Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Alice (2009)

Title: Alice (2009)

Writer/Director: Nick Willing

Cast: Caterina Scorsone, Andrew Lee Potts, Kathy Bates, Harry Dean Stanton, Tim Curry, Matt Frewer


When you are a kid and you see Alice in Wonderland, you really have no idea what it’s about. At least that is what happened to me. As a child, I had seen countless versions of Lewis Carroll’s story on both television and film. But I never really knew what the hell the story was talking about. To me the story was just a fantasy tale that took place in a totally freaky world filled with talking cats, smoking caterpillars, and drinks and food that turned you big and small. Never did I go further than that. Watching Alice in Wonderland as an adult is a whole other story!

The version of Alice in Wonderland that I will be reviewing today is one that aired on the Syfy channel, it is called simply Alice. And essentially, it is an updated version of Lewis Carroll’s classic. Its more then just a facelift in special effects and story, this film turns wonderland into a futuristic wasteland that looks like it would fit better inside of a post apocalyptic film. On this version, Alice is a black belt in karate; she even has her own martial arts school. She is going out with this guy, and has invited him over for dinner so she could present him to her mom. But there’s something weird about this guy! He is hiding something, somebody is after him. But who? Before Alice knows it, her new boyfriend is kidnapped by a group of guys in white shirts and black suits, and taken away in a van. Soon, they drive up to a building and walk inside of a room that holds a special mirror. They jump into the mirror and disappear! Alice follows! From their on in, the film is about Alice trying to find her boyfriend, and her long lost father in wonderland. Will she ever escape this crazy post apocalyptic wonderland? Will she find her love, and her father?

This film, which was released as a two episode mini-series type of deal over the Syfi channel, comes to us from director Nick Willing. Nick Willing is not a house hold name as a director, but he has directed a few movies that you’ve probably seen like for example, Tin Man (2007), which was a modern take on L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It was also released through the Syfy channel to rave reviews and ultra high raitings. The success of Tin Man was probably what propelled this new take on Alice in Wonderland. Willing even directed a version of Alice in Wonderland that was also a made for t.v. thing, it was released in 1999on NBC. So I guess the guy has done Alice in Wonderland twice! He was more than qualified to direct this new one.

But I welcome it, just as I welcome every new version of The Christmas Carol that comes out. I was pumped to see Burtons take on wonderland, thought I was ultimately disappointed. I’m looking forward to that new take on The Wizard of Oz that’s just around the corner. I love seeing new versions of old tales. Every Christmas, I watch a different version of The Christmas Carol. There’s enough of them for me to be doing that for a while. Some versions are good, some suck, but its always interesting to see how each new voice and vision sees the story. On this version, Wonderland has been devastated by the tyranny of evil rulers. The Evil Queen of Hearts is bleeding the land dry. On Alice, wonderland looks dreadful, lifeless, void of color and happiness. Except of course for the castle on which The Queen lives in which looks modern, clean and livable. The rebels live underground. Plotting a way to dethrone the evil queen and her army of Agent Smith’s. Surviving on whatever scraps they can find.

And that’s the thing about Alice in Wonderland. As a child, I never picked up on the rebellious/subversive nature of the story. It’s all about the rebels vs. the evil government that needs to be replaced. Why does it need to be replaced? Well, because the queen kidnaps people from our world, keeps them entertained in a casino, making them think they are winning the games. Unbeknownst (big word!) to the people, the floor of the casino is siphoning what ever emotions they are feeling, and bottling them all up in a factory below the casino, so these emotions can be consumed by the queen, and also sold on the black market. It’s an interesting idea, and a symbolism for how the powerful feed on the emotions of the masses and the control they have over them. Sucking the people dry, keeping them in a hypnotic state with hollow entertainment and drugs.

Like many subversive films, this one lets us know about the dangers of going against the big old powerful system. The moment you become conscious, and start thinking on your own they whisk you away to a mysterious psychiatric ward, where they then attempt to brainwash you all over again. The Queen has no sympathy for the people. No gratitude for being allowed to be up there governing. She only has that thirst for power. Of course the movie is all about going against that, fighting to recover our minds, freeing the people and bringing justice and peace to wonderland. They captured very well that feeling of paranoia, that you are being watched, that you must obey. That you must playball with the rules or its “off with his head” with you.

The White Rabbitt is a killer android on this version

Alice also has the science fiction element to it that I don’t think we had seen on any Alice in Wonderland film before. On this one, the white rabbit is a murderous gangster type robot that functions as The Queens own personal bounty hunter. There is this whole chase sequence in the film that takes place with Alice flying on these flying scooters that that look like flamingo’s. The men who work for The Queen look like Agent Smith from the Matrix movies. Wonderland looks like something out of I am Legend or something. Buildings upon buildings abandoned and destroyed. I enjoyed the sci-fi angle the series had. It gave this version its own unique look and feel.

The Mad Hatter and Alice fall in love on this one, and parts of the series are about them developing feelings for each other little by little, this love affair is what gives the film one of its worst sequences, the tacked on mega happy ending. But we have to remember that this series was made for T.V., and as such, it has to comply with a few things. Most important among them is having a happy ending. And stretching things out so you can have a two part mini-series. It’s really the only thing I didn’t like about this one, at times it felt like it was just streeetching things out. Still, in spite of these shortcomings, the movie proved to be entertaining for me. I’m curious for that other version of Alice in Wonderland that this director made way back in 1999, I never got around to seeing it. I’m also planning on seeing Tin Man soon, so expect a review of it. This was not the best Alice in Wonderland film ever made, but it was an entertaining and different take on the old tale. Certainly far more entertaining than Tim Burton’s recent 3-D abortion, sorry, I was really dissapointed by it.

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5

Alice in Wonderland (1999) [VHS]Alice (2009 Miniseries)Tin Man (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)


Simon said...

I didn't think it was very good. I'm sick of Alice 'reimaginings'.

Franco Macabro said...

I hear ya Simon, I was doing a research on just how many Alice in Wonderland films have been made, I got enough info for a blog post!

I enjoy the different versions though.

Unknown said...

"I enjoyed the sci-fi angle the series had. It gave this version its own unique look and feel."

That's what I really enjoyed about this version. It did its own thing and as a result felt like a fresh new take where Tim Burton's new one just felt tired and uninspired.

What I also liked about this new version was the choices the filmmakers made, like making the White Rabbit a robotic killer! And also making Alice more proactive and able to handle herself when it came to fighting was kinda cool.

I didn't mind so much the romance angle between her and Mad Hatter, I guess because I felt that the chemistry between the two characters developed naturally over the miniseries and so it made sense (to me) for them to hook up at the end.

Between this and TIN MAN, I'm really excited about what this guy is going to do next.

Incidentally, the SyFy Channel is going to be showing TIN MAN this weekend, I believe.

Franco Macabro said...

Really? I tried renting it, but apparently Tin Man has the interest of a lot of people, Ive been unable to get a copy of it over at my local video club.

But, I'll get to it sometimes this weekend. Weekends are good for watching long series, like this one. Alice lasted about three hours!

It was cool to see Dean Stanton as "the caterpillar"! He played it very low key, smoking from his bong every now and then.

Tim Curry's participation was brief, but appreciated.


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