Yeah, I saw this movie. Because I just couldn’t help myself. Actually, I ended up liking it more than I feared. I was never actually bored, nor was I seriously pissed off, so, yay!
Oddly, or maybe not so oddly, I feel the movie it most resembles is Labyrinth, without the David Bowie. (And hence without the sexual awakening theme.) Johnny Depp could have been a Bowie stand-in, but his Mad Hatter character — though surprisingly compelling — is resolutely non-sexual. I suspect it will do better in the short term than Labyrinth, but fail to have the more lasting cultural impact.
This movie is aimed straight like an arrow to the heart of my inner 10-year-old-girl. The 14-year-old-boy wanted it to be creepier and the 22-year-old-hipster of indeterminate gender wanted it to be smarter. But the 10YOG was just agog at the kickass visual design and entranced with the coolness of Alice herself. I think the movie stands or falls based on how involved you get with Alice, and I really liked her. I wanted to be her.
And she looks sooooo cuute! In her Jabberwock-slaying armor. And so much like the Tenniel illustration! It almost negated my annoyance at their reliance on the "nonsensical prophecy-type-thing driving the plot in an otherwise inexplicable direction" and other hackneyed fantasy tropes. But that was negated again because they kept calling the monster "Jabberwocky." JABBERWOCKY IS THE NAME OF THE POEM! THE MONSTER IS THE JABBERWOCK!
Another thing that kind of bugged me, is that I felt they pulled back from a few implicit points. For example, Helena Bonham Carter plays the Queen of Hearts/Red Queen as a delightful and hilarious amoral monster with a giant head. Her affection for oversized things is developed in a fairly entertaining manner, and provides cover for a a few otherwise implausible plot developments. And then her sister, the White Queen, the "good" one, is played as being a little daft. But not quite daft enough to provide a true balance to her sister’s hard-headed tyranny. Also, she is simply pretty, in her fluttery pallid way, without having any outsized parts or other deformities. It feels like the wrong kind of cheating. Oh, yes, here we go again, good people are pretty and bad people are freaks.In this respect, Depps’ freakish Hatter is the chief antidote.
The whole underland/Wonderland thing ended up being less excruciating than I feared. It only comes up briefly near the end of the movie. And the decision to make Alice 19 instead of 6 ends up working for a practical reason: six-year-olds are not often terribly accomplished in the acting craft. An adult actor is able to portray an Alice who ends up feeling, in personality, fairly close to the Alice of the books.
And about the books? I am a big Alice nerd. How does it play with Alice nerds?
The movie ends up feeling — well, oddly, the fantasy rules are more like Oz than like the Alice books. The Alice books obeyed pure, unadulterated, kind of horrifying dream logic. This movie superimposes a more standard fantasy plot on top of the craziness and ends up dumping most dream logic. It does have fun with some of the conceits, like Alice’s changing size, and I ended up digging the Cheshire Cat. But the climactic battle and all that, it ends up seeming very familiar.
I think there’s a missed opportunity here, to make a truly classic, groundbreaking film. Something that could have merged dream logic and fantasy epic logic without destroying the dream logic quite as thoroughly. Something that would have impressed the inner teenage boy and the hipster just as much as the slack-jawed ten-year-old. Something where Johnny Depp could have symbolically ushered future "tweens" into sexual adulthood the way David Bowie has been doing.
As it is, I merely enjoyed it.
Note: I saw it in 3D at The Neptune. While I love The Neptune (my high school home for Rocky Horror) I actually think I would have enjoyed it more in 2D. But maybe that’s just me. I don’t normally wear glasses unless they’re sunglasses, so I kept being distracted by the glasses in my peripheral vision. I would think, "why am I wearing my sunglasses? Here, I’ll take them off," and then remember. Duh.