Thursday, March 18, 2010

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Well, this was a first. I was bored at a Tim Burton film. Bored! I wasn’t bored during Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake. Pissed off, yes, but never bored.

Yet, by the time Alice makes it to the White Queen’s castle, I was squirming in my seat, hoping the end was near. Actually, I wish I’d left the theater before I witnessed the waste of time for Sir Christopher Lee as the Jabberwocky and the AWFUL dance from the Mad Hatter.

Oh, what a waste of an evening. And yes, this was while watching the 3D version.

As with horror films, fantasy movies are reaching a crossroads. thanks to CGI effects. After the Lord of the Rings trilogy, computer effects have infected fantasy movies like a virus. Scripts, character development and the like have taken a back seat to the spectacle generated with the right computer program. And Alice is the perfect example of this illness. We never get a quite moment with the characters. Every time the movie slows down, it feels like all the life is drained out of it, as if everyone involved is just waiting for the next cool computer scene.

It doesn’t help that Mia Wasikowska plays Alice as if she’s half asleep. Yes, I know Alice believes it’s all a dream and has forgotten everything about her last visit to Wonder/Underland. But she never seems to react to anything without looking dazed and confused. Even as she turns into Alice, Warrior Princess (maybe a spoiler, but you know it’s coming within a few minutes of her falling down the rabbit hole), she doesn’t convey her determination or fear with any more than a puzzled look.

That fact that she was surrounded by a green screen stage during most of the filming might not have helped Wasikaowska’s performance. Reacting to a tennis ball is not an easy job. But imagine the added pressure of having to play off the incredible cast of character actors assembled for this film.

But that’s another problem with this movie. The rest of the cast was hired because their persona fit the role. Depp’s Hatter is just a more maniacal version of Captain Jack Sparrow, Carter get’s to act regal and scream, and Hathaway simply looks around with placid acceptance. While it’s not fair to say the cast didn’t perform their parts well, it’s a shame they didn’t demand a script with a bit more depth, more character development for them to build upon. Or that Burton didn’t make some unexpected casting choices, giving some up and coming actors a chance to build the characters, not just cash a paycheck by playing themselves.

In all, a rather bland offering that is obviously pleasing audiences. I just wonder how much of the box office is due to the 3D spectacle, though many of shots in the "real" world are surprisingly weak. This is likely a result of converting the filmed scenes (shot in 2D) to 3D. But it seems to be working, as the public kept this movie at the number one spot for the second week in a row. I guess you can polish a turd, with 3D and the right marketing campaign.

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