Tuesday, June 08, 2010


When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead

By Edward Copeland
Honest — I hadn't planned to bash more on Avatar, especially this soon after I wrote my review lambasting Cameron's Folly last week, but I really see little way to avoid bringing it up as I discuss Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. Godard famously said that the best way to criticize a film was to make another one and since that option is not available to me, I often find that it's illustrative to compare what one film does well to show how another film fails and that is the case here, even though I can't truly say that Alice in Wonderland itself is a good movie, but it did excel for me at most of the things for which I feel Avatar earned undeserved praise.

Don't get me wrong: Overall, I don't think Burton's film is a particularly good movie, but it held my interest because somehow he found the formula to make his style-over-substance approach mesmerizing in a way that I found Avatar just tedious. Though, as in the case with all 3-D features, I'm unable to see them that way, Alice in Wonderland is the first case where I could visualize what that would have been like even though I didn't have glasses, special equipment and I wasn't in a movie theater.

Part of the reason for this I believe is the vibrancy of Burton's imagery, where he uses a vast array of colors and imaginative characters and sets to bring his fantasy world to vivid life. It seems to leap off my television in a way that the monotonous color schemes of Pandora and the military headquarters did not in Avatar.

Still, despite my praise for that part of Alice in Wonderland, I can't say the film itself really works. The premise of this finds a much older Alice (Mia Wasikowska) escaping a boring matchmaking garden party in London and once again falling down the rabbit hole where she finds herself in Underland with no memory of her previous visit as a little girl. All the same characters are there: The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), The Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), etc., but she doesn't seem to recall any of them.

The plot seems to be a bit of a muddle, a mixture of the original tale with an expansion of new strands, as Alice must don armor to face off against the Jabberwocky to restore the crown from the evil Red Queen to the White Queen (Anne Hathaway). In fact, the battle may be better staged than any of the by-rote scenes in Avatar only with the added plus of wonderful color schemes beyond the eventually dull blue, green and camouflage. It's also helped by having characters such as the Hatter, the Queens and the others (some voiced by greats such as Alan Rickman and Stephen Fry) usually assorted with the story, even though Lewis Carroll takes the credit. There's a reason those characters have stood the test of time since the 19th century. I doubt people will even know who Jake Sully is next year, let alone decades from now (I had to consult IMDb just to remember the Avatar character's name).

While I can't say I'd want to sit through Alice in Wonderland again, I can't deny it held my interest thanks to its phenomenal look. It gave me wondrous things to gaze upon and a sense of a truly vital imagination at work behind the camera, even if my mind began to wander elsewhere.

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I've not dragged myself into any enclosed space to subject myself to Avatar. Yet. Or ever. I hope.

I was a lot more pissed off by Alice than you, though. It reminded me of Bertie Wooster, or a Maureen Dowd column...relentless allusions and name-dropping, cleverness without intelligence...you, know...Yippee skippee...you read the freakin' Jaberwocky. big whoop.
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