For a while now, I've been thinking it'd be interesting to write follow-up entries on movies that I've wound up seeing a second time, way after the initial release.
Awards season is beginning here in Los Angeles, meaning that studios are holding free screenings of their films at various places throughout the city in hopes of getting nominated for, well, pretty much anything they can get nominated for. The studio I'm working at presently hosted a screening of Alice In Wonderland last week, and we thought "why the hell not?" Although I wasn't nuts about the film when we first saw it in March, I liked it enough to want to see it again, especially if it meant that I literally didn't have to go through any effort whatsoever to do so. My wife met me at the studio, we had dinner and a few drinks across the street, then we came back and walked right into the flick. The most labor-intensive part of the process was seriously when I spent 15 seconds navigating through the RSVP website.
Unfortunately, the convenience, the "freeness" and the mild inebriation didn't make up for the fact that I liked the movie considerably less the second time. In addition to there being a conspicuous lack of "wonder" for most of the movie, the momentum just lays there like a drenched towel until, like, the last 15 minutes of movie, where things start to get exciting. Those 15 minutes, where Alice actually has a mission and grows and changes a little, are actually pretty good, but it's far too little too late, I say!
The Oscar push that's begun for this movie lately is totally and utterly baffling to me. The producers seem to think it's got a shot at getting nominated for Best Picture, which is f#@%ing insanity. Check out the self-delusion that drips off this quote from producer Richard Zanuck on WorstPreviews:
"I think it would be terribly disappointing not to make the Top Ten," said Zanuck. "You can't make a billion dollar gross unless millions of people are satisfied with a picture. The whole point of the new rule of 10 Best Picture nominees was not to exclude the most popular pictures of the year such as 'The Dark Knight.' It was like pooh-poohing the audience. There should be recognition that you don't get that business unless there were a lot of repeats and broad-based appeal and true creative accomplishment."
Well, it's criminal malpractice if the movie gets nominated for anything other than visual effects, make-up, or costumes. And maybe music.
But let's move on to my thoughts about the second go around. I don't want to rehash my original entry on this movie entirely, so I will attempt to go through things using more concise bullet points instead...
•Man, what a dour movie! When Alice gets back to Wonderland, the place is a burned out hellhole. Why did Burton think that we'd want to go to a post-apocalypic Wonderland instead of the one from the books?
•I like Mia Wasikowska, who plays Alice, but she seems awfully restrained for the role. It's a movie about her finding her identity, I guess, but she doesn't really get you to feel it until the last couple scenes.
•I think that the Mad Hatter, and the fact that he's played by superstar Johnny Depp, is one of the main problems with the movie. I don't recall him being that significant in previous versions of the story, but here he's treated like he's Che Guevara. But the thing is, the character, as portrayed in the movie, is schizophrenic, unstable, and kind of an asshole. Alice makes it her mission during the middle part of the movie to save him from the Red Queen, but the question is why? I mean, he spent the earlier part of the movie scaring her and failing to give her any help whatsoever. Had it been me in Wonderland, I think I would have put the Hatter being captured and drug off to be executed in the category of "shit happens."
•The only one who seems to be having any fun in this movie is Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen. Another is Stephen Fry as the voice of the Cheshire Cat, but he was probably only in the studio for about 25 minutes to record his lines, so let's not count him.
•Behind Carter, a distant second is Anne Hathaway in a much smaller role as the White Queen. By her own admission, she modeled her performance after the Food Network's Nigella Lawson, and if you watch the flick knowing that, she's hysterical. However at the same time, playing her that way seems like a really poor decision on Burton's part that says to me that he wasn't taking this seriously at all... A bad guy can get away with some theatrical panache like that. When a good one, like the White Queen, does it, it feels sorta like the actress thought the story was a bunch of bullshit.
And that leads me to my very biggest problems with this whole thing:
There are virtually no stakes in this movie , and the few that there are are flaccid and ineffective.
What does Alice want in this story? She ran away and fell down the rabbit hole in the first place because some sleazy looking fat guy with bad teeth asked her to marry him. Also, she catches her sister's husband making out with a girl who is not her sister (a plot point that results in neither action nor payoff later in the movie), and she feels bad for her elderly aunt, who seems to have some kind of dementia and believes that her prince is waiting right around the corner - none of which seems to have much point or consequence, other than to demonstrate that being a 19th century adult sucks.
So now she's in Wonderland, and she doesn't want to get home right away because she'll have to see that dude again, but it's not like she's invested in Wonderland or any of its problems either. In fact she spends, like, an hour or so of screen time denying that she's even the real Alice at all, a plot device that's beyond moronic. What is the movie going to do? Bring the real Alice into play at the last minute and have her kill the Jabberwocky? Or tell the audience that the real Alice is busy or died a couple years ago off camera or something, so the fake one will just have to make due?
So she doesn't want to get home, and she has very mild interest, at best, in staying. And the movie doesn't even do much to get us interested in her staying. And that's another beef I've got with this sucker - the fact that...
•There's no suspense or intrigue about where the movie is going. As soon as Alice arrives in Wonderland, the gang tells her (and us) that she's going to slay the Jabberwocky tomorrow. There's even a prophecy drawing of her doing it just in case there was even a shred of doubt. I'll repeat for emphasis: There's absolutely no question that she's going to do it, and that it will happen tomorrow. The good guys know it, and the bad guys know it. In fact, when the big day arrives, even though the Red Queen knows that her beloved Jabberwocky is destined to be killed that day, she lets him out anyway, also knowing that Alice is standing right over there and that she has the Vorpal Sword, the only weapon which is capable of doing it. She had already pretty much decimated all of Wonderland before the movie started, so there was zero point in her letting her pet out. It was just sheer, unadulterated carelessness and extreme, mind-numbing stupidity that further made it seem like the screenwriter came up with the movie in about 15 minutes on the back of a cocktail napkin.
Moving on, though, one thing that made viewing #2 more interesting was that we saw it in 3D this time, having opted for good old fashioned 2D the first time. Generally speaking, I detest the format, feeling that it only detracts from the experience of watching a movie. My opinion remains completely unchanged, although I did get some mild amusement out of moments where Crispin Glover would point directly at the camera, etc. I'll repeat myself, however, and say that the mild diorama effects do not make up for the diminished brightness and sharpness that the glasses create.
I feel that if a movie is making extensive use of 3D, odds are that it will be good once, and not again after that. Viewing Alice a second time added fuel to that suspicion for me, and it saddens me that as one of the highest grossing movies of the year, it will only further the trend.
Oh, and last point:
•The Fudderwacken (aka the horrible dance that Johnny Depp performs at the end of the movie). I knew it was coming, having suffered through it before, but when it did, I felt shame, embarrassment and disgust. It doesn't make or break the movie, but man is it ill advised and awful!
Read my initial journal entry on Alice In Wonderland from March 6, 2010 by clicking here.