Alice in Burtonland

Anyone remember when Tim Burton made good movies?  I may be a big weirdo since I’m one of the few who enjoyed Mars Attacks, but he used to be very dependable.  He used to be able to maintain a nice balance of oddness and cleverness juxtaposed against the mundane.  Nowadays, this balance has gone out of whack.  Maybe he feels the need to top himself with every film, but with the aid of CGI the visuals have become more outrageous and overwhelming.  As if nobody’s had the heart to tell him, “Too many notes.”  Funny that his last decent movie, Big Fish, was the least Tim Burtonish.

It’s curious that Burton even bothered to handle this latest version of Alice, since he expressed in interviews that he never felt any sort of connection to it.  To him, it was just a girl wandering to one random event after another.  Which sounds really boring when you say it like that, but any value lost from lack of structure can be made up by wit.  Does it really matter that Alice hits the fifteen or thirty minute points, making sure her character progression happens at the correct time and rhythm?  Apparently so, as Burton has manually arranged the movie so that it has a Story©Robert McKee.  Alice can’t just go on a series of entertaining adventures, she must learn and grow and come out the other end a better person.  This is what people do in movies.  Formulas work!  That’s why they’re called formulas.

So Alice is now nineteen and is about to be married off to some dude she doesn’t like who has a digestive problem (comedy!).  She’s not having that, so she runs off to Wonderland (or Underland, apparently?) to have an honest to god Joseph Campbell brand of the Hero’s Journey.  The Call to Adventure, the Refusal of the Call, the Supernatural Aid, the Belly of the Whale, it’s pretty much all there.  There’s even this magic scroll that tells Alice exactly what she needs to do to save the kingdom from Darth Vader the Red Queen.  She has to slay a freaking dragon, while spouting action hero quips no less.  Everything now all well and good in Wonderland, Alice opts to return to real life so that she can take over her father’s business.  Of course, she only gets the job through nepotism (unintentional subtext?).  And so, happy ending is achieved and Alice has learned a valuable lesson: Don’t let anyone control your life.  Well….except that she learned that by doing exactly what the good guys told her to do.  What?  Nevermind that, look at this awesome CGI!

Yes, the CGI.  I’m sure it’s all quite advanced, how very nice for it, but it’s also disorienting and ugly—and we even saw this things in normal-D.  Visual noise cannot compensate for a terrible script.  Luckily, a gaggle of great actors can help.  Everyone here does pretty well with what they’re given, and Crispin Glover can always be relied upon to entertain by being creepy.  The standout surprisingly was Anne Hathaway in her small role of the White Queen, the only character who seemed genuinely crazy rather than quirky.  Bad writing, good mannerisms.

It’s telling that so much of this movie’s merchandise is sold at Hot Topic.  It’s a quirky Hollywood movie made for quirky Hollywood, just entertaining enough to make several hundred million dollars but not of sufficient quality to be memorable.  And unfortunately littered with modern, mainstream touches.  My wife said it best when Johnny Depp started breakdancing: “I’m going to barf.”

About Tim

Tim Bennett works for a publisher of science and technology, amongst other things.
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4 Responses to Alice in Burtonland

  1. Clint says:

    I had much the same reaction to the movie. I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, but what I felt like I got was a nigh 2-hour long cosplay advertisement.

  2. artofdawn says:

    I had to watch this in 2D (3D causes me to have migraines) and just found the story lacking. Still afraid I’m going to get the “It’s better in 3D. You need to watch it in 3D to like it”. But people don’t understand that the story is still failing in 3D.

    And am I the only one that found the old Jabberwocky picture spookier than the movie version?

  3. Clint says:

    That’s because the original picture was a freakish bucktoothed THING clad in a Victorian waistcoat, and this version was, well… a fairly generic dragon.

    One of these things looks like a figment of nightmare. The other looks like experience points on legs.

  4. Tim says:

    The story was indeed lacking. Funny though, seeing as they tried to add more of it. I did enjoy parts of it, but that was more from the actors than anything behind the camera.

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