Alice in Wonderland Movie Review
Friday was a good day, up until I left work. At 5 pm, I drove home, ate some food and did some dishes. At 8 pm, I finished watching the Disney movie Old Dogs, which was painfully bad. At 10 pm, I sat down in a sparsely populated theater to watch Tim Burton's new movie Alice in Wonderland. It's truly sad that Old Dogs was the more enjoyable experience.
There has been a lot of fanfare around this new Alice in Wonderland. First and foremost, it is the first blockbuster-level movie of 2010, the first IMAX/3D movie to snatch theaters away from the beast that is Avatar. Furthermore, it is directed by Burton and stars Johnny Depp, a most formidable pair. Lastly, it is the latest reincarnation of one of the best known children's tales, meaning serious brand recognition and a story that is ripe for a remake given the technological advances there have been in filmmaking.
Needless to say, it defied my expectations, but not in a good way. Ever since Burton was announced as director of the project, I had feared this day. Yes, Burton, a man who was born to do weird, seemed like the perfect fit, but that's exactly why it was a poor choice. Burton's style of weird is quintessential Burton, and having enjoyed his movies for decades, they are now beginning to get old. No matter how different the story or visual effects, all of his movies have begun to feel the same: imaginative constructions without heart or purpose. Aside from 2003's Big Fish, which no one saw and was about as different of a movie as the director has ever done, he hasn't made a good movie this decade.
Alice and Wonderland does not bode well for this new decade, either.
The movie is a jumbled mess of bad special effects, horrible character development, bland "adventure," another overacted character by Johnny Depp and a complete lack of purpose. The acting is generally poor, but more importantly Burton makes it impossible to become invested in the characters, the story and the movie as a whole.
Burton skips from one scene to the next without any sense of buildup or climax; the movie feels like he snatched chapters from the book but didn't expand upon the material to make it a cinematic experience. The picture, which understandably is full of weird characters doing weird things, is just that - weird - but nothing more. There is no overarching sense of purpose, as Alice (Mia Wasikowska) reluctantly pursues her destiny to take down the Red Queen (played by Helena Bonham Carter). As she states in one scene to a poorly animated talking dog, she is told what to do and be time and time again, and that's exactly the problem: we never get to grow with her or discover her strengths, because she doesn't get to herself. At the end, she just decides as the screenplay dictates that she's ready to fight, despite never having ever held a sword before or believing that she is the Alice everyone is talking about.
Depp has his moments as the Mad Hatter, but just like in Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, another children's classic gone horribly wrong, his performance is too off-the-wall to be of any interest. It's great that Depp is still willing to go so far off the deep end, but I get the sense Burton is too scared to give his good friend constructive criticism about how to channel that creative energy into something meaningful. Then again, given the state of the rest of the film, Burton may not be the right choice to be directing anyone anymore.
Wasikowska, in her first major leading role, unfortunately doesn't leave a very pleasant impression. While not terrible, she definitely doesn't elevate the material and, for the most part, seems trapped like a wide-eyed deer in headlights. She does not make a convincing heroine.
Crispin Glover, who plays the Knave of Hearts, is completely wasted. Even his body is removed at times and replaced with poorly done CGI that leaves him looking like a cartoon from some B-grade movie from the 1980's. I guess he had to fit in. The CGI ranges from bad to cringe-inducing, and all I can say is thank God I didn't waste the added money to see this in 3D. It wouldn't have helped. Wonderland isn't meant to look real, but most of the characters and scenery are so poorly animated it's amazing that this film was made in 2010. IMDB reports that the movie has an estimated $250 million budget, which just baffles me. I honestly have no idea where the money was spent.
The movie's only saving grace is Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Burton's beau who just happens to be a fine actress. She has her funny moments as the big-headed (literally) Red Queen, including some pretty classic one liners. Still, even she isn't that incredible and her best scenes are shown in the previews.
Two-hundred and fifty million dollars. Honestly? How much does Johnny Depp cost these days? $20 million? Certainly not $30 million? Burton probably makes several million, and Carter one or two; Wasikowska likely next to nothing. Whoever was in charge of the visual effects should never be allowed near a computer again, because if $200 million was spent on making the movie what it was, that is an unbelievable waste of money. Alice in Wonderland is so bad it's hard to describe.
Luckily, I managed to tear one of my contact lenses halfway through so I could focus my attention on that instead. Do not waste your time on this travesty, which is easily one of the worst movies of 2010.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.