Tuesday, June 8, 2010

ALICE IN WONDERLAND (Blu-Ray & DVD)

Hugely successful throughout the world theatrically, Tim Burton's (ED WOOD, SLEEPY HOLLOW) 3D fantasy adventure, ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010), is a visually inventive and well-crafted movie, yet somehow oddly unsatisfying and hollow.

A 20 year-old Alice Kingsley (Mia Wasikowska), who believes her childhood adventures in Wonderland (or, as Burton would have it, "Underland") to have been merely recurring dreams, is about to be forced into an arranged marriage. Fleeing from her engagement party, she follows a white rabbit in a waistcoat down a hole in the ground, and soon finds herself back in Lewis Carroll's fantasy world. It turns out that the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter, SWEENY TODD) has conquered the realm with the help of the reptilian jabberwocky, and only Alice can wield the magic vorpal sword that can slay it. Along the way to facing this destiny, the adult Alice is reunited with old acquaintances like the Cheshire Cat, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN).

While entertaining, I found the film oddly distancing and uninvolving. It takes a while to get going, with a prolonged first act that plays like a satire on Jane Austen, before we even get to Wonderland. The idea of a "dark" Wonderland is hardly original, and the extensive CGI "world building" is also pretty routine in this post-AVATAR/NARNIA/LORD OF THE RINGS era. It's not enough anymore to just throw fanciful pixel vistas and 3D cartoon creatures up on the screen; we've seen plenty of that lately. No, more than ever, a fantasy film needs strong characters and an emotionally involving story... and ALICE IN WONDERLAND doesn't really deliver anything but CGI spectacle.

I guess maybe I should have seen it in 3D?

The cast - composed primarily from the Burton stock company - are all quite good, and clearly committed to making their characters real in the context of the fantasy. Bonham Carter, in particular, is especially good - and surprisingly sympathetic - as the Red Queen, and Wasikowska is a perfectly adequate adult Alice... but maybe that was my problem. The movie's about an adult Alice but the story isn't particularly grown up. In fact, it doesn't seem to be about much of anything at all.

The DVD/Blu-Ray/Digital Copy combo pack from Disney is a superb package. The Blu-Ray sports a stunning, 1080p hi-def,1.78:1 widescreen transfer and booming 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio. The DVD's transfer is nearly as nice, and is anamorphic. The Blu-Ray includes a bunch of featurettes on the "Wonderland Characters" and "Making Wonderland." Two of these featurettes are repeated on the DVD disc.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND isn't a bad film fantasy, by any means. The material is perfectly-suited to Burton's directorial tastes and the mega-budgeted production is expertly mounted. But neither is it a great fantasy, and it could have - should have - been.

BUY: Alice in Wonderland (Three-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)