Tim Burton’s re-imagining of a well known and often told story in 3D left me feeling a little flat.
The movie nips along at a decent pace and takes us from Alice’s oppressive aristocratic life into wonderland, a place she had visited and all but forgotten about many years before. Her adventure this time is to take on the jabberwocky, as foretold in a scroll that contains everything that has happened and ever will.
As long as 3D, in this quality at least, is a new fad, it is impossible not to compare the experience with other movies viewed in the same format. I have Avatar to compare it against and until I see more 3D movies of differing genres, Avatar will generally be the benchmark. And it is here that I find my main issue with the movie. It is perhaps unfair to compare the two, but my comparison is based upon the feelings I have while watching; how immersed in the movie do I get, does the depth perception add to how a 2D experience might be, etc.
My problem with this is that Avatar, whilst also being a fantasy film, did have a lot of its content based upon reality. In particular I am thinking of the landscapes being based upon rainforests, which at least gave me some form of recognition. Whereas, Wonderland, rightly so, is much more abstract and outlandish. To me, that gave it a cartoon feel and so the depth given to the movie was not much of an enhancement. It reminded me a little of some of the Popeye cartoons that used model sets in the foreground to try to add a layer of depth. Which seems like a folly to me: it’s a cartoon, who needs depth?
Having said that, some of the 3D works well enough, but it does come across as though the movie was not intended to be 3D from its original conception, as the 3D is not utilised or played upon enough.
The story is standard fare of Alice being thrust into a situation she does not deem herself capable of handling, but she learns that she is braver and more resilient than she gave herself credit for. The jokes for the adults that are so often a source of amusement in these types of kids’ movies was not apparent – the Toy Story trailer delivered more “adult” humour in 30 seconds than this did in 1hr 50mins. The twisted and dark view that is so often associated with Tim Burton was also lacking.
In fact, it was a straight story told in a straight way: no plot twists, no darker moments and nothing to grab your attention. I found myself quite happy to let the story unfold in front of me without having to engage the brain other than to try to guess who did the voices and spot the occasionally clever / occasionally clumsy references to Alice’s “real” world.
Mia Wasikowska is competent, but hardly stretched in the title role and she is ably supported by the voices of Stephen Fry, Matt Lucas and Timothy Spall to name a few, with Fry perhaps just stealing the show from the others.
This brings us to two long-time collaborators of Tim Burton’s:
Helena Bonham Carter lazily rehashes Miranda Richardson’s excellent portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I in Blackadder II. She often has the sharpest lines, but they fall flat when applied via such an obvious impression.
Johnny Depp does bring an eccentricity to the Mad Hatter, Glaswegian accent included, but haven’t we seen this sort of thing from him before? Johnny seems to be caught in a cycle of churning out eccentric characters with unique quirks (usually accents): Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka and now the Mad Hatter. Whatever happened to the Johnny Depp we saw in Blow, Donnie Brasco, etc? Admittedly, I have not seen Public Enemies.
One can almost imagine the scene of Depp, Bonham Carter and Burton sat around massaging each other’s egos and conspiring to “bring something new” to their characters. Which may seem like a good idea until the finished article reaches the screens and the audience is left thinking it is one gimmick too far.
The film is good clean fun, but I can’t help thinking that this film could have been much more than that. And, to me, the 3D was wasted here, as it added little to the experience.