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Alice in Wonderland

a film by Tim Burton

I can honestly say I have seen all fourteen of macabre maestro Tim Burton's films. From his early Pee Wee, Beetlejuice and that scissorhanded lost boy, right through his Batman phase and on through Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Big Fish, the delectably ripe Corpse Bride, his misbegotten but lovable Wonka and his bloody Fleet Street gothic operetta that showed the director at his most maturely giddy. I even saw his oft-maligned but quite hilarious B-movie bubble gum bon mot Mars Attacks! I can also honestly say that, with the possible exception of the filmmaker's inexplicable Planet of the Apes redux, his latest, the publicity-punctured Alice in Wonderland, is his most disagreeably mundane picture yet. With high hopes and even higher aspirations, my lovely wife and I entered the theater only to have our hopes and dreams (already in a state of trepidation one must admit) dashed out as thoroughly (and as unclimacticly) as the titular young woman must dash out and destroy the hated Jabberwocky in what constitutes as a filmic climax in such a movie. My lovely wife and I trudged out of the theater having just spent the last 112 minutes (or 124 if one counts the mugging melange of idiot trailers accompanying our trip to the multiplex) completely and irrevocably, overstatedly and categorically, unbelievably and unapologetically bored out of our skulls. Curiouser and curiouser this film never did become.

One would think, or at least hope, that the blend of Carroll's hallucinatory prose and Burton's sardonic dark wit would come together to form a unique, quite resplendent work of fantastical macabrery. Well, at least that is the best case scenario. The worst case scenario is that Disney puts a painfully short leash on its director and forces that most hallowed of modern day Hollywood traditions to spew forth from his handcuffed auteuristic magic wand - the franchise. Worst case scenario it is! Now I don't know if there will be more of these films - the box office take says yes yes yes - and one never knows if Burton would even stick around for more - he ditched the caped crusader after just two outings - but none of those questions change the fact that the filmmaker (at the knife-at-the-throat bequest of Disney perhaps?) has handed the public the most mediocre of films in the remnants of what could have been the trippiest of oddities. When Disney's 1951 animated version seems a more free form, modernist rendition than the one directed by the man that gave us Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd, then there is definitely something rotten in that old proverbial state of Denmark.

Hell, even the actors looked bored throughout. Stalwart Burtonite and directorial muse Johnny Depp - in the role one would think he had been born to play - is nothing more than the most listless of Madd Hatters. Meanwhile, Burton's own wife (and possible muse as well) Helena Bonham Carter, complete with bulbous red hearted CGI melon looks completely bored out of that aforementioned bulbous red-hearted CGI melon. 3D or 2D doesn't really matter with a film as offensively misshapen as this. With its PG-rated tedium, Burton has hit an all-time low (at least with his fiasco-addled Apes remake, one did not expect much more than what one unfortunately got) and the worst part about it is the all-time high he reached just one movie ago with his brilliantly subversive Sweeney Todd (Depp surely did not look bored in that one). Perhaps his macabre sensibilities proved too dark to understand what to do with the fantastical ideas of Carroll - especially with Disney huffing and puffing down his neck with visions of sugar plum franchising in their own bulbous melons. It does make one wonder what wonders Burton could have done if left to his own devices. He may not be the greatest filmmaker out there but he surely is one of the most visually aware and it is such a shame to see said awareness go so completely unheeded.

Do not beware the Jabberwock my son, the jaws that bite, the claws that catch, but take your vorpal sword in hand and with a snicker-snack, behead this latest and most mediocre incarnation of Alice in Wonderland. [03/18/10]

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