I say Lewis Carroll’s “world” because, as you probably already know, this is not a straight-up adaptation of (the often-combined) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass. Rather, this movie takes up Alice’s tale as a teenager on the threshold of womanhood (Wasikowska), who, while weighing the pros-and-cons of betrothal to a rich, haughty, and very Burtonesque suitor (Leo Bill), finds herself Down the Rabbit Hole and back once again in, uh, “Underland.” So, in other words, at best this iteration of Alice already feels like reading somebody’s random Lewis Carroll fan-fiction on the Internets.
Worse, the fan in question seems to have really dug The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, to the point of just grifting liberally from Narnia to write this sequel-story. Now, Alice is basically a Pevensie-ish “Daughter of Eve” prophesied to free Won…uh, Underland from the tyranny of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). Note the picture of Alice at the top of this post, brandishing the sword and armor on the battlefield(?), and standing next to Hathaway the White like she’s at Minas Tirith — Does that look anything like Alice in Wonderland to you?
So yeah, all the playful word games and off-kilter logic puzzles of Carroll’s book, and your usual Alice adaptations for that matter, have been thrown out the window here. Instead, we are left with…well, basically your average dumb summer movie. The Mad Hatter has become a major character, for seemingly no other reason than to accommodate the presence of Johnny Depp. We are told Alice is destined to slay the Jabberwocky early in the second reel, which means we spend the rest of the film just sitting around waiting for this prophesied shoe to drop. And — spoiler alert — when our heroine finally accomplishes the deed at the Big Battle and puts the dragon (and by extension the audience) out of its misery, she even gets to throw in a John McClane/Schwarzenegger one-liner. (“Off with your head!)
Put simply, this is just a blatantly stupid movie, and looking back on it, I can think of only one or two grace notes worth mentioning. As you might expect from most any Tim Burton production, the art direction is quite impressive at times (The 3-D, on the other hand, is muddy, and really doesn’t add anything to the experience.) So, for example, the design of the Red Queen’s soldiers is rather appealing, but these flourishes still aren’t really enough to keep things moving along. There’s one very brief scene involving frog and fish servants of the Red Queen that made it seem like the overall film would be much more fun and imaginative. And, while Wasikowska herself is actually quite solid throughout the movie, this Alice only manages to capture some of the real Wonderland magic in the Eat Me/Drink Me sequence early on.
Otherwise, tho’, hoo boy. While Tim Burton and the screenwriters clearly deserve the lion’s share of the blame for this fiasco, there’s more than enough Terrible to go around. (For his part, Depp is strange as usual, but is neither a plus nor a minus, really — Just don’t get me started on the breakdancing scene.) Somehow, someway, Crispin Glover, a.k.a. the one-eyed Knave of Hearts, seems like he’s overacting even when surrounded by talking dogs, rabbits, and pigs. But even he isn’t as lousy here as Anne Hathaway, who is high-school-production-bad. (I should know — I was in one.) As the White Queen, I couldn’t tell if Hathaway was trying to riff off of her Princess Diaries co-star Julie Andrews, or whether she was just totally lost amid the CGI, Natalie Portman-style. Either way, this isn’t a career highlight.
So, to sum up, Alice in Wonderland is pretty much just a travesty. (Or, to quote the lady of the hour: “Of all the silly nonsense, this is the stupidest tea party I’ve ever been to in all my life.“) One way or another, and just like Alice, Tim Burton has managed to accomplish an impossible thing here. He’s taken a beloved children’s classic that seemed very well-suited to his strengths, and somehow managed to suck all the magic out of it.
The trailer for Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Sasha Baron Cohen, Alan Rickman, and Timothy Spall, is now online. Burton wants me to see a bloody musical? I dunno.
Alan Rickman joins Tim Burton’s forthcoming version of Sweeney Todd, already with Burton stalwarts Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter…as well as Sasha Baron Cohen. Verrry nice.
If you don’t see where this is going from the opening reel, well, you should get out to the movies more. But that’s neither here nor there — as with life (and, in this film, death), the journey is the reward. At times, Corpse Bride seems entirely too reminiscent of Nightmare — Instead of “ma-king Christ-mas,” the denizens of the Dead are ma-king wed-dings. (Or, when the Dead Elder-fellow (Michael Gough) scratches the hole in his skull, it’s funny…but it also recalls the exact same move by Dr. Finkelstein in the earlier film.) For the most part, though, Corpse Bride is rife with its own inventive flourishes. (I particularly liked the little undead kids at right, the Elder’s raven, and the designs of the aged living.) And I’m willing to forgive sins much more grievous than the mild repetition on display here if it means Burton & co. will keep making stop-motion movies. Their gothic world may always be tinged with the same palette of nightmare and melancholy, but frankly, I’m smitten.
Roman Polanski’s Oliver Twist, David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, and George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck all open to impressive reviews (the latter opening wide Oct. 7.) And, since I haven’t yet caught Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride or Andrew Niccol’s Lord of War, I sense there may be some more movie-marathoning in my imminent future.
Speaking of the kids, though, they’re all pitch-perfect — it’s hard to imagine a more Charlie-ish Charlie than Freddie Highmore, a more Veruca-ish Veruca than Julia Winter, and so on through the Starting Five. I also found most of the modern tweaks they’d given the contestants quite clever (Mike Teavee as a gamehead, Violet Beaureguard’s mom as an Atlanta suburbanite Showbiz Mom, Violet herself as a kung-fu master.) As for the other denizens of Wonkaland, I frankly grew a bit tired of the Oompa-Loompas’ antics after awhile, although it’s nice to see a journeyman fanboy stalwart like Deep Roy get his moment(s) in the spotlight.
And Depp? Well, he’s weird, and — I’ll give him credit — weird in a totally non-Hunter S. Thompson-ish way. Even with the added-on humanizing backstory and somewhat unnecessary character arc, this Wonka is much more akin to the one the UN should be inspecting than the avuncular, approachable Wilder. To be honest, I can’t really figure out if his performance — part-Batman villain, part-gleeful-pre-teen, part-Rainbow Randolph-style TV host (Depp says he had Capt. Kangaroo types in mind) — is brilliantly off-putting or aggravatingly one-note. I do know that I probably wouldn’t want to sit through a Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator if Depp kept this up…Too much just makes ya sick.
Still, Depp, Burton, & co. deserve points for pushing Wonka in a completely different direction than did Wilder in the 1971 version. And that, in the end, is this Charlie‘s big plus: Unlike entirely too many unnecessary remakes of late, the film seems to have a reason for being other than audience nostalgia, and can co-exist happily with both the Dahl book and the Wilder film without doing dishonor to the memory of either. Just consider it the Sourz or Wild Berry version.
In the trailer bin, The Nightmare Before Christmas meets Grim Fandango in this new look at Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride. And, for non-stop-motion haunts, lawyer Laura Linney tries to ascertain priest Tom Wilkinson’s part in The Exorcism of Emily Rose, ostensibly based on a true story.
Who can take a sunrise, sprinkle it with dew? Willy Wonka opens the factory for public consumption in the new and rather saccharine trailer for Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. To quote the man himself, “You’re really weird.”
Extra! Extra! Wonka Industries spokesman Tim Burton announces the Golden Ticket winners in six new character-specific Charlie and the Chocolate Factory posters.
Right on the heels of the recent one-sheet, Johnny Depp tries to channel a thirteen-year-old in an altogether strange new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory TV spot, courtesy of The Movie Box.
The new one-sheet for Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory makes it past Wonka Control, with all the kids joining Depp for their bow.
Citizens of Halloweentown and other devotees of stop-motion divertissement: you’ll be frightfully happy to hear that the trailer for Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride is now online (even if it does look quite a bit like Sleepy Hollow II.)
By way of Quiddity, the BBC’s Dr. Who revival runs into trouble trying to cast actors of diminuitive stature — they’re all busy being Oompa Loompas and Gringotts goblins for Willy Wonka and Harry Potter IV respectively. Somewhere, Jack Purvis is smiling.
Would you let your kids near this man? The all-new, all-creepy trailer for Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory just popped up on the grid, and it seems Johnny Depp is playing it more Ed Wood and Hunter Thompson than he is Gene Wilder. I like it.
Wonka’s ready for his closeup…Dark Horizons displays the Depp-centric poster for Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
I also found this grisly pic of Angry Cheney on Looka (and Eschaton), and it reminded me of something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. But, while walking Berkeley this evening, it came to me. In fact, I think I might just have figured out the inspiration behind Karl Rove’s whole two-faced strategy:
And, just to round out the meme…
(Pics via HalloweenTown. And a similar take on the Zellout can be found here, also via Eschaton.) Update: The Zellout also brought to mind this, but I ultimately thought it was a disservice to poor Bilbo. He wasn’t that far gone in Rivendell.
It’s not the cast’s fault, really. Ewan McGregor is charming as ever in the lead (even if he and Jude Law seem to be in a dead heat as to which son of the Isles can strike the goofiest Southern accent this Christmas), Albert Finney is fine, Billy Crudup does what he can in a thankless role, and most if not all of the supporting players are solid.
But the writing…I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how close it adheres to the original stories. But I thought the film was hit-or-miss and, well, episodic. Some of the fish tales, like Ed Bloom’s mission to Korea or his tear through his small town, are pretty funny and enjoyable. Others, like his sojourn in Spectre, go on for far too long. And others, like the secret in Danny DeVito’s trailer, never really get off the ground and seem throwaway.
Of course, the larger problem here is the saccharine nature of the whole project, which is particularly surprising given Burton’s normal talent for subversiveness. He’s always been good at creating dark, edgy, temperamental worlds (Beetlejuice, Nightmare before Christmas, Batmans 1&2), but somehow this sickly-sweet, frothy, straightforward story turned Tim Burton into Chris Columbus. Sure, the denouement of the film is moving in its own way, but only because Burton hits you over the head with hospital bed tearfulness and graveside eulogizing…I’m surprised he didn’t kill a puppy while he was at it.
In sum, the movie seems to be missing that imaginative spark I once expected from Burton. What could have been an imaginative Ed Wood-like fusion of the mainstream and the perverse ended up coming across as a rather bland and staid studio project (As Buck Henry might put it, “On Golden Pond meets O Brother Where Art Thou.”) The thing about Big Fish is, I didn’t dislike it in the end. I just ended up feeling rather ambivalent about it. Hopefully, Burton will bring more of his trademark minor-key mischievousness to the table in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Miramax announces the second half of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill will open Feb. 20 (Part I arrives Oct. 10), while Tim Burton moves his latest project, Big Fish, up against RotK on December 18. (General release to follow 1/23/04).
For those of you desiring more creaky ships and cannon broadsides in the wake of Pirates of the Caribbean, the trailer for Master and Commander is now online. Speaking of Pirates, its success has helped make Johnny Depp the frontrunner for Tim Burton’s Willy Wonka remake. (Michael Keaton, another Burton favorite, had been previously rumored as the lead.) I say, if you’re going to do it, Depp’s the best bet.