The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Alice What's The Matter

Sorry I haven’t blogged for a while. Truth is, I’ve been living a dull life, with my ‘could this be of interest to anyone else’ filter placed on its highest setting.

But I saw a terrible film today and thought I should warn you.

Don’t go and see Alice In Wonderland. It’s ghastly.

If I had to sum it up in a word, that word would be ‘incoherent’. ‘Ah’, you might say, ‘but the original books by Lewis Carroll are incoherent’, to which I would reply, ‘Yes, but the problem is that it’s incoherent in a different way. Not least, the fact that a lot of the dialogue is, literally, incoherent.’

It’s an exercise in missing the point. The original books are strange, haunting stream-of-consciousness pieces, with a unique musty, Victorian, nightmarish atmosphere, populated with remote characters; a child lost in a world of fusty academics, where nothing makes emotional or logical sense.

The film, however, has had its plot passed through the Disney family sausage machine. It’s now about Alice becoming friends with a bunch of wacky misfits who help her on a quest to defeat the evil Red Queen. Which I wouldn’t mind so much – one expects these things - except it’s all done so very, very badly.

To begin with, it’s extremely choppy. Characters, situations and settings are given no time to be introduced properly, it’s all rapid-fire, all-silence-between-lines-removed. There’s no variation in pace or tone. The storytelling is non-existent, there’s no narrative tension or sense of progression, purpose or threat. Stuff happens, stuff happens, chase sequence, stuff happens... no room for atmosphere, for character, or for the viewer to have any reason to emotionally engage with the material. It’s also devoid of humour.

It’s a mess. The design work is interesting but gaudy, some special effects are startling, but it’s all clamouring for attention screaming ‘look at me, look at me’ and working against the story. Johnny Depp has no character to play so tries to disguise it by riffing his favourite Fast Show characters – plus Tim Nice But Mad, while Bonham-Carter gives a pantomime Queenie from Blackadder.

The dialogue – what little can be made out - is awful. Carroll’s wordplay has been pared-down into wisecracks and catchphrases. Characters don’t have conversations, they trade wacky non-sequitors. ‘Six impossible things before breakfast’ is now Alice’s superhero mission statement. There’s a shoe-horned flashback to the young Alice in Wonderland, some ‘Underland’ nonsense and a half-baked attempt at a framing device.

So disappointing after Tim Burton did such a marvellous job on Sweeney Todd. But this film just smacks of desperation, of flinging the kitchen sink against the wall to see if it’ll stick. It’s a wasted opportunity and does the source material a disservice.

The 3D effect also made me feel nauseous. It still has that ‘Viewmaster’ feel of watching lots of flat things at different distances away from you.

But I liked the Cheshire Cat disappearing. And Matt Lucas was the best thing in it.

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