Alice (US - BD RA)
Gabe preps for not seeing Burton's movie by watching this Syfy Wonderland
Alice Hamilton (Caterina Scorsone) is a twenty-something Judo instructor living with her mother, and constantly in search of her father, who disappeared when she was a child. One night Alice has a date with Jack Chase (Philip Winchester), who oversteps first date protocol by offering her a ring. After the rejection Jack is attacked, and he and Alice are captured, and taken to the legendary Wonderland. Apparently Wonderland has gone to pot over the last century and a half. The Queen of Hearts (Kathy Bates) and her minions have been kidnapping humans from our world, and taking them to the other side of the looking glass. Nicknamed ‘oysters’, humans are then sedated and forced to play games in a casino while their emotions are drained for consumption by the people of Wonderland. Alice escapes her bonds, and meets up with the Wonderland resistance, including The Hatter (Andrew-Lee Potts), The Dodo (Tim Curry), and Charlie, the White Knight (Matt Frewer).
Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass’ might be the most adapted non-religious stories in film history. Besides a massive pile of ‘official’ adaptations ( seventeen including the Disney animated version, the Czech mixed stop motion version, and the latest Tim Burton version) there is a cinematic cornucopia of films inspired by the stories, ranging from the obvious ( Labyrinth, Spirited Away, Mirror Mask) to the more abstract and conceptual (Roman Polanski’s What?, Running Scared, Hellraiser). Writer/director Nick Willing has apparently defined his career by making miniseries versions of classic tales. He even made a different TV version of Alice in Wonderland in the late ‘90s, which was more in-keeping with the traditional story. In 2007 he struck semi-gold with Tin Man, an offbeat rendition of The Wizard of Oz made for the Sci-Fi channel. Spurned by this relative success he wrote and directed Alice, a less traditional and somewhat more adult take on the material that arguably inspired The Wizard of Oz in the first place.
Willing sort of recalls bits of The Matrix in his version of the story, which is interesting in that the Wachowski Brothers’ film trilogy recalls the original Carroll story regularly. The big similarity is the use of humanity as a commodity. The machines of The Matrix base their society on our energy, while the dregs of Willing’s Wonderland run their society on an addiction to human emotions. The drinking of emotions concept does not belong to Willing, but isn’t something the Wonderland mythology has dealt with (to my knowledge), and Willing explores it satisfactorily. It’s certainly more satisfying than the film’s major plot element, that of Alice returning to Wonderland with no knowledge of her previous visit. From what I understand the new Burton film takes a similar path, as did Spielberg’s Hook, and both Return to Oz and Prince Caspian (both based on pre-existing material) already used the dystopian second visit approach. Willing’s story takes a more overtly adult route to a world changed by time and the hero’s absence, but is actually pretty shallow in terms of subtext. The adaptation of familiar characters is certainly fun, and Willing finds entertaining new guises throughout the film, but the stew is messy and derivative overall.
The brass tacks of failure come down to time, and Alice carries on about an hour longer than it should. As a longer mini-series with more subplots the pacing would’ve worked, but Willing’s script is a relatively straight forward march through Alice’s story. The film (or series, I really can’t decide what to call it) succeeds mostly in visual terms, which stand out in both design and bang for buck (meaning the special effects are generally better looking than expected). The thing should really carry the full title Alice: An Exercise in Production Design, Plus a Story. The visuals are a little ham-fisted, but there certainly is a vision at work here, from the vastly contrasting sets, to the intricate and colourful costumes. Again, originality isn’t Willing’s strong point, but in purely visual terms he usually borrows the right stuff. Terry Gilliam and Ridley Scott are big influences, but the most regularly comparable elements are found in the cityscapes, which look a lot like the Pang Brothers’ Re-Cycle, which is, ironically enough, another adaptation of Carroll’s original story.
Alice looks like the middle budgeted BBC series and movies, like Doctor Who, though their cameras are a little more consistent, and the final effect is a little more film-like. The look is colourful, soft, and cartoony, so ultra-sharpness doesn’t play into the mix too often, though there really aren’t any shortcomings in the field either. Details are more impressive in terms of number of elements, specifically little decorative bits of production design. The whole look is pretty darn baroque, and in high definition we can appreciate all the goofy intricacies. The disc’s clarity depends very much on lighting. The ‘outdoor’ scenes are crisp and deep set, while the darkest indoor scenes are grainy, and occasionally feature muddied colours and blued blacks. The colours are well-separated for the most part, though again, the darker scenes feature some general bleeding, and minor blocking in the brightest reds.
Alice comes fitted with a reasonably full-bodied DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. The world of Wonderland isn’t quite as immersive as I’m guessing a big budget film version would be, but for a made for television mix there’s not a lot to complain about. The majority of the mix is frontal, with the effects and dialogue finding themselves appropriately and clearly centered, while the somewhat repetitive musical score works its relative magic in the stereo channels. The rear channels mostly feature basic ambience, but there are some outstanding moments. The sequences that take place in the Walrus and Carpenter’s lair, or the casino floor are constant sources of rear channel support in the form of bubbling vats, and clattering gambling, while the Jabberwocky attack and final act ‘battle’ feature the most effective directional work. The LFE isn’t particularly stand out, but deep enough, and with a handful of pumpy moments.
There’s nothing here to consider a 'special feature'.
I wasn’t expecting much from Alice, based on my opinion of Writer/director Nick Willing’s other stuff, but this miniseries/overlong movie looks gorgeous, features a very talented cast, and just enough intriguing plot elements to almost fill its bloated three hour runtime. Willing doesn’t have too many original ideas in his hat, but the source material is so over-adapted that we can hardly blame him. At least he puts some original twists on his more derivative elements. The Blu-ray release features nothing in terms of extras, but does look nearly perfect, and sounds very good for a modest television production. A minor surprise overall.
Reviewer Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 2nd March 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH and Spanish
Easter Egg: No
Director: Nick Willing
Cast: Caterina Scorsone, Andrew Lee Potts, Matt Frewer, Philip Winchester, Tim Curry
Genre: Adventure and Fantasy
Length: 184 minutes
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