Thursday, March 25, 2010

Reviewing the reviewer

Posted on Thu, Mar 25, 2010 at 4:00 AM

Unlike Andy Smetanka, I felt Alice in Wonderland was not that bad (see “In a hole,” March 11, 2010). In fact, I loved it! Nor was I disappointed with Tim Burton’s directorial choices. I don’t claim to be an expert on Burton, but I have seen Sleepy Hollow, and Alice, luckily, was not as bloody or gothic as that film. Nor was it as morbid as Corpse Bride—that was aided by the fact that it wasn’t in that weird, stop-motion animation medium that I feel always lends itself to creepiness. Alice had a very low creep-factor, less than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which wasn’t too bad, and not nearly as creepy as Edward Scissorhands.

I can see what Smetanka means about Johnny Depp playing the “hambone” recently with the Pirates trilogy and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, not to mention Ed Wood, and I was leery of his character for this reason. But luckily, the character of Alice was so strong that she held her own against the Mad Hatter, who luckily didn’t take over the film, even with his too modern, silly dance at the end. I was hoping for something else, like a modified grand waltz or anything better than what it was. This was the only part of the film that made me uncomfortable, almost as if it were creepy.

The fact that it is a film about a well-known story is what held it together for me. I would even have enjoyed it were it not in 3-D, the style of which seemed to fascinate Smetanka more than the story. That’s unfortunate based on the fact that the medium we use to tell stories will always evolve and change with technology—from the oral tradition to writing stories down on stone, paper or Macbooks. The story itself, even if elaborated on or inflated, that’s what remains constant.

But let’s talk about the 3-D for a bit. It was not quite as visually impressive as Coraline. I felt that filmmaker Henry Selik made more use of the 3-D medium than Burton. Alice had a darker tone visually, but that was nice after the techno-color Disney version of Alice that we all grew up with. Alice’s themes are darker than I had ever known, having not (yet) read Lewis Carroll’s book. This story is about battle just as much as it’s about journey and self-discovery and owning one’s life choices, so the dark tone fit. Too many 3-D special effects for the sake of effects would have cheapened it, so I feel Burton made a good call there. I will say this about the ending credits: I really thought the fern on the bottom left was growing out from the screen. It was vivid and tactile. The Cheshire cat, too, was very well done.

It’s too bad that Smetanka was so disappointed by it, but luckily Burton could probably give a rat’s you-know-what about what either of us thinks, which is why he’s able to make such creative films. Bravo. Unfortunately, Smetanka spent so little time actually reviewing the film that he missed the wonderful female characters of the white queen and red queen, nor did he give a nod to Alice herself. Better luck next time Smetanka.

Erin Schmiel

Missoula

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