Alice in Wonderland
I had to think for quite some time about the rating that Alice and Wonderland would receive. Was it really bad enough to warrant less than two stars? I thought for a while, attempting to come up with reasons that would endear this film to me slightly, and, quite frankly, I drew a blank. It's an entertaining enough film on its own terms, but it's certainly not a good film. And, honestly, if removed from 'its own terms,' which is to say with friends in a crowded theater, I don't think I would have enjoyed myself here. Hence the one-and-a-half stars. The half is for the enjoyment that it offers while in the company of others.
I think it's quite safe to say that Tim Burton has hit a creative rut. With the exception of the muted, lovely Corpse Bride, Burton hasn't made an original (aka not a sequel, franchise, or previous work) film since Ed Wood in 1994. Nor has his style changed in any discernible fashion. No, let me rephrase that: his macabre, Gothic affectations, which once felt fresh and innovative, have since congealed into something stilted, dull, and altogether devoid of life. Alice in Wonderland is, without a doubt, one of his most generic, lifeless films yet.
Mind you, I've never found myself squarely in the Tim Burton camp. I'll admit that he can make wonderful films when he wants to (though he hasn't wanted to since the early 90s), but, generally speaking, he's not a very interesting film-maker. I've always thought that Burton would be an endlessly fascinating painter or sculptor: the images and designs he conjures are extraordinary. But is film really the correct medium for him to manifest his images? Yes, he creates bizarre, surreal tableaus, but he rarely marries them to any form of film-making style. Tim Burton, technically speaking, fits the traditional definition of an auteur by virtue of his distinct visual style, endlessly repeating themes, and slave-like dedication to perfecting his 'type' of movie. Yet, for all that, I've always found him to be lacking the cinematic bravura and visual panache that most other anointed auteurs possessed. In laymans' terms? Tim Burton makes pretty pictures, but he doesn't make interesting movies. His compositions are tedious, his bag of film techniques woefully limited, and his structure repetitive. Every now and again, Burton uses his few tricks to makes something wonderfully compelling. Alice is not one of those circumstances.
I suppose what surprised me more than the lack of directorial flair was how uninspired I felt Wonderland's design to be. On the surface, it's all dazzling, but if one looks for a bit, it's all too easy to see the same basic machine that labor behind every Tim Burton world, and I, for one, am getting a little bit tired of them. The decision to shoot this film almost entirely on green-screen doesn't help either. I don't have a problem with CGI when necessary, but it's all too easily used to make up for laziness.
Speaking of laziness, I confess that I find myself less than thrilled by the acting involved. The notable exception is Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, who is by turns petulant and intimidating. She alone captures the right amount of crazy that the film needs. I suppose I can't be too hard on Mia Wasikowska: the role of Alice has always been one of a passive viewer, so I guess I shouldn't fault her for being nothing more than politely confused throughout the film. Anne Hathaway is likable as always, but skin deep. And Johnny Depp. God, Johnny Depp. I regard Depp as one of the better working actors, whose chameleon-like abilities allow him to completely and believable immerse himself in any role. Readers, I've been shown what happens when Johnny Depp takes it too far. Never mind that every now and again he adopts a Scottish brogue only to drop it in favor of a silly lisp. He just doesn't feel...authentic. I know, I know, he's the Mad Hatter, he's not authentic, he's mad. But I never believed for a second that I was watching anything other than Johnny Depp flop around with metric tons of makeup. There was no character: only a celebrity seeing how goofy he could get before his producers committed suicide.
And...that dance. That goddamn dance. The moment in which the movie becomes a parody of itself. The moment in which the movie gives the finger to the audience and gleefully jumps off the rails. Like the whole third act, really. Was a large battle scene, complete with a Lord-of-the-Rings-inspired catapult, really necessary? Complete with punny one-liners? Anyone who argues for the dazzling originality of Alice's vision must tell me how this battle scene, looking for all the world like a low-rent Narnia movie, possibly serves to further Burton's singular achievement. Because it feels like desperation to me. No, not desperation. Apathy. This whole damn movie reeks of apathy. Apathy in Mediocreland. New title. Go nuts.