literally half a century. Great. But believe me when I tell you that for Alice fans, one of two things is going to hold true. Either: they are going to want versions from BOTH movies, because they are completists. Or: they decided long ago that some of the 1950s movie didn't appeal to them, and they're not going to buy that stuff NOW if they've decided they like the Burton movie version better.

I can't figure it out. Companies do this a lot, I just never figured it would be Disney. Let me fling money at you, Disney! Why won't you give me the chance to fling money at you?

(And for the record, it's not just me. When Googling around, what I ran across a lot was OTHER people posting online to ask "does anyone know where I can get a Cheshire Cat plush from the Burton movie?")

No wait, I'll leave it at THIS:

Apparently, "Alice" wiped the floor with "Avatar" in terms of opening-weekend box office. Since both opened in 3D and IMAX, I think it's fair to compare the two. Avatar's opening weekend = $77 million. Alice's = $116.3 million.




( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 10th, 2010 05:28 pm (UTC)
I too am an Alice fan, and I am REALLY DEEPLY SKEPTICAL about the Burton movie, and have been since I first saw the design for the Hatter. (Heh, the local paper is drawing similarities between Depp's Hatter and Carrot Top. XD) I was afraid it would end up being a Tim Burton Movie(tm) that borrowed heavily from the Alice books. I'm still not sure I will be going to see it -- for one thing, the many issues you cite, and for another, 3D tends to make me ill.

I might buy that cat plush, though... >.>
Mar. 10th, 2010 05:44 pm (UTC)
Maybe as a rental. ;-) And maybe if you're forewarned about it, then you could enjoy some aspects of it while not being too bothered by the others.

I was deeply worried about Depp's Hatter. As I remarked to someone else -- that design shaded into Scary Clown territory, which is a WORLD OF NO. But in action, he wasn't that bad.

Mar. 10th, 2010 05:41 pm (UTC)
I definitely discovered that I had to just throw out anything i knew about the books, immediately. I find that generally easy to do for movies, though. I don't think I've ever *hated* a movie. Ever. Even when it was a piece of crap. I found some way to suspend disbelief and what I knew of the original and enjoyed it for its own merits.

That being said, I was able to assume that Alice's father's company, specifically, had never traded with China, before. I don't know what his company did, but apparently it would be awesome for the Chinese to get in on it. Not to mention that they let her get on a boat to China by herself without a chaperon, as an unmarried woman, in the 1880's.

Funny how *that* was the thing that got to me the most!

Otherwise, if I pretended I had never read Adventures in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass, I really liked the movie.
Mar. 10th, 2010 05:52 pm (UTC)
I'm not saying I hated this movie. I just think that it could have been a lot better than it was, given the material it had to work with.

Plus... I don't know. I see what you're saying, about throwing out expectations based on what the movie is based on. At the same time... I'm not sure I agree, because if you're going to base your movie on something in particular, then part of what the movie is trying to do is build on the audience's prior knowledge. Isn't that prior knowledge why we're in the seat to begin with? At least in part? (Doesn't that have to be part of the reason it did that kind of box office for its opening weekend?)

I don't think a movie can have it both ways. It can't spend so much of its time (as it did) reminding of us "the last time" Alice was there... but expect us to forget about the original books.

I did make the disclaimer at the start that Alice means so much to me that I was going to be reviewing it from that position. That is, sometimes I may be willing to approach a movie based on something and let it stand on its own... but not this one. Not entirely, anyway.

I'm pretty sure (as sure as I can be) that the statement Alice made at the end was about being "the first company in Britain to trade with China", not that this would be a first for their company. That's why I had such a strong "WAIT a minute!" reaction to it.
Mar. 10th, 2010 10:39 pm (UTC)
I also want a cheshire cat from the movie. I'm tired of trying to find non-pink cheshire cats when I go to Disneyworld. I'm just sayin'.

Am going to see the movie on Sunday. Look forward to chatting after....

and huh indeed. :)
Mar. 11th, 2010 03:12 am (UTC)
You know, this happened after Lilo and Stitch as well (the lack of merchandise.) The rumor that I heard was that Disney basically turned the reins of L&S over to Chris Sanders (the creator) and then didn't market it in the hopes it would fail. When L&S was released there was hardly any merchandise, which drove me crazy because MAN I am huge L&S fan. Like, crazy nutty fan with a three-foot tall plush Stitch, tons of pins, a bedside lamp, talking plush Stitches, L&S SHEETS etc.

Eventually Disney started releasing stuff (and I spent way too much money) when they realized L&S was a real hit. It may be they're waiting to see if the movie does well before they get the merchandise machine moving.

Your review is interesting, and maybe I'll go see the movie this weekend. I was only vaguely interested because it sort of seems Burton is repeating himself over and over, but I do like the design of the cat.

I need to reread Alice in Wonderland and TtLG. It's been a while!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )