July 1st, 2010

Baron1

By the way: Christopher Lee as the voice of the Jabberwock? PERFECT.

My emotional hook for the 2010 film adaptation of Alice in Wonderland was a dog.

There's Bayard (voice of Timothy Spall), a bloodhound enslaved by the Red Queen and the Knave of Hearts who is commanded to find Alice, and is doing so only to win freedom for his wife and their pups. "Dogs will believe anything," smugly says a horse (it's that kind of film), but Bayard acts in unexpected ways and gets -- a relieving result. It's emotionally satisfying. Until then, the movie hadn't quite been. Amazing visually, of course, but without that X-factor.

It can be hard to engage emotionally with the story of Alice. Alice herself, in the original books, doesn't, not really. It's clever, sometimes brilliant writing, more dreamlike and free-flowing in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and more logical and considered in Through the Looking Glass, my favorite of the two, but there's a built-in distance to it. Still, film works well (maybe works best) as an emotional medium, and while not all of us can imagine Alice-like imagery on our own we're good at feeling emotions about them, so this film version works hard to get the emotional reaction out of people. It took a while for that to work, I think, but it worked. Enough.

As you can probably tell, I liked this film but I wasn't bowled over by it. It connected massively well with many other people -- a movie doesn't earn as much as this did from just the advertising (though the higher price for 3-D of course helped) -- and I don't begrudge them that. I doubt it'll be a classic. (Has any film version of Alice become a classic? The Disney version likely came the closest, but it does it really hold up that way?)

I think I get what the film works hard to do: add the underlying logic to something as illogical as Wonderland, especially by adding politics. (Remember the film Dragonslayer? One reason I liked it was that it's set in a fantasy world that has politics, like how the kingdom chooses a virgin sacrifice to the dragon. I kind of get a kick out of seeing politics show up in less likely venues like that film, and this one.) It's an understandable approach, trying to make sense of the nonsensical world of Alice in Wonderland if you're adapting it. It's hard to out-nonsense Lewis Carroll (that requires making "nonsense" a verb; I apologize for my violence to the language), so it's likely best not to try. But as good a screenwriter as Linda Woolverton is, I now wonder what sort of weird sense Terry Gilliam could've made had he adapted Alice. By most accounts, Gilliam is good re-writer (and a left-of-center one: no one had approached adapting Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in the way he and Tony Grisoni did), and a large part of adaptation is rewriting to make a book's story function as a film story.

This film, though, had a satisfying-enough-for-me combination of some things explained -- the big example being the idea that "Frabjous Day" was an actual significant day -- and plenty of things not explained, with some nonsense populating the story's corners. Maybe a little more nonsense would've been nice...

(And it's a little hard to create a nonsense dance. Even a dance where one's head can detach safely from one's body and move independently for a bit.)

I deliberately saw this not in a 3-D screening (at the Academy Theater, a second-run place with beer, pizza, and a babysitting service for you Portland parents who are reading). I think I'm over 3-D, so unless I'm told Oh My God you MUST see ______________ in 3-D I'll avoid it from on out. The 2-D screening made me more aware of the throw-things-at-the-camera stunt, already an obnoxious part of too many 3-D films. That said, after Alice I went over two screening rooms and saw How to Train Your Dragon, which was an all-out BLAST, and I think I would've appreciated how that film used 3-D in the flying scenes. (I liked How to Train Your Dragon a lot, but don't feel compelled to say much more about it.)


P.S. I've never believed the "drug-user" reputation Lewis Carroll's developed past his death. That to me is the least interesting way to explain the imagery he concocted. It also doesn't well-explain the logic games he came up with throughout his life. The man was brilliant at math; I wouldn't be surprised if he joked in math. That takes a clear head. Oh, and I don't think he was interested in THAT way in underage girls, either. I say this as declaration of having thought about Lewis Carroll and his reputation.