Film Review: “Alice in Wonderland” ★ ★ (2.5/5)

Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” begins ten years after the events of the original tale. In that sense, it is a sequel or a return to wonderland.  However, Burton’s film is full of scenes and lines of dialogue lifted directly from the original books by Lewis Carroll. It is here that the film fails. I did not know whether this was an adaptation of the original or a sequel, it’s best to think of it as a reimagining. 

Mia Wasikowska stars as a nineteen-year-old Alice. Long after her first encounter with wonderland and by now long forgotten, she returns once again. Her mission is to save the beautiful land from a wicked witch, the Red Queen (Helen Bonham Carter). Of course, on her journey she meets a handful of quirky characters who have been expecting her. The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) leads her to the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), sister of the Red Queen. It is fairly easy to predict the rest.

Watching this on the big screen will be a treat for children. The visuals are stunning and Burton supplies us with a film that is a feast to the eye. Do not expect to enter a 3-D world equivalent of Pandora, but still enjoy your brief stay at wonderland, for some of the CGI shots and landscapes are jaw dropping.

Depp delivers the usual bizarre performance, we come to expect from him in a Burton collaboration, but my hats go off to Bonham Carter who steals every scene she’s in. Her humorous performance both made me laugh and gave me the creeps.

So far, all I have mentioned is the positive, or more precisely the only positive aspects about this film. There are no twists and turns here and besides being visually impressive there is not enough substance to make it memorable. In fact, “Alice in Wonderland” reminded me of “Chronicles of Narnia”, perhaps a bit too much. I can’t praise the originality for that it isn’t, I can’t praise the story, for we’ve seen it all before, I can, however, praise the visuals, the only element that stayed with me after the credits.

“Alice in Wonderland” is only the third film ever released in 3-D here in Egypt. I would not much care if it were the last. Visuals alone cannot save a picture. With the sudden 3-D movement in Hollywood, this is exactly what I feared, filmmakers focusing on the technical elements and ignoring the story and heart of a movie. Watching this 3-D film felt like going on a date with a beautiful young woman and discovering she has no soul.

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25 responses to this post.

  1. Yikes! Well, maybe I won’t be going to see Alice in Wonderland this Sunday, after all. As for Tim Burton, his movies don’t always have the best of scripts and tend to be very visual, so I don’t think 3D is the reason that this movie doesn’t work for you. In fact, of all of his movies that I’ve seen, the only Burton movie that works on every level is Ed Wood (I should point out that I haven’t seen The Nightmare Before Christmas)..

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  2. Yikes! Well, maybe I won’t be going to see Alice in Wonderland this Sunday, after all. As for Tim Burton, his movies don’t always have the best of scripts and tend to be very visual, so I don’t think 3-D is the reason that the technical elements of this movie are the only parts that you like. In fact, of all of his movies that I’ve seen, the only Burton movie that works on every level is Ed Wood (I should point out that I haven’t seen The Nightmare Before Christmas).

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    • I really liked “Big Fish” though. I thought it was visually beautiful and had a lot of heart. Maybe, I was expecting too much. I don’t blame it on the 3D. I blame his use of 3D. It seems that his primary focus was a 3D world when in story should always come first…just like in “Big Fish” and “Nightmare Before Christmas”.

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    • Posted by mere observer... on May 17, 2010 at 2:38 am

      If you actually research The Nightmare before Christmas, you will find it was directed by Henry Selick (Also directed Coraline). Although the original concept story and design was Burton’s much of the film’s success rests in the incredible animation and strong direction; two things Tim Burton was not really responsible for. Consider Burton’s Corpse Bride as another example. Burton used the same visual style and stop-motion technique, but this time directed himself. I think most people will agree that it was nowhere near as good as The Nightmare before Christmas.

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      • I Know that Selick directed “Nightmare Before Christmas” but Burton had total control over the project. Before Selick he approached other directors and he refused to collborate with them since they didn’t share his ideas about making it into a musical. The film is based on a 3-page poem he wrote, Burton also produced it and draw the story-boards. The only reason he didn’t direct was because he was attached to directing “Batman Returns” and couldn’t stand how slow paced the stop motion animation was going.

        Selick was the go get things done guy. Yes, he directed but under Burton’s supervision. At least that’s what I got from all the making of documentaries. “Nightmare Before Christmas” was better than “Corpse Bride” because Burton’s story was much better the first time. The characters were more memorable and the plot had a lot of heart.

        You said it, “Corpse Bride” didn’t succeed based on the the same stop-animation technique. It was the story which Burton wrote that was one of a kind.

  3. I saw it yesterday morning and interesting thing happened. In case of “Avatar”, my eyes adjusted to it quickly so I was more comfortable as the time went by. But in case of “Alice in the Wonderland”, my eyes felt constantly dizzy during real world part, where it looked cloudy even though we could see blue sky on the screen.

    Anyway, the movie is still terrific to look at and I decide to watch 2D version later. The forest reminded me of “Avatar”, and it is no surprise that I found later that Robert Stromberg, Oscar-nominated for ‘Avatar”, also worked in this movie.

    I don’t like the story either, but it is not bad until act three. Blame Narnia, or LOTR.

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  4. Wael, I have the same fear as you — that 3-D is going to start being used either entirely too much or in places where it will just be gratuitous.

    I’ll probably stay away from this. I’d rather rewatch ‘Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.’

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    • Exactly! The other day I overheard a conversation in the theater. This one guy was telling the other how cool it is if in the future rollercoasters and movies merge into one. I fail to see how that would be “cool” it would be down right ridiculous.

      I hope we don’t end up with 3D movies becoming the dominant form of entertainment and people looking back at movies like “Pulp Fiction” or “No Country for Old Men” like they’re black and white movies. By black and white, I mean a rarity. That would be awful.

      I hear Cameron is converting “Titanic” into 3-D. We know the guy is talented but is this really necessary? I mean the film worked in 2D just fine why ruin it. Also, I kind of find the idea of watching a historical disaster in 3-D disgusting.

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      • Titanic in 3D. Didn’t Cameron learn from when Ted Turner colorized the original King Kong?

        If you really want to see something in 3D, there are these wonderful things called theaters (in fact, many cinemas were originally theaters, which is why they’re called movie theaters), where people perform live onstage. Even better, the performance changes every night, and depending on what is playing, you may actually get to participate in the event!

      • I couldn’t have said it better. I really hope this 3D phase doesn’t turn into a movement. Why mess with something that worked so well in the first place. As you said 2D conversion to 3D is terrible just like the colorization phase that happened back in the Turner days. Thank God it failed and most if not all colorized movies were hated on. People prefer the films they initially fell in love with. There’s no need to enhance an experience that does not need further enhancement.

        If 3D wants to take off, fine. As long as it doesn’t dominate the industry. I liked it better when 3D was associated with theme park rides.

      • I’ll be more inclined to embrace 3-D when I see someone use it to actually augment the story and not to simply “wow” people with a visual effect. At some point someone will do that.

      • That’s the hope 🙂

  5. I watched it in IMAX 3D today. It was visually stunning but never revolutionary or original. When all is said and done, it was the actors that carried the entire movie, not the visuals.

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    • I liked Bronham Carter’s performance the most. Johnny Depp was great as well but that was expected. The rest were average at best. I lliked the visuals a great deal though.

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  6. Great review… I watched it and gave it 3 stars. I enjoyed it because i appreciate Johnny Depp’s unusual acting in practically any film. I also thought Helena Bonham Carter was somewhat imperious as the Red Queen but still very funny. Didn’t like the ending as much and the 3D, lets just say Hollywood is all about it now but I agree that it does take away from the essence of the film~

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  7. Great review. I watched it and gave it 3 stars because am fascinated by Johnny Depp’s unsual acting in practically any film. I also thought Helena Bonham Carter was imperious as the Red Queen but still very funny. I didn’t like the ending that much and about the 3D, it’s probably going to linger for a while because that what Hollywood is into lately but i do agree that it takes away from the essence of the film~
    (LarvK)

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    • Thanks Juliette. I agree about Depp and Carter. Very quirky performances. The film would look great in 2D as we’d focus on the plot rather than the visuals.

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  8. I watched 2D version today. It certainly looks better and the story still shows the problem. But I still like its looks and I’m especially fond of Cheshire cat(it has been my favorite character in the novel since my childhood). I’ll recommend people around me to watch 2D and save some money.

    P.S.
    Are you going to watch Oscar ceremony tomorrow?

    Reply

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