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Review: Alice in Wonderland in 2D

Simon Pitt | Film | Sunday 28th March 2010

I have to admit: I have no interest in 3D at all. I don't mean that in a conceptual way (like the guy who came out of Avatar saying "I wish life were in 3D"), but 3D films. The main problem is that they aren't 3D at all. All the characters just look like 2D cut-outs standing in front of each other. And yes, I'm sure there'll be one bit at the beginning where she falls down the rabbit hole that's really 3D (like that bit in Coraline 3D when she goes through the rabbit-hole-substitute) and one bit at the end where a butterfly-like thing looks like it flies out of the screen, but I'm not going to spend two hours wearing some funny plastic glasses just for that. Until 3D is like it is in Star Wars when R2D2 projects a little hologram of Princess Lea into the air I'm not interested.

It's about time they did another adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, because there hasn't been one since, oh, 2009. and before that there was only one in 2006, 1999, two in 1988, 1985, 1983, 1981, 1976, 1972, two in 1966, 1951, 1949, 1933, 1931, 1915, 1910 and 1903. I'm not sure what Tim Burton is going to do next: a version of Sherlock Holmes, with Holmes played by Johnny Depp (playing him as a creepy, drugged up mad detective) and Mrs Hudson played by Helena Bonham Carter. Except they'll have to wait since Holmes has been recently Richie-ified. Maybe he'll do a version of Hamlet with Hamlet played by Johnny Depp (playing him as a creepy, drugged up Danish King). Or The Wizard of Oz with Johnny Depp as the wizard (playing him as a creepy, drugged up sage), and with the wizard inexplicably promoted to the main character. Or The Bible with Johnny Depp as a creepy drugged up Jesus. Anyway, you get the idea.

A weird blob thing and an Adipose from Doctor Who.
Alice in Wonderland in 2D (I managed to find a cinema playing it in 2D, but even then it was only because their projector had broken) features Anne Hathaway as the white witch doing an impression of Nigella Lawson, Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen of Hearts doing an entirely inappropriate impression of Miranda Richardson's Queenie from Blackadder II, Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, doing an impression of himself in Charlie and Chocolate Factory, and Stephen Fry as the Chesire Cat, doing a surprisingly bad impression of his own voice. Oh and there was also Matt Lucas, requiring surprisingly little makeup, playing one of these weird blobs from Doctor Who.

The film is a largely standard Tim Burton affair. Danny Elfman does the soundtrack, and Johnny Depp plays the surreal but slightly sinister main character. The Mad Hatter wasn't even a main character in the book, but that hasn't stopped them beefing out his part to make him the hero to give Depp enough to do. That and making him endlessly ask why a raven is like a writing desk. Jesus, this got old in the nineteenth century. It's no less irritating a hundred and twenty years later. I don't really mind them changing the story or promoting characters, if it's for the purpose of the plot, but when it's just so that Johnny Depp can spend more time on screen I do mind.

In some ways, the film is a sequel to the 1951 Disney animated film, the twist being that it wasn't all a dream at the end, and actually happened making this Alice's second trip down the rabbit hole. For some reason, Burton tells us that actually the world is called Underland, not Wonderland and that stupid Alice misheard it the first time. I'm not entirely sure the need for this (or why they called in Alice in Wonderland, if it wasn't actually in Wonderland after all). Why not go the whole hog and call it Sunderland, and just have it as a trip to a grim Northern city. Maybe Johnny Depp could be a creepy out of work northern miner or something. At least that would explain why Depp kept putting on a Scottish accent.

This is fairly typical of us modern types. We just can't put up with stories ending with "and it was all a dream" anymore. In the middle ages, they loved that stuff; if it wasn't Piers Ploughman dreaming about how wonderful it was to be Christian, it was Chaucer dreaming that he was being carried by an Eagle, calling him fat (I'm always reminded of the bit in Mario 64, where the owl tells Mario to "lay off the Pasta". Bet that's the first time that comparison has ever been made).

The change to "Underland" was only one of many inexplicable decisions in the film. Depp also decided to play the Mad Hatter as a sort of demented Rab C Nesbit, break dancing at the end. Why the film felt the need to big this dance up endlessly throughout I don't know. Look, I timed it and it was on screen for less than 20 seconds. And they kept telling us this was going to happen. It was like finding out that Chekov's Gun actually refers to his bicep muscles. I felt especially cheated since they used CGI on it to make his head spin. What's the point of that? If they were worried that David Bernal (the dance body double) wasn't a good enough dancer, why didn't they hire someone else? I imagine this is what people feel like after they've been happy slapped: I didn't quite understand what had happened, other people seem to be laughing, but it wasn't funny it was just childish.

To be honest, the whole thing smelt of "generic". When we weren't racing to free someone trapped in a castle we were fighting a giant dragon thing, and then chopping its head off. Oh, I'm sorry: spoiler alert. Yeah, that's right, Alice kills the Jabberwocky. What a shock, eh? The end turns in to Lord of the Rings fair with a big battle on a chess board thing. I don't have anything against changing the book, but at least keep some of the tone of the original. Likewise I don't have anything against hundreds of CGI characters fighting each other. Actually, wait a minute I do: it's boring. It was boring in Lord of the Rings, it was boring in all the Star Wars prequels and it will be boring in whatever future films they put it in as well.

If you've seen the trailer you've seen the film. And even if you haven't seen the trailer, you can imagine what it would be like, and then you've seen the film as well. From looking at the poster, you've seen the film. There wasn't a single surprise in it except that the mad hatter actually makes a hat at one point. And as surprises go, the fact that one of the main characters does something that his name implies isn't that great. It's like tuning in to watch Tom Baker as Doctor Who and finding out he spends one episode making a baguette.



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