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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Alice in Wonderland Review

Michael here. If Avatar was the grand unveiling of stereoscopic 3D to the worldwide audience, then Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland is the afterparty. It is also a showcase for 2D to 3D conversion done right. Moreover, the story is well told, the characters memorable, and the themes poignant.

Burton's "Underland" is a vividly imagined place filled with fantastic creatures and characters. Actually, the creatures are the characters: from Stephen Fry's mischievous Cheshire Cat to Alan Rickman's Blue Caterpillar to the White Rabbit to the frumious Bandersnatch, they all get their moments in the spotlight. The prevalence of exotic flora and fauna isn't the only similarity "Alice" shares with Avatar. "Alice"'s "real world" bookend segments are a corollary to Avatar's "real world" opening. Like Jake Sully, Alice finds something wrong with her actual life, seeking escape from it by (re)entering a new world.

The movie is very briskly paced, which is both a positive and a negative. While we are quickly introduced to all of the inhabitants of Underland and to the main plot (which draws from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, with many elements from the Jabberwocky poem), we rarely get time to breathe and soak in a particular character or piece of scenery. The movie keeps the audience engaged in the story at all times, but I would have liked some more time one on one with some of the characters. I also wanted more weirdness. Given that this is Tim Burton making Alice in Wonderland, I expected to see some truly surreal and dark stuff. Strangely, Burton seems to be holding a lot back when it comes to the nonsensical.

"Alice" has plenty of clever humor, which is welcome given that the overall aesthetic of the film is dark and oppressed under the rule of the Red Queen. The audience (and I) laughed consistently throughout the film. Johhny Depp is great as the Mad Hatter (although it is strange to see him sword fighting), and Helena Bonham Carter's Red Queen and Fry's Cheshire Cat are other standouts. But it is Mia Wasikowska who carries the movie: her Alice combines the wonderment of her younger self with the poise of an adult--especially by the end of the film, where Alice comes back into the real world, carrying within her what she learned on her adventure.

The 3D is beautifully done. In-Three did the real world bookends, and Legend 3D worked on what takes place in between. There are plenty of complex shots that showcase some very immersive 3D that lacks the planes of depth found in some previous conversions. My only complaint regarding the 3D is that I wish Burton had cranked up the stereo even more throughout the movie. However, "Alice" proves that 2D to 3D conversion is a force to be reckoned with and a more than viable option for making a 3D movie. I still think that for those directors who take the time to learn to shoot in native 3D, native is the way to go. But conversion has arrived, is certainly the best option for some directors, and will only get better from here on out.

I will definitely be seeing "Alice" again. It has many great moments and adds up to something very touching by the time the credits roll. Well done Tim Burton and team!

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