26 March 2010

Alice in Wonderland

Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Linda Woolverton
Full credits at IMDb

Counterintuitively, if not paradoxically, CGI has had a crippling effect on Tim Burton’s imagination. Computers, you’d think, would liberate visionaries from the limitations of the real—to make the impossible possible—but often it’s those very limits that fuel the artist’s creativity. Computers eliminate the need for resourcefulness, which serves as many artists’ motivating force—Burton in particular. As anyone who’s taken a stroll through his MoMA show knows, he’s an expert craftsman and a sketchbooker of vivid inventiveness. But left to the limitless possibilities of computer animation, he proves a bland imagineer. Ones and zeroes ain’t his medium.

His Alice in Wonderland, better titled Alice’s Re-Adventures in Underland (because Burton is so Dark even his wonderlands are stripped of wonder!), is dreary, ugly and lifeless: it’s gray, despite its colors; flat, despite its three dimensions. It’s so sucked of vim that even Crispin Glover, usually irrepressibly idiosyncratic, seems diminished, reduced to the rank of just another Hollywood supporting man. Seriously—how do you make Crispin Glover dull? Burton’s mode here is predictable fantasticality, smothered by special-glasses layers of perspective. The film was shot in two dimensions and retrofitted in three—big mistake! The new technology works best in giving still shots a depth of field of which cinematographers once could only dream. But Burton’s camera doesn’t stop moving. Without planning for those extra dimensions, the action blurs, rendered as incoherent as a Christopher Nolan fight sequence.

The unimpressive, garishly dull, dizzyingly busy visuals parallel, rather than make up for (as in Avatar), the Planet of the Apes-level, by-committee screenwriting. (Screenwriter Woolverton cut her teeth on several second-Golden-Age Disney scripts.) Alice (Mia Wasikowska), here 20 years-old, is an anachronistically independent young lady who escapes her arranged-engagement-to-a-weasel proposal-ceremony (he is not literally a weasel) by falling into a hole underneath a tree; the portal, something of a birth canal, takes her to the colorless Underland, where a ragtag team of talking animals, misfits, fat heads and dissipating Cheshires is plotting to overthrow the hydrocephalic White Queen, played by Tilda Swinton Red Queen, played by Burton’s wife and muse Helena Bonham Carter, who delivers her requisite “off with their heads!” with gusto. Though pale as raw chalk—@TimBurton: Ricci 2 old? LOL—Alice’s wanness can’t compete with the Krusty-painted face of the Mad Hatter, played by Johnny Depp who, slipping in and out of a brogue, tries only to keep himself amused, like a child playing by himself in a corner.

Burton comes off like something of a lonely child here, too, exiled from the schoolyard for punishing his playmates with torpid adaptations of their favorite adventurebooks. Is it movies like this that turn kids off to reading? Modern, English literary classics—like, say, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory—have not proved a good fit for Burton’s crassly commercial sensibilities when he’s in blockbuster mode (which seems, like, all the time), not least in the way that, in trying to add humanzing backstories to classic characters, he pushes the films way off track. At the end, Alice avoids the unattractive marriage and is offered, instead, to sail with the English to uncharted China, an opportunity for the adventure she has long been denied. Oh, so she’s off to start the Opium Wars? Hoo…ray? Grade: C-

Watch the trailer:

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