More Alice Letdown

The following xerox of Todd McCarthy‘s Alice in Wonderland review is for anyone and everyone, of course, but it’s particularly aimed at the HE reader/twerp known as Wrecktem, who earlier today (a) said that my alleged meme about how “‘this movie is going to be a disaster’ is a bust”; and (b) suggested that “the UK “exhibitor Wells supposedly talked to about this film should be banned from this industry for life for lying about the quality of the film.”

Here’s McCarthy’s mostly dismissive assessment:

“‘You’ve lost your muchness,’ Johnny Depp‘s Mad Hatter remarks to his newly shrunken teenage friend, and much the same could be said of Tim Burton in the wake of his encounter with a Victorian-era heroine of imaginative powers even wilder than his own.

“Quite like what one would expect from such a match of filmmaker and material and also something less, this Alice in Wonderland has its moments of delight, humor and bedazzlement. But it also becomes more ordinary as it goes along, building to a generic battle climax similar to any number of others in CGI-heavy movies of the past few years.

“A humongous Disney promo effort and inevitable curiosity about the first post-Avatar 3D extravaganza will pull wondrous early B.O. numbers, although long-term forecast could become clouded by the imminent arrival of further high-profile kid-friendly features.

“It all seemed like such a natural fit — Burton and Lewis Carroll, Depp as the key component in fiction’s most eccentric tea party, and 3D put at the service of a story offering unlimited visual possibilities. Not that it’s gone all wrong; not entirely. But for all its clever design, beguiling creatures and witty actors, the picture feels far more conventional than it should; it’s a Disney film illustrated by Burton, rather than a Burton film that happens to be released by Disney.

“The script by Linda Woolverton (a Disney standard-bearer with a major hand in Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and Mulan) crucially skews the material by advancing the leading lady’s age from pre-pubescence to 19. The main upshot of the change is that this trip to Underland, as it’s referred to here, becomes Alice’s second, not first.

“The not-inconsiderable benefit is that enables Alice to be played by Mia Wasikowska, an actress of willowy, Gwyneth Paltrowesque beauty but, more important here, of a pale but powerful resolve that confers upon the picture any gravity it may possess.

“After an over-the-rooftops cinematic entry into London that could as easily have alighted at the residence of Sweeney Todd (or, for that matter, Ebenezer Scrooge), a delirious little Alice awakens from yet another nightmare to ask her father, ‘Do you think I’ve gone ’round the bend?’ To which he offers the encouraging, tone-setting reply, ‘All the best people are.’

“Thirteen years later, in an amusing framing story invented by Woolverton, a pale, sulky Alice is put up for an arranged marriage by her widowed mother (the enchantingly mordant Lindsay Duncan) with the twitty son of an aristocratic family. The lavish would-be engagement party quickly and appealingly establishes Alice as an impudent contrarian with a mind of her own; when, in front of hundreds of elegant guests, she is meant to accept the fatuous lad’s proposal, she cries out, ‘I think I need a moment!’ and promptly follows a white rabbit down a hole.

“Just as, at such a transformative interlude, The Wizard of Oz switched from black-and-white to color, this should have marked the point when ‘Please Put on 3D Glasses!’ flashed onscreen and everything took on an all-consuming, eye-popping look (the 3D in the garden party sequence is actually banal, even poorly judged). In fact, Alice enters a verdant, overgrown world that undeniably resembles Avatar‘s Pandora and encounters at least one creature, a skeptical caterpillar, that is actually blue.

“As things get ‘curiouser and curiouser,’ she also meets the round, argumentative twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum; the vaporous and grinning Cheshire Cat; the manic March Hare; Depp’s Mad Hatter, with saucer eyes, Bozo-like red hair and gap teeth that bring Madonna to mind; and, inevitably, the fearsome Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), who spares Alice from her favorite edict — ‘Off with their heads!’ — because she, like all the others, needs to know if this is ‘the’ Alice who visited so many years before.

“Script arguably needed a narrative backbone of a sort not to be found in the episodic books, and Woolverton has obliged. Unfortunately, it’s one that turns Alice into a formulaic piece of work, which Carroll’s creation was anything but. Climactic action setpiece, with an unlikely young warrior taking on a fearsome beast while gobs of CGI soldiers clash, smacks of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Golden Compass, The Chronicles of Narnia and any number of other such recent ventures. Thus does Alice become normalized, a tilt Burton is surprisingly incapable of opposing.

“A jaw-dropping coda pivots on a ‘visionary’ character’s forthcoming voyage to open up trade with China, provoking musings about Disney’s rationale for this sort of corporate encomium to a vast young market, as well as thoughts of a never-to-be-made sequel set among 19th-century Chinese as inscrutable and combative as the population of Underland.

“To be sure, the design, effects, makeup and technical work is of a high order. Other than Alice, the most memorable characters are the wonderful hunting dog Bayard and the elusive Cheshire Cat, superbly voiced by Timothy Spall and Stephen Fry, respectively.

“Among thesps whose faces can be discerned, Bonham Carter authoritatively takes dudgeon to a new high as the Red Queen. Unfortunately, Anne Hathaway is miscast as her sister, the White Queen, as her white hair and black eyebrows look weird and she’s not temperamentally suited to the role’s benign superciliousness. And Depp is Depp, slip-siding among moods, accents, looks, rhythms and keys like a jazz player on his own wavelength, to disarming, if transient, effect.”

26 thoughts on “More Alice Letdown

  1. Wrecktem on said:

    As usual, you won’t back down, will you, Wells? Your lying exhibitor buddy said that that the film was “an unmitigated disaster.” Nothing in McCarthy’s tepid review gives that impression. I don’t need to cherry pick reviews like you do, though. Check out every other early review online. They run from mildly positive to rapturous. And that included heavy hitters like the Guardian, the Times of London, The Hollywood Reporter, and the NY Times blog.

    For those who forget, here’s Wells’ ridiculous take-down of Alice from earlier this week. He was trying to start a “Alice is a stinker” meme be quoting unnamed UK exhibs who were lying about the film’s quality and trying to start a backlash against the film for unknown reasons. Please note that since that time, Odeon has agreed to run the film, as have all U.S. exhibitors (who all love the movie, by the way). This re-post is for posterity. When the movie opens north of $80m with audiences and critics lovinging it alike, I hope for (but don’t expect) a Wells mea culpa.

    http://hollywood-elsewhere.com/2010/02/alice_undertow.php

    I’m told that certain British exhibitors and theatre managers who’ve seen Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland feel it’s “a true stinker of a movie…an unmitigated disaster,” as one correspondent puts it. “It’s no shock that Disney want to release this on DVD as soon as possible. Not sure what can save this though the promotion so far might guarantee it a great opening before poisonous word of mouth kills it.”

    To which I replied, “Wait…a stinker? Burton might be off his game, but I can’t believe it’s a disaster…c’mon. Burton is no chump, he knows what he’s doing.”

    To which the exhibitor replied, “Saw a screening last week, Jeff. Will let you wait to judge it but the movie is a mess. No real plot to speak of and some terrible acting from the likes of Crispin Clover. Even some of the CGI is messy. Cinemas not wanting to show this due to early DVD terms from Disney might not [realize] how lucky they are long-term. There was also a screening last week for critics and that didn’t go well either.”

    A Manhattan-based critic friend adds the following: “Alice sucks. Visually amazing [with] many familiar characters but none of the story from the books. No wit, no tension — an action-fantasy, if you can believe that, minus comedy.”

    Vulture reported two days ago that AMC, America’s second-largest theater chain, “is threatening to boycott Alice in Wonderland because of Disney’s plan to shorten the film’s theatrical run. Disney wants to keep Alice in theaters for twelve weeks rather than seventeen in order to capitalize on the DVD appeal of this family-friendly movie about pigs that serve as footrests.

    “An AMC boycott would seriously harm the box-office returns for Alice, which would lose revenue from the company’s more than 4,500 screens worldwide. And because of that, AMC and Disney are expected to work something out before the movie’s March 5 release.”

    London Update: “I see there are already doubters accusing me of lying,” the exhibitor says. “Just wait until you see the movie, Jeff. I was hoping that this would be great as Burton is perfectly capable but alas, this is an expensive disaster. Critics who have seen it are under embargo at the moment. Reviews are going to be interesting.”

    Further Update: BBC News is reporting that Alice in Wonderland “will not be screened at Odeon cinemas in the UK, Irish Republic and Italy, the cinema chain says. The move is in response to the Disney studio’s plan to reduce the period in which it can be shown only in cinemas from the standard 17 weeks. The plan would allow Disney to release the film on DVD at the end of May.

    “Odeon said this would ‘set a new benchmark, leading to a 12-week window becoming rapidly standard.’”

  2. As usual, you won’t back down, will you, Wells? Your lying exhibitor buddy said that that the film was “an unmitigated disaster.” Nothing in McCarthy’s tepid review gives that impression. I don’t need to cherry pick reviews like you do, though. Check out every other early review online. They run from mildly positive to rapturous. And that included heavy hitters like the Guardian, the Times of London, The Hollywood Reporter, and the NY Times blog.

    For those who forget, here’s Wells’ ridiculous take-down of Alice from earlier this week. He was trying to start a “Alice is a stinker” meme be quoting unnamed UK exhibs who were lying about the film’s quality and trying to start a backlash against the film for unknown reasons. Please note that since that time, Odeon has agreed to run the film, as have all U.S. exhibitors (who all love the movie, by the way). This re-post is for posterity. When the movie opens north of $80m with audiences and critics lovinging it alike, I hope for (but don’t expect) a Wells mea culpa.

    http://hollywood-elsewhere.com/2010/02/alice_undertow.php

    I’m told that certain British exhibitors and theatre managers who’ve seen Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland feel it’s “a true stinker of a movie…an unmitigated disaster,” as one correspondent puts it. “It’s no shock that Disney want to release this on DVD as soon as possible. Not sure what can save this though the promotion so far might guarantee it a great opening before poisonous word of mouth kills it.”

    To which I replied, “Wait…a stinker? Burton might be off his game, but I can’t believe it’s a disaster…c’mon. Burton is no chump, he knows what he’s doing.”

    To which the exhibitor replied, “Saw a screening last week, Jeff. Will let you wait to judge it but the movie is a mess. No real plot to speak of and some terrible acting from the likes of Crispin Clover. Even some of the CGI is messy. Cinemas not wanting to show this due to early DVD terms from Disney might not [realize] how lucky they are long-term. There was also a screening last week for critics and that didn’t go well either.”

    A Manhattan-based critic friend adds the following: “Alice sucks. Visually amazing [with] many familiar characters but none of the story from the books. No wit, no tension — an action-fantasy, if you can believe that, minus comedy.”

    Vulture reported two days ago that AMC, America’s second-largest theater chain, “is threatening to boycott Alice in Wonderland because of Disney’s plan to shorten the film’s theatrical run. Disney wants to keep Alice in theaters for twelve weeks rather than seventeen in order to capitalize on the DVD appeal of this family-friendly movie about pigs that serve as footrests.

    “An AMC boycott would seriously harm the box-office returns for Alice, which would lose revenue from the company’s more than 4,500 screens worldwide. And because of that, AMC and Disney are expected to work something out before the movie’s March 5 release.”

    London Update: “I see there are already doubters accusing me of lying,” the exhibitor says. “Just wait until you see the movie, Jeff. I was hoping that this would be great as Burton is perfectly capable but alas, this is an expensive disaster. Critics who have seen it are under embargo at the moment. Reviews are going to be interesting.”

    Further Update: BBC News is reporting that Alice in Wonderland “will not be screened at Odeon cinemas in the UK, Irish Republic and Italy, the cinema chain says. The move is in response to the Disney studio’s plan to reduce the period in which it can be shown only in cinemas from the standard 17 weeks. The plan would allow Disney to release the film on DVD at the end of May.

    “Odeon said this would ‘set a new benchmark, leading to a 12-week window becoming rapidly standard.’”

  3. I’m not even remotely influenced by this review. This thing looks wild and completely out of control. I’m there opening weekend.

  4. I’m not even remotely influenced by this review. This thing looks wild and completely out of control. I’m there opening weekend.

  5. I have IMAX tickets for the Thursday midnight screening.

    Rotten Tomatoes currently has five fresh and one rotten review. Though the rotten count will certainly expand to two once Armond White has had an opportunity to write a review.

  6. I have IMAX tickets for the Thursday midnight screening.

    Rotten Tomatoes currently has five fresh and one rotten review. Though the rotten count will certainly expand to two once Armond White has had an opportunity to write a review.

  7. There are many more reviews coming.

    The tide will turn. I’ve spoken to dozens of critics who were aghast at how terrible the film is.

    I don’t know what stake you have in the film, Wrecktem, but you do. You must. The film is a disaster. I have no reason to support Jeff on anything after the shots he’s taken at me in recent days, but on this one… he’s right.

    Awful. Awful. Awful.

  8. There are many more reviews coming.

    The tide will turn. I’ve spoken to dozens of critics who were aghast at how terrible the film is.

    I don’t know what stake you have in the film, Wrecktem, but you do. You must. The film is a disaster. I have no reason to support Jeff on anything after the shots he’s taken at me in recent days, but on this one… he’s right.

    Awful. Awful. Awful.

  9. Seems to me like visually it delivers, but there’s just nothing going on in it at all.

    Drew, I’ve read your review and think I know what I’m in for. I was pretty aghast when I saw Alice suited up for battle in the trailer, but there is wayyyyy too much in the way of gorgeous production design for me not to see this.

    Sadly, being visually great will be enough for most people.

  10. Seems to me like visually it delivers, but there’s just nothing going on in it at all.

    Drew, I’ve read your review and think I know what I’m in for. I was pretty aghast when I saw Alice suited up for battle in the trailer, but there is wayyyyy too much in the way of gorgeous production design for me not to see this.

    Sadly, being visually great will be enough for most people.

  11. Drew – I love this comment that was left on Rotten Tomatoes regarding your review:

    “Hitflix? Are you serious? The film is insanely good. Stick to what you do best. Celebrity gossip. You’re the hack.”

  12. Drew – I love this comment that was left on Rotten Tomatoes regarding your review:

    “Hitflix? Are you serious? The film is insanely good. Stick to what you do best. Celebrity gossip. You’re the hack.”

  13. The trailers haven’t impressed me. This doesn’t surprise me though since I find Tim Burton to be terribly overrated. Sure I like his early stuff and Ed Wood is a masterpiece but almost all his mainstream stuff since the first Batman is just style over substance. He’s actually quite boring as a director with no sense of pacing. Why he gets all these big directing gigs and all the adore both frustrates and amazes me.

  14. Any discussion about the newest Tim Burton movie feels like an exercise in ‘group think’….the same words, phrases, thoughts…over and over and over and over……YET….AGAIN…

    These comments are usually in ‘lock-step’, uninspired, and a lot more boring than than anything that Burton has ever done.

    Folks who despise his work need to get over it….move on….remember the lesson of the Ancient Mariner and stop your pointless yabbering to the wedding guests.

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  16. These kinds of responses tend to be within ‘lock-step’, uninspired, in addition to additional dreary compared to compared to whatever which Burton offers ever before executed.

    That trailers didn’t happy me personally. This specific won’t shock me personally even though because POST get Bernard Burton that they are awfully overrated. Convinced I’m keen on his / her earlier products in addition to Male impotence Timber is often a work of art nonetheless most his / her popular products because very first Batman is definitely design more than material. He has truly rather dreary to be a overseer without good sense regarding pacing. The key reason why this individual becomes most of these major leading gigs in addition to the many appreciate together frustrates in addition to amazes me personally. corgi

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