Cinema News and Reviews for the Rest of Us

DVD Review: ‘Alice in Wonderland’

What a mess.  This may sound strange, but I believe there may be no director who has suffered more from the explosion in CGI effects over the past decade than Tim Burton.  Burton is an artist of wondrous eccentricities and unique vision, but his earlier and greater films used gritty, tangible effects to keep his wild imagination grounded.  Now that CGI and huge budgets have exponentially expanded his palette, he’s free to follow every single insane idea that pops into his wonderful brain.  And that’s not a good thing.  Sometimes, constriction and forced restraint are an artist’s best friends.  A Tim Burton with complete visual freedom is likely to produce something like Alice in Wonderland, a gorgeous but criminally messy and overstuffed exercise in artistic self-indulgence.

As wacky and visually inventive as the film is, it doesn’t have that intimacy and personal touch that made works like Edward Scissorhands such irresistible classics.  I wasn’t able to view the film in 3D (which I heard didn’t add much), and that took away some of the distraction and let the script come to the surface, revealing the story’s many flaws and the overall undisciplined approach of the project.  Almost everyone involved seems to be swinging wildly with no concrete idea of where they’re going.  And sadly, that includes Johnny Depp.  There were cheers when his casting as the Mad Hatter was announced, and for good reason.  But he abandons his often brilliant mix and fearlessness and restraint by delivering an over-the-top performance that is more grating than anything.  It’s much the same as his work in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was an interesting failure in much the same manner as this film, for both star and director.

The big budget and fantastic effects have let Burton dream very big, and one can’t overlook the box office results (Alice made over $1 billion worldwide).  But unlike, say, a Christopher Nolan, who has the discipline and concentrated force of vision to truly capitalize on outsized resources, Burton thrived in the lower budgets confines of his early career.  It forced him to be more creative, to make decisions about what fits into his stories and what’s just the excess overflow of his imagination.  Hopefully he decides to make something more personal next time.  But given the money raked in by Alice in Wonderland, I sadly doubt it.

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