Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

The original Alice of Wonderland fame has grown into a pale young woman (Mia Wasikowska) with not much to look forward to in life. Her beloved father is dead and her mother is trying to sell her off into a marriage with the most boring man on the planet. Alice doesn't remember much about her initial adventures in Wonderland anymore, and what she does remember, she takes (rather understandably) to have been a fever dream.

Nonetheless Akuce prefers to run after a white rabbit in a livery on her surprise elopement party (that is, a party where Alice is to be surprised by the fact that she is supposed to say "yes" to a marriage proposal from the least fitting husband for her) instead of falling into the arms of her future would-be husband. It turns out to be a sound decision that leads her back into Wonderland, or Underland, as the place is really called.

Things aren't well in the girl's home away from home. The rather rude Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and the rather dim, but at least not fixated on beheadings White Queen (Anne Hathaway) are at war - more or less. Worse, the Red Queen has won - more or less - and rules the place with, well, a tendency for violence and nonsense, so really, it's not much different from the old state of affairs. Be that as it may, the White Queen and her rebels need a champion to slay the Red Queen's champion, the Jabberwocky with the Vorpal Sword. And wouldn't you know it? Alice is the prophesied champion of all that is good and relatively sane. She only needs to find the sword, flirt with the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), find her inner strength (yes, it's one of those films) and slay the Jabberwocky.

I'm pretty sure that the things the young woman will learn in Wonderland will help her cope with her problems in the real world later on (it really is one of those films).

Ah, it is good to know that Tim Burton is still able to finagle large sums of money out of boring old corporations like Disney to finance an go-round through his usual visual obsessions. Most viewers will certainly know the typical Burton look by now, and will probably have realized that there is not much of that silly old substance stuff under all the gnarly trees and acid-influenced designs.

I can't say I have a problem with that. Fortunately, some of my visual interests are quite compatible with Burton's, and there's something joyful about the man's absolute aesthetic single-mindedness. He knows what he likes to look at (gnarly trees, Helena Bonham Carter, pale young women, weird floaty stuff, crooked things and candy colours), and by god!, he will throw these elements on screen again and again (and really, the reason why his Planet of the Apes is his worst film is that the original film and Burtonland just don't have anything in common), whether people shout "We have seen this all before!" or not. That's perfectly fine by me, although I can understand that it isn't everyone's cup of tea.

Burton's cinema is always one meant for the eyes and not for the intellect, and that is not something bound to make a director everyone's favourite, especially when he is as unapologetic about it as Burton is. Burton never tries to hide behind "social importance" or other stuff that wins one Academy Awards in his films and treats plot as something to ignore.

Alice does have a little message, of course, but, because Burton doesn't put as much importance in it as a different director would do, it doesn't ruin the film's pleasures at all. There's also the fact, that I find it difficult to argue with a moral that goes something like "a young woman should live the life she wants to live and not the one others want her to, even if what she wants is a little strange".

What I can and do argue with is Burton's weird idea to send his heroine to exploit China in the end, as if that's any sort of Happy End. I'm pretty sure though that this is Burton being naive and not Burton being malevolent. Compared to the dreadful morals Disney other films still tend to have, this is still quite a success.


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