Alice In Wonderland (Contains Spoilers)

When I first heard about this film being made, I was so incredibly excited about it that I sent the link to the trailer to a bunch of my friends. After that, I slowly became wary that the films like this usually have a hard time living up to expectations, so I was ready to view this film with an entirely open mind. Tim Burton’s take on the Lewis Carroll classic is interesting to say the least. But it’s also clearly Tim Burton massaging his ego with the material he’s probably been dying to do ever since he graduated Art School. I’d like to point out here that I, in no way, “hated” Alice In Wonderland. But I also didn’t think it was the jewel in Tim Burton’s crown everyone was expecting it to be either. In other words, it was good, but not as great as it was meant to be…

Alice In Wonderland is the kind of film that relies heavily on a few things. First and foremost, it relies on having the epic, drug-addled visuals that the original material built up in people’s heads. This, Tim Burton has done a fantastic job on – of course he has, it’s Tim Burton’s imagination! He probably has dreams like this every night! But regardless of that, everything that appears in this Alice In Wonderland version matched pretty closely to how things should look, with Burton adding in his own acid-trip effects in the right places. However, maybe letting Tim Burton totally re-write how things should have looked as well would have been interesting to see, but could have annoyed and confused people who know the original material well.

This leads me to my second point – the adaptation to the script. Obviously, this version is not the original story. Or at least, not for the most part. There were clearly parts from the original text that Tim Burton wanted so badly to do, but at the same time create a unique piece of work that could act as his own version, that he couldn’t choose between the two. So the fact that the now 19-year-old Alice has conveniently forgotten her original adventure into Wonderland means that for the first hour or so of the movie, she gets to re-discover everything all over again. This has obviously been done for the convenience of easing the audience gradually into this new extension of the original story without completely going off the rails. Which could be either clever or redundant depending which side of the Tim Burton fence you fall on.

But possibly the biggest thing that Alice In Wonderland’s storyline relies on isn’t Mia Wasikowska’s performance as Alice at all. In fact, this version revolves (for the most part) entirely around Johnny Depp’s character of The Mad Hatter. And that, unfortunately, is where I thought the film started to falter…

Whilst it’s common knowledge that Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter (who also appears in nearly every Tim Burton film, and stars in this as The Red Queen) are married, its undeniable that him and Johnny Depp do so much work together that they may as well be having an affair. However, doing so much work with Tim Burton is obviously starting to wear thin for Depp, and his Mad Hatter seemed to be lacking a few elements to be entirely complete. Which is a shame, because as I mentioned, this new story revolves almost entirely around The Mad Hatter character, and sadly, I expected a lot more from him in this. I personally was expecting an entirely outrageously eccentric character from Depp, but instead he seemed more like The Multiple Personality Disorder Hatter, or The Mild-Case-Of-Tourettes Hatter instead. It’s perfectly reasonable to say that this character fits this version, though, as Tim Burton is doing his usual thing of putting a darker twist on an otherwise light-hearted story.

This new story, as many might know by now, sees Alice returning to wonderland to take up her rightful place of overthrowing The Red Queen’s rule over Wonderland (or technically “Underland”) by slaying The Jabberwocky (played by none other than Christopher Lee!) so that The White Queen (played by Anne Hathaway) can restore the land to the way it once was. This darker, almost apocalyptic version of Wonderland is fitting for what Tim Burton does, and Johnny Depp’s more serious, forlorn Mad Hatter fits into this, but it’s clearly not what people were hoping for from him. Instead of the bizarre, original, off-the-wall character we were hoping for we get a mixture of Jack Sparrow and Sweeny Todd. There were also other things about the story that started to annoy me which I’ll avoid going on a rant about, but I’ll list in case other people noticed them as well.

Firstly, the fact that Alice miraculously and conveniently tames the Bandersnatch after it already nearly killed her. It had no rhyme nor reason behind it, other than it was means for her escape from the castle. There were many other ways that this could be done, but instead they clearly wanted to have a scene with Alice taming a Bandersnatch. Secondly, the “why is a Raven like a Writing Desk?” riddle was brought up WAY too many times – it was clever in the original text to prove a point, but they are trying to use it way too much in this. The whole point of the riddle is that a raven IS NOT like a writing desk, and therefore its point for use is made redundant! Thirdly, Anne Hathaway (as great as her acting is, making her one of the best performances of the film) does this thing with her hands throughout the film to make her character seem more graceful, but it actually distracts from her performance a little too much.

As for the rest of the film, I thought it was fantastically stylised, and the voice talents of Stephen Fry as The Cheshire Cat, Matt Lucas as The Tweedles and Micheal Sheen as The White Rabbit amongst others were completely on the mark and really perfected those characters. The visuals were epic, the creatures like The Jub-Jub Bird and The Jabberwocky looked perfect, and all the set pieces from the original Wonderland story were there. I think that seeing Alice In Wonderland in 3D or IMAX would possibly be distracting people from the storyline with pretty effects and stuff, but it would also be entertaining to see how different certain scenes are between the 2D and 3D versions.

Overall, I enjoyed Alice In Wonderland to the extent that I found it interesting to watch and fun to see the characters and set pieces brought to life in a live-action film, but the storyline that doesn’t delve too deep and a few disappointing performances and parts of the script mean that it wasn’t the instantly awe-inspiring film that I was hoping to be. For that, I’m giving Alice In Wonderland a half-and-half 5 out of 10. I liked it, but I did not love it.

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LISTED Film Previews – March 2010

Because of changes in the printings for Listed Magazine, these will actually be going out monthly now, as opposed to covering two months in one go – which means more movie previews packed into a months space than before, making your movie-going choices even more difficult than before! I love being helpful!!

ALICE IN WONDERLAND (PG) (Dir. Tim Burton)

Tim Burton, master of the wierd and gothy, has struck once again – this time turning his hand to Lewis Carroll’s famous masterpiece! Taking on a slightly different storyline to the usual concept, this version sees a 19 year old Alice returning to Wonderland to fulfil her destiny of ending the Red Queen’s reign of terror over Wonderland. Burton has given the film’s visuals his own unusual-but-accurate approach, and with a star-studded cast including Johnny Depp (of course) as The Mad Hatter, Stephen Fry as The Cheshire Cat, Michael Sheen as The White Rabbit and Helena Bonham Carter as The Red Queen to name just a few, this is definitely one (acid) trip you’ll want to go on! Miss this, and you’ll miss out! Released March 5th.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (15) (Dir. Neils Arden Oplev)

After having a huge reception, this Swedish adaptation of the bestselling book is reaching our shores soon! A journalist (played by Michael Nyqvist) and a computer hacker are paired up to investigate a girl’s disappearance. But the more they investigate, the more they uncover about the families history and a string of murders from the past… Even though Sony have already optioned for a remake, you’ll want to check out this original version first and foremost! Released March 12th.

THE RUNAWAYS (15) (Dir. Floria Sigismondi)

A chronicling of the rise to fame of LA rock band The Runaways, who were an all-girl band in a man’s rock world in 1975. Written and directed by Sigismondi, this film sees Kristen Stewart break FAR away from her previous Twilight Saga role to play teenage lead singer Joan Jett, as well as Dakota Fanning looking surprisingly grown-up playing Cherie Currie. A must see for drama lovers and music lovers alike! Released March 19th.

CLASH OF THE TITANS (12A) (Dir. Louis Leterrier)

Whilst 2010 seems to be “The Year Of The Bad Re-Makes” (stay tuned for future months for more on those…), the Clash Re-make starring Sam Worthington (of Avatar fame) looks like it could satisfy anyone having withdrawal symptoms from 300! Loosely based on Greek myth, Perseus (Worthington) embarks on a mission to destroy Hades (Ralph Feinnes) before the underworld can spread to Earth and seize the power of Perseus’ father Zeus. The visual effects in Clash Of The Titans looks fantastic from the trailer, so you can definitely get more bang for your buck in this one than any other action film this month. Expect every other re-make this year to look awful compared to this! Released March 26th.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (PG) (Dir. Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders)

From the same studios that brought you Shrek and Kung Fu Panda, How To Train Your Dragon is an adaptation of the children’s book of the same name that follows a young Viking named Hiccup Horrendous The Third as he finds his very own wild dragon, Toothless. If you’re a fan of kid’s films with things for the parents included, then this is a great comedy adventure for the family. Catch it in 3D if possible, too! Released March 31st.

As printed in Listed Magazine Issue 25 and on www.listedmagazine.com

The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Contains Spoilers)

After a long, convoluted series of events that finally led to me getting a perfect seat in the same auditorium as my friends at a midnight screening in L.A., I actually managed to see The Twilight Saga: New Moon on its opening day. Of course, much to my expectations, the atmosphere was complete pandemonium – people were queuing for ages just to get good seats, most of the people there were wearing branded T-shirts of the film, some of their Mums were wearing branded T-shirts as well, inside the auditorium was packed out and people couldn’t stay still from the excitement, etc… It was complete madness, and part of me was a little shocked that I got mixed into it all. But  sort of couldn’t hear that part of me, for there was a bigger part of me that was saying “You’re getting to see this film at midnight with your friends in a different country, what the hell are you complaining about??”

All the seats erupted into screams of delight when Robert Pattinson appeared on the screen… In a trailer for his next film Remember Me. “Good God” I thought “This is just the bloody previews!!” That, fair people, is exactly the sort of madness that The Twilight Saga stirs up in some people. Don’t get me wrong, I can understand why people get so into it, as the subject matter speaks to certain people in the same way that Harry Potter does and people go just as mad for that as well. But then, a majority of the people there were also there to see sexy vampires and buff werewolves, so you take the good with the bad, I suppose. Me? I was there because I got into the storyline of the book and because I knew there were going to be some awesome Werewolf scenes as well!

Anyway, once the film actually started, you were able to tell immediately that it was not the same director as before (Catherine Hardwick had other projects to work on and Chris Weitz took the helm for New Moon), as it opens with the shots of what’s in the book as the prologue – of Bella Swan running through the town square in Italy trying desperately to get to the clock tower. This wasn’t done in Twilight, which made sense as it was just the start of the whole story anyway, but it still meant you’re able to distinguish the different styles of direction straight away. This is something I personally thought would benefit the film, as you’re not expecting it to be anything like the first one that way. Which it completely isn’t!

As almost the entire population will already know by now, the storyline to New Moon takes what was set up in Twilight (i.e. the relationship between Bella Swan and her Vampire love Edward Cullen) and completely rips it to pieces after one of the Cullens nearly kills her after she cuts herself. After all the Cullen’s then disappear from town, she is left alone and faces life without her true love, which consequently leaves her with her best friend Jacob Black, who is part of a tribe of Native American’s (the Quileute Tribe), who turn out to be Werewolves, which are the only other thing in the world that can kill Vampires… understand? Good.

The scene that everyone was hoping, nay praying, that they got perfectly spot on is the scene where Edward has to tell Bella that him and his family are leaving, and that they can’t be together anymore. This scene, I have to admit, they got perfect. A majority of it follows exactly how it happens in the book, down to the tone of voice each of them uses, but it’s also how the scene first starts out that really sets everything up. Now, we’ve all been there – on the receiving end of a break up line, but we all know how the conversation has to start. So when Edward utters in a low tone “Let’s go take a walk”, everyone is automatically in the mindset for what is about to happen. What starts as a gentle opening of “It’s safer for you if I’m not around you”, turns into a full on “You’re not good for me. I don’t want you to come with me”. And as the scene progresses, you do get the sense that it is becoming more and more devastating for these characters. Tears and sniffles are exchanged throughout the cinema at this point, as one second Edward kisses Bella goodbye, and the next he has disappeared from sight, supposedly never to be seen again. The devastation that hits Bella after this is very well crafted, as she then slips into a nearly comatose state for the months that then follow, drifting emptily through life just as is described in the book.

I could go on, with a scene-by-scene breakdown, but I’m just going to stick to the main bits! The thing with New Moon is that it is very much Jacob Black’s story, and how he discovers that it is his birthright to be part of the Quileute Wolf Pack. Another thing that was established early on after the first teaser trailer that the producers definitely HAD got right was the Wolf effects in the film – The Quileutes aren’t the traditional Werewolves so much as people who can spontaneously erupt into giant wolves, the size of stallions. This, when described in the book, is very cool. This, when seeing on the screen, is freakin’ bad-ass!

The first time you get a glimpse of one of them (the Alpha of the pack, when Bella is crushed by Edward leaving and is stranded in the forest) it IS just a glimpse – but its more than enough to keep people on tenterhooks to see more! Which means the first time you ACTUALLY see the Alpha Wolf, closely followed by the rest of the pack, you ARE on the edge of your seat and I personally was completely gob-smacked at how incredible and formidable they have made the Werewolves look on the screen!

The transformation of Jacob Black from the skinny best friend, to the beefed-up super-jock with a chip on his shoulder is gradually seen over the first half of the film as well. Like I said, this is very much Jacob’s story, and Taylor Lautner has clearly put a lot of work into his look and his acting to get this role perfected. Throughout the rest of the film, even though Bella’s reckless stunts on a motorcycle are her only means of seeing visions of her lost love, by the time she knows all about the Quileutes you are wanting her to pick Jacob over Edward, because of his dedication to her and his promise of constant protection from any outside dangers (namely the vengeance-seeking Victoria, whose mate got killed in the first film).

The good thing about adapting a book into a film, is that can be perspective-less. This opens up a variety of new possibilities for direction. Because the book is only told from Bella’s perspective, we only know and see what SHE knows and sees in the book. In New Moon, there is an entire scene where Jacob and the rest of the Wolf Pack hunt down, fight and chase Victoria through the woods of Forks. This was definitely NOT in the book, but the fact that they managed to work in more Werewolf scenes into the film than there is in the book was an unexpected surprise that made all the difference. Clearly, this is because they spent so long developing the technology to get the Wolf effects just right, that they wanted to make it worthwhile and not just have a couple of scenes with them in, but instead give them more screen time than is suggested in the book, because clearly this is what people have really come to see. And its 100% worth it! The Werewolf scenes in New Moon are phenomenal, and you find yourself damn near cheering them on as they’re chasing Victoria.

The only thing that I will say is that there is quite a fair amount of slow-motion during these sorts of scenes, and whilst it is mainly used to show (ironically) the speed with which these creatures can move, it is only borderline distracting when you want to have a bit more action going.

The film then develops into a race-against-time to stop Edward from provoking the Volturi, who basically are the Vampire Royalty that reside in Italy. They lay down the law and destroy anyone who doesn’t obey. So when Edward gets the wrong end of the stick and thinks that Bella has somehow killed herself, he decides to piss off the Volturi by showing people he’s a Vampire on the most crowded day of the year at 12 when the sun is at its highest. This means that Bella has to stop him from doing something he might then regret, which then leads to them all going to the chamber of the Volturi. Dakota Fanning plays the creepy, spooky young Volturi member Jane, who many were opposed to when it was announced, but she actually plays her part with the right kind of malice that her character requires. Micheal Sheen also plays his part of Head Volturi member Aro with the right kind of finesse mixed with sinister to get the character just right.

Anyway, the scenes with the Volturi are the set up for how the story will continue after New Moon and into Eclipse next year, and even though there is no such scene in the book, a massive Vampire fight breaks out in the middle of the Volturi’s chamber. Well, of course it had to, right? The Werewolves have had their fight scenes, now it’s time for some Vampires to have a cool little skirmish with some awesome effects! I got the feeling that this was sort of thrown in to not make either side look more dangerous than the other, but it was still fun to watch as these guys smack each other about the room and through concrete and stuff. Mixing in the violence into the romance, as it were.

By the time the film comes to a close, you are left at the scene where Jacob reminds Edward of the treaty the Quileutes hold with the Cullens, and what could happen to Bella should the treaty be broken. This is a tense enough moment in the book. So, when it suddenly breaks out into an unexpected scrap between Edward and Wolf-Jacob in the film, the audience are taken a-back as the rivalry that will drive the next film is formed, and people are left debating who could take who in a fight to the death! The film then comes to a slightly unforseen (even though people know this is the end of the film) when Edward makes his proposal for Bella’s transformation. Literally. This bit of dialogue was not meant to be introduced until the start of the next book, but the fact that they have ended the film on the words “Marry me, Bella” means that people will be begging for the release date of the next one to come as soon as possible. Clever, Chris Weitz, clever.

Anyway, overall, the film is awesome. It’s exactly what I expected it would be – the Werewolves are bad-ass, the script is very close to the book, minus a few scenes that help the story along everything that needs to be in there was there, and the high-running emotions and tensions are all felt throughout. So, it’s definitely everything that it needed to be, and possibly a bit more too. Also, if you’re weren’t already on the side of Team Jacob before seeing this film, by the end you’ll be cheering on the Wolves as loudly as everyone else!!