I came to this movie expecting relatively little, and was pleasantly surprised by its relatively engaging nature and full-on visual grandeur.
Tim Burton’s Wonderland is a decidedly lush and highly textured universe into which extreme but still recognisable characters from the subconscious of Lewis Carroll was deposited like occasional wild flowers. It takes an interesting premise that Alice came to Wonderland previously as a child, in her dreams, and now returns an adult to repeat the oddly similar experience.
As such, she then meets a series of characters who wonder why she doesn’t recall what to do from her previous adventure, which the adult Alice has long dismissed as fantasy.
The problem the film has, and it’s an issue with many Alice interpretations, is that the narrative has a rather aimless and meandering nature, into which it’s difficult to inject much pace or an anticipation of excitement.
That said, the latter part of the story does actually start to organise itself into a more engaging form, when Alice is forced to take on the Red Queen, Black Knight and the Christopher Lee-voiced Jabbawocky. In the end, what we’re left with is a production which is mostly a sumptuous design exercise, but only seventy percent of a good movie.
In terms of the players, those that like Johnny Depp playing crazy people will undoubtedly like his Mad Hatter, even if I found his divergences into diverse region accents broadly irritating.
Much better, to my mind, was Mia Wasikowska as Alice, who took to her long term immersion in green screen very well, and offered a character with which the audience can better associate.
Burton filled the rest of Wonderland with a wide array of series and comic acting talent which he might have best assembled by throwing a large net from the stage at the Film and TV Baftas. A few, like favoured Helena Bonham Carter, got roles where they were recognisable, if CGI distorted, while others like Stephen Fry (the Cheshire Cat) and Alan Rickman (Blue Caterpillar) have entirely synthetic appearances. Of these I especially loved Fry’s Cheshire Cat, which was both charming and amusing with the help of some imaginative materialisation sequences.
In the end, Alice In Wonderland is a lightweight confection that will not make you groan uncontrollably, but you might feel you’ve being scoffing someone else’s indulgence.
As with most Disney Blu-ray offerings these days, they chose to add perceived extra value by providing both a Blu-ray and DVD in the same box. A very limited number of people might be disappointed to discover that, although this was a cinema 3D release, here it’s strictly 2D. As much as the Hollywood machine seems to be getting very excited about 3D on Blu-ray, the reality is that the market just doesn’t exist now, and there are big question marks over if it ever will. So, while we might see a 3D HD version of this movie at some point, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for it.
For those who are happy with 2D, this is an exceptionally nice transfer to Blu-ray and captures the bright colours and high granularity of the Wonderland experience well.
I’m still having an inner debate if this represents another reference disc addition, but it’s certainly up there with some of the best digital conversions we’ve seen so far.
Sound is also well supported with the now de facto DTS-HD Master track in English, ordinary DTS for Italian and Dutch, Dolby 5.1 for Belgians and a Dolby stereo track for described English. Subtitles for Italian, Dutch and hearing impaired English are also included.
That just leaves the extras, which I’ve noticed recently are lessening with new releases, presumably to bolster later collector’s edition sales.
On the European disc there are just three bonus featurettes: ‘The Mad Hatter’, ‘Finding Alice’ and ‘Effecting Wonderland’. None of these is much more than six minutes, so you’re unlikely to get the chance to be bored watching them. On the upside, they’re at least in HD, and the actors in them seem enthusiastic about their project. The insight they also give you as to how some of the characters were created is interesting, if you’re into the technicalities of digital effects production.
Overall, Alice In Wonderland is like an unexpectedly polished diversion that delights briefly, but is forgotten rather rapidly.
Alice In Wonderland is out now on Blu-ray and available from the Den Of Geek Store.