Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Worst Films of 2010 No.1 - Alice In Wonderland (2010)


Years after her whimsical and not entirely sane original adventures (which were always implied were just a dream to begin with) Alice is now 19 years old (and played by Mia Wasikowska). In a surprise move for a Tim Burton film, the protagonist finds herself bored and alienated by the real world. Cue another return to Wonder... oh sorry Underland (Ugh...), an all-too-familar world ruled by the Red Queen (Helana Bonham Carter) who now has elephantiasis of the acting. Oh and skull. The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) meanwhile has become incredibly annoying, developed a Scottish accent and has a sword in what obviously is a perfectly logical evolution of his character from the first adventure.

So Aslan... Sorry Alice must rally the peoples of Narnia... Sorry Wonderland... Sorry Underland to defeat the Red Queen and the Jabberwockey in a tale that doesn’t at all betray it's literary nonsense background. Or stab creator Charles Lutwidge (Lewis Carroll was a pseudonym) squarely between the shoulder blades. Oh no, making one of the greatest ever novelised attacks on story structure into a bland three act piece of day-glo pig shit is totally respectable and above board. Yup.

Reasons it’s on the list:

My hatred for this film still simmers at the memory of sitting through the 103 minutes running time, stumbling into the light outside the cinema and being amazed the apocalypse wasn't underway. I struggle to even think where to begin. Every other film on this list had some small redeeming factor, some scene I admired, some shot I thought interesting, some failed concept that was still admirable in its attempt to actualise. But here... Firstly why get Tim Burton to direct it? A director who freely admitted numerous times before that he never got the book (even though people always expect it to be one of his favourites according to him) is probably not the first director I'd turn to. That combined with Tim Burton's terrible track-record of remakes (Planet of The Apes or Charlie And The Chocolate Factory anyone?) should have had Lewis fans everywhere cowering in fear. But no, the world went nuts for this concept, critics began eagerly adding it to the must see movies of 2010 and this culminated in Alice In Wonderland (2010) having the fifth highest grossing film of all time. Still doesn't stop it being absolutely horrid.

Presented in 3D to allow the images more dimension then the film itself, lets first look at the visuals. This is Tim Burton at his laziest and least imaginative. Imagine if one took the world of Pandora from Avatar and spray-painted everything aggressively bright colours. Did you notice all the bits in the book where Alice walked through the radioactive green and ultramarine blue forests? Of course you didn't, that version of the story would look stupid. The 3D is exceptionally flimsy and clearly was not given the correct treatment in post-production, some scenes seeming to lack the effect altogether. When its not trying to distract your children with the retina-scrubbing primary colours the film instead attempts to truamatise them for life instead. Alice uses severed heads as stepping stones, the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) gets his head lopped off (not that it shuts him up for long mind you) and the characters designs lack the Burton warmth and mis-understood nature he was once so good at. Its hard to sympathise with most of the terrifying contorted and deformed cast, Matt Lucas's Tweedledom and Tweedledee being especially hard to stare at without hearing the voice of Cthulhu in one ear calling you to madness. To make this worse, none of the actors seem to have any idea whats going on, falling in and out of scenes like they were being fired onto the sets with cannons. They struggle under dialogue that is by turns cheesy ("It's you! It's absolutely Alice, I'd know him anywhere") and stupid (anything the Mad Hatter says, more on that later)

When There Is No More Room In Hell...

Now to the story. And there's the problem already, the fact that there is a story at all. Try if you can to remember the story of the original film? Hard isn't it? That's because there was no real story, Alice instead wandering through Wonderland and making the best of whatever strange scenario she found herself in. The book is even more extreme in its lack of established structure. Alice is not here to learn life lessons or to lead epic rebellions but to experience all that this bizarre world of imagination and madness has to offer. The concept of evil didn't even exist in the book! In the Wonderland of the book, people simply are what they are and very little moral judgement is passed beyond everyone being "mad". The three act tale of Alice In Wonderland (2010) ends on a battle that is more like something from The Chronicles Of Narnia then the Alice in Wonderland book. Curiouser and curiouser.

Witness how in the book the Cheshire Cat had the power to save Alice at any time he wished, his powers being basically limitless, yet instead enjoyed watching how events unfolded. If he is any kind of metaphor, he is one of the uncaring but curious god. But in Alice In Wonderland (2010), said cat (voiced by Stephan Fry) fights for good. But surely he doesn't need to fight at all, he could teleport to the Red Queen instantly and destroy her. Moving beyond that massive plot-chasm, Alice has no reason to be vital to this tale, she's generally very out of her depth in Underland. She is in fact possible the most under-powered character on the side of good. And why is the side of good led by the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) when she herself seems aloof and uncaring to more or less anything that goes on around her? She seems more confused then out-raged at what has happened to Wonderland and her character is not developed or explored in any way, making her just another padding device for the thin, flimsy story. Why do the Red Queen's forces follow her when she is a psychopath that is all too likely to kill them out of boredom? For that matter, how did she remain Queen when it is clear all her subjects seem to hate her and quite openly discuss over-throwing her all the time? What's wrong with her head? Why does Alice In Wonderland try to cram every poem that Carroll ever wrote into its short, over-stuffed yet mind-numbingly tedious running time (see if you spot the reference involving Alice's sword)? Why does the final battle take part on a chess board when the symbolism makes sod-all sense? Why did Crispin Glover (one of my favourite actors) agree to appear in this? Why can't I feel the emotion of love and joy anymore? Why don't Canada adopt the Metric system? Why?!?!

But Johnny Depp... oh Johnny Depp, what have they done to you, you used to be so charming and eccentric. Did you forget that SHOUTING AT RANDOM in a SKOOTISSSSHHHHH accent does NAAAAH make you all that likable? It just makes you come across like you lack any direction and are hopelessly at sea. Playing an unhinged character is difficult, insanity can take many forms after all. If you were looking for a character with multiple personalities maybe you could have done some research on Gollum from Lord Of The Rings first. If you wanted a damaged military leader, you could have looked at Patton for the intensity and drive. If you wanted to play an irritating dick-head then good job, you come across like Pee-Wee Herman playing William Wallace. Seriously, the Mad Hatter with a sword, are you fucking insane Tim Burton? I know you don't like the books but you really even attempt to read them? Oh and the Fubberwacken, the little dance the Mad Hatter does near the end? That may well have been the stupidest thing I have ever seen in my entire 24 years of life. Thanks for that.

They May Take Our Lives But They Will Never Stop Us From Being Fabulous!

At its heart all Alice In Wonderland (2010) really wants to be is a coming of age story. While just that might be all the rage in popular culture (one only has to turn to the Harry Potter and *shudder...* Twilight movies to see it in action) it doesn’t quite work here. The emotional arc (shallow as it is even for a coming of age tale) competes with the film’s lack of structure, something Carroll himself faced in his own writing. How he overcame it was with wit, satire and imagination, and so while on paper you’d think that his mind would be perfect for Burton to tap, it oddly isn’t. Burton is unsuited for this project. The visuals are coloured too bright yet hit us with images too dark, the characters are all universally annoying and unlikeable, the Mad Hatter is one of the most poorly written and executed characters I have even seen and the film can't even pick the easily labelled box it wants to be slotted into. This is in spite of Alice In Wonderland robbing most of its story from a list of other films but not the book its based on. It also finds time to mangle and distort all the best ideas of one of the greatest children's writers of all time. I hate this film because there is nothing of merit or redeemable here, its all an emotionless mess of colours and shouting. Tim Burton has lost his way and clearly the White Rabbit isn't the one he needs to follow.

Watching this film feels like: : Oblivion beckoning for you. In painfully bright pink pants and screaming in a silly accent.

Well thats the list. Sorry that this review didn't have as many laughs but even thinking about this one makes me upset frankly. Please let me know what you thought of the list. I'll be back next week with a shorter recap of some of the best films of 2010. Til then!

1 comment:

  1. So yeah, you could say I'm a slight Lewis Carroll fan I suppose...