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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

FILM REVIEW (Oll Lewis) Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland

OLL LEWIS'S FILM REVIEW: Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland

Last Friday evening I was wasting time on Facebook when I noticed some exciting news on the Tron Legacy fanpage. A new and exclusive trailer for the film would be played in three glorious dimensions in cinemas before Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland film.

Being already pathetically and childishly excited about the forthcoming sequel to one of my favourite films of all time I obviously would have to see this new trailer as soon as possible, so I made plans to get up at stupid o’clock the next day so I could feed all the animals before catching a bus for the lunchtime showing of the film. However, in their ‘wisdom’ the local cinema decided that rather than seeing the new and exclusive trailer for one of the most eagerly anticipated films of the last 10 years people would much rather see an outdated trailer for Alvin and the Chipmunks 2. I fully intend to write a letter not only to my local MP but also to the Queen about this, so great is my disappointment! But anyway, Tim Burton films are usually pretty fun to watch so my money would not be wasted, I thought.

How wrong I was.

I had been in two minds about seeing Alice in Wonderland before I was whipped into a light cycle-related frenzy because alarm bells had already been rung when I had found out that far from being a true adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland this would be an ‘original’ story set several years on. What transpired before my eyes was badly written fan-fiction that bore very little resemblance to Lewis Carroll’s stories. The plot is very much event- rather than character-driven, it feels as though some Disney executive decided that there should be a film where a Jabberwocky gets killed in the most anti-climactic way possible for no good reason, then came up with the idea of shoehorning a few more of Lewis Carroll’s creations into the film just in case the Jabberwocky didn’t get enough bums on seats.

The world of wonderland is poorly realised by Burton too; the English whimsy of the place has been lost, replaced by zanyness perhaps best typified by the Mad Hatter's cringe-worthy and anachronistic break-dancing near the end. Zanyness has its place in films and can be entertaining if used correctly, like in The Mask, but Alice in Wonderland is not that place and it just goes to show how poorly Burton and the scriptwriters understood the work they were trying to adapt. The only time I have seen a film miss the point more than this was when I saw a low-budget animated film of Titanic, released to cash in on Cameron’s Titanic film, that contained a song and dance number by a ‘gangsta’ rapping dog about it being ‘Party Time’ not long before the iceberg hit and hundreds of people drowned.

(No, honestly, I didn’t make that up: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BxHNztg0X3s ).

The characters are pancake-flat and impossible to care about as a result, and in some cases, like the dodo, are literally forgotten about halfway through the film. Some of the casting, however, was rather good. Barbara Windsor makes a good dormouse, Stephen Fry a ‘purr’-fect Cheshire cat and Matt Lucus was born to play the rather underused Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Good casting like that does highlight the bad casting decisions like Depp and HBC. Depp is a good actor but he can’t play true madness very well. You get the impression that he is not playing the Mad Hatter but rather Captain Jack Sparrow in disguise and without the charisma; in some scenes it’s almost as if he is straining at the leash not to say “Savvy?” or “Where’s the rum?”

Another problem I have with Depp’s performance is that whenever he wants to sound really mad/whacky he puts on a Scottish accent. Now, I know quite a few Scots and most of them are quite sane. I find this playing to untrue stereotypes quite lazy on Depp’s part and it shows he is either out of his depth in this part or honestly couldn’t give two figs about this role. HBC is another permanent fixture in Burton’s movies and is also badly cast as the Red Queen. I got the impression that almost every scene she was it was some kind of in-joke between her and Burton that the rest of us were not privy to and she was not particularly convincing in the role.

The visual effects of the film are a mixed bag. Some, like the Cheshire cat and Tweedledum and Tweedledee, are rather convincing and impossible to fault but others, like the red queen’s unconvincing over-sized head and the really unimpressive 3D, are lamentable. The lack-lustre 3D was in part due to the movie having been filmed in 2D and later converted into 3D in post-production. This was not Burton’s fault but rather that of the executives who thought that this would be a cheap way round the cost of renting 3D cameras. The trouble is this leaves things looking a bit flat. Upon hearing this, James Cameron, who had just finished filming Avatar, said "It doesn't make any sense to shoot in 2-D and convert to 3-D" and being a stereoscopic nerd myself, I agree with him.

Burton has used this method before for converting The Nightmare Before Christmas into 3D and as the film had been made before the resurgence of 3D brought about by IMEX cinemas and the shedload of money generated by the 3D version of The Polar Express for that film it was perfectly justifiable. However, if you run a 2D live-action film through the same process the effect on viewing is comparable to say watching the colourised version of a black and white film. For example, if you watch the colourised version of Laurel and Hardy’s Way Out West you enjoy it well enough but you are left with a sort of nagging feeling that something isn’t quite well with Stan and Ollie.

I could probably go on to write pages on what was wrong with Burton’s Alice in Wonderland including how Alice and the Mad Hatter become best of friends automatically to the extent where she risks her life to save him from the Red Queen about a day after meeting him, or how Burton clearly mistook the Red Queen from Through the Looking Glass for the Queen of Hearts in ‘Wonderland’ to the extent where rather than using chess pieces for her army, she uses cards and has somewhat of a decapitation fetish. Overall, the film doesn’t really work and even though I was able to suspend my sense of disbelief for the Wonderland (or ‘Underland’ as it’s called in Burton’s fanfic) scenes the ending in the real world seems rushed, lazy and senseless.

Perhaps it will be enough to entertain young children who care a lot less about plot than they do about something looking colourful and probably won’t pick up on the liberties Burton took with the source material, but as far as an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland goes, you’d be better off steering clear.

Rating: 2/10


Richard Freeman said...

At least the Jabberwock was a proper dragon with four legs and two wings.
But why did the Md Hatter speak with a Scottish accent?
The pawnbroker that Carrol based him on, Theopholis Carter was not a Scot.

Dave said...

I saw this last night. The cast list alone made me want to see it. Though it's not a bad film, it also isn't even a good film. The plot, what there was of it, was lame, a few good moments, but does Allan Rickman always have to play Allan Rickman! I'll give it a generous 3/10.

Oll Lewis said...

He only spoke with a strong Scottish accent when he was being 'really mad', which kind of left a bad taste in my mouth, why flip accents at all? I always thought Depp was a better actor than that, but there again, he seems to have gotten a bit lazy of late. Much in the same way that Dave points out Allen Rickman seems to always play Allen Rickman lately.

In fact talking of Rickman, does anybody else see similarities between him and the great Kenneth Williams, without KW's sense of humour of course.