Friday, March 12, 2010

No such thing as too much Wonderland.

I can't remember a time when I wasn't fascinated by the idea of falling down a rabbit hole and landing in an absurd and whimsical world full of nonsense and riddles and talking animals.

I have read Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass more times than I could possibly begin to calculate. When I was little, I yearned for blond hair and blue eyes because I wanted to be Alice, and was only somewhat mollified when I learned that Alice Liddell, who inspired the character, had been a brunette, and that John Tenniel's iconic illustrations were based on a different girl. When I was 10 or 11, I wrote a one-act play of Alice in Wonderland, cajoled my neighbors and sister into divvying up all the bit parts so that I could play Alice, and directed a backyard performance for our parents. In high school, I sometimes read the "Mad Tea-Party" chapter of Alice in Wonderland for the "Humorous Interpretation" category at Forensics competitions. (My other HI piece was one of the Oompa-Loompas' songs from Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.)

I recently decoupaged my coffee table with pages from the books. I have several pieces of Wonderland-inspired artwork (not including the coffee table) decorating my apartment. I have a pet rabbit who blogs under the pseudonym The White Rabbit. And my most deeply cherished ambition is to one day write a fantasy novel that could be deemed a classic, worthy of being shelved alongside the Alice books, as well as The Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door, and the Harry Potter series.

Alice in Wonderland was one of the only animated Disney movies that my family did not own on VHS. I first saw some portions of the movie at IKEA's in-store daycare center. I missed the beginning and didn't even know what I was watching, but the images of Alice, the caterpillar, and the Cheshire Cat were indelibly etched in my mind. This fleeting snippet of a memory is one of the earliest that I am able to recall. I can remember how desperately I wanted to see the entire movie, and when I finally did, I was baffled by my friends' complaints that it was "weird" and "creepy." I loved it, of course. I bought the DVD a couple of years ago and have watched it a few times since then. I also remember a live-action series on the Disney Channel, Adventures in Wonderland, being one of my favorite television shows at the time. And this past December, I very much enjoyed SyFy's Alice mini-series.

So it should probably not come as a surprise when I say that I loved Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. It is my favorite interpretation of the books that I have seen so far.

Ed, Motts, and I saw it last Friday at the Kabuki, which is the only theater where I will watch a movie that has just opened, because you can choose your seats online. I bought tickets a month ahead of time, counting out the seats to make sure that we would be in the exact center of the row. I was tempted to dress up in my most Alicey outfit, but thought it would be wiser not to draw attention to myself, since I was smuggling a 'shrooming rabbit in my purse. I did wear my black and white striped fingerless gloves that I got for $5 at the Marc by Marc Jacobs store a couple of weeks ago, because Ed said they looked sort of Tim Burton-ish. And then, approximately .5 seconds before it was time to show the hostess my ID (we went to a 21+ screening), I realized that she couldn't stamp my hand if I was wearing gloves, and I had to step out of the line to pull them off and I was flustered because of being nervous about getting caught sneaking Motts into the movie. The bar was serving "Mad Hatter" cocktails with absinthe and triple sec, which resulted in a generally nauseous audience once the 3D got going. Several people had to sprint for the bathroom after Alice fell down the rabbit hole, and I was pleasantly surprised that nobody actually vomited in the theater. The girls from Paul's Hat Works were there, dressed in adorable Mad Hatter costumes with tutus and face paint and, obviously, top hats. I ran into them in the bathroom after the movie and attempted to take a picture with my cell phone, but for some reason it was determined only to record video, so I ended up with a couple of blurry, two-second video clips instead of a still photo. (Maybe Motts had been messing with it in my purse?)

I tried to avoid reading any reviews until after I had seen it, and when I got home, I immediately went online, to Rotten Tomatoes, and was shocked to find that it only had a 53%. It seems that many critics were underwhelmed due to high expectations, found the 3D distracting, wanted a more faithful adaptation of the book, thought the characters too flat, or condemned the narrative as either too straightforward or not cohesive enough. Not that anyone cares what I think, but just for the record, I completely disagree with all of these complaints.

I loved the 3D. I found it wonderful and decadently gorgeous and thoroughly immersive, far more so than Avatar or Up.

I thought most of the characters were fantastic. I liked Mia Wasikowska's Alice, Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter, and Helena Bonham Carter's Red Queen the best, but Anne Hathaway's White Queen was also good, aside from her makeup, which I thought could have been better. I tend to dislike most interpretations of Tweedledee and Tweedledum, but they were all right here. I thought the caterpillar was slightly disappointing, and the White Rabbit should have been either cuter or handsomer. The March Hare was fine, but nothing special. I thought the Cheshire Cat was phenomenal, the most perfect illustration of the character that I could have ever imagined.

The story is a fairly standard Hollywood narrative, especially in comparison to the books, which have almost no narrative structure whatsoever. But I'm not sure how it could have been anything else. It's a big budget Disney movie, and I doubt that it could have ever gotten made without an emphasis on external conflict and a more typical story arc. Don't get me wrong, I would love to see a more faithful version of the books, with their meandering, nonsensical plot lines and emphasis on wordplay, riddles, and poetry. But that sort of interpretation would most likely have to be an independent film, or, since that phrase seems to have lost all meaning at this point, it would at least have to be more "indie" than this movie, with a considerably smaller budget.

(If I were writing a film adaptation of the Alice books, mine would be a surreal, episodic version. I'd do Though the Looking-Glass and have the plot follow the book as closely as possible, with an emphasis on scenes and characters that audiences haven't seen before. Alice's kittens, the mirror that melts at her touch, the backwards looking-glass house full of living chess pieces, the countryside marked out like an enormous chessboard, the Gnat with his odd, mournful jokes and the other looking-glass insects, the forest that makes you forget who you are, the practice of punishing criminals before the crime has been committed, the Sheep in her dark, mysterious shop that transforms into a little boat gliding along a stream full of scented rushes and then back into a shop, Humpty Dumpty, the White King with his ridiculous Anglo-Saxon Messengers Haigha and Hatta and their ham sandwiches and hay, the Lion and the Unicorn fighting for the crown and the Unicorn's deal with Alice that he will believe in her if she will believe in him, the White Knight and all his inventions, Alice's transformation from a pawn to a queen at the Eighth Square, her dinner-party where the various courses introduce themselves and refuse to be eaten, and the explosion of chaos at the end, when everything turns into everything else and Alice shakes the Red Queen back into a kitten. It would be a screenplay full of fresh, cinematic, potentially iconic imagery and linguistic playfulness and nobody would ever buy it because it wouldn't follow the rules about structure and stakes and plot points and pacing.)

That's the thing about Alice in Wonderland, though. It's so full of resonant imagery and characters and ideas, there's really no limit to the number of film adaptations that could be made. I would have been sad if Tim Burton's version had sucked, but I didn't expect it to be the definitive version, because the books are and will always be the definitive version. I would watch a new Alice in Wonderland once every six months or so for the rest of my life, if filmmakers continued to churn them out. All I required to be happy with this particular Alice in Wonderland was for it to be gloriously Tim Burton-esque, dark and twisted and indulgent and visually overwhelming. And it was, and I was happy. I will probably go see it again in a couple of weeks, but in IMAX this time, to see how it compares with Dolby Digital 3D.


Anonymous said...

Your version sounds awesome! I would love to see it.

Anonymous said...

I can't remember a time when I wasn't fascinated by the idea of falling down a rabbit hole and landing in an absurd and whimsical world full of nonsense and riddles and talking animals.

This is why you are on Gawker.

Anonymous said...

I am so in love with your descriptions! I haven't seen the movie yet, definitely have to now. and I love your vision. The biggest problem I could see is no one would believe it's Alice because of all the scenes other people haven't used.