Monday, March 15, 2010

The Wrong "Alice in Wonderland", Part I: Lazy Storytelling Is The New Black

More stilted that Mia Wasikowska's performance. More bloated than the Tweedle twins. More tangled than Alice's mop of light-blond hair. More unoriginal than the Mad Hatter's character.

I could go on. 

Should I go on?

For the sake of space, I don't think I will. I will, however, warn you, my imaginary readers, that I will relentlessly spoil, and you will thank me, because otherwise you might have been tempted to spend money on this atrocity. I did. I don't think I'll forgive myself for a long, long while.

(A brief interlude here. I spent two posts on Avatar and two on The Wolfman. So there's precedent for what I'm about to do. Which is create a four-part--yes, you read that right, FOUR-PART--reaming of Alice in Wonderland.)

So, where to's about the narrative? Yeah. The narrative structure of Alice is a series of disjointed frame narratives and desperate attempts at interwoven plotlines. For starters, the film has its primary frame narrative of 19-year-old Alice trying to avoid marrying the revolting Hamish (Leo Bill's performance in the part is the only entertaining part of the film). Then there's the "right Alice" plotline, which begins and ends too early. In the no-man's-land between these two warring plotlines is a hodgepodge of incomplete and haphazard attempts at narrative, including (but not limited to):
  • The rebellion against the Red Queen
  • The history of Underland
  • The Red Queen's quest for the Oraculum
  • The captivity of Bayard's family
  • The romantic involvement between Stayn and the Red Queen
Now, I'm all for narrative complexity, but Alice isn't narratively complex. You know what's a narratively complex movie? Snatch. Snatch. has all sorts of storylines and characters that you think are unconnected at the beginning, but by the end they're all in relatively the same place, after relatively the same thing--in short, the storylines come together and are completed. The problem is that Alice isn't Snatch. and Tim Burton isn't Guy Ritchie. Alice introduces interesting storylines and then lets them go bye-bye. Allow me to revisit my pretty bullet points:
  • The rebellion against the Red Queen--it begins promisingly, with Bayard a spy in the Red Queen's court and a secret forbidden language used as code by all of the rebellion and danger and what-have-you. But does this plotline come to anything? Not bloody likely. Bayard sort of slobbers his way into the background, the Outlandish code-language is ignored, and the rebellion is revealed to be...not really a rebellion. I mean, rebellions are supposed to have disorganized, ill-equipped, untrained citizen soldiers that nevertheless win a glorious upset victory. The White Quee--screw it. That was no White Queen. That was Anne Hathaway. Anne Hathaway's rebellion doesn't have a ragtag army of farmers at her back--she's got a CGI host of chess-piece soldiers who look like quite the match for the playing-card guys.
  • The history of Underland: promising, again, and then it went nowhere. We get one Fable-esque flashback and then nothing further. No Red King? What about Alice's first trip to Underland? Doesn't that extraordinarily pivotal event merit more than a thirty-second-long montage? And how about the Vorpal Sword? The Jabberwocky calls it his "old foe". Does the Jabberwocky have some sort of history with the Vorpal Sword? (Great voice-cameo by Christopher Lee. Some brilliant casting there, if you ask me.)
  • Helena Bonham Carter's quest for the Oraculum: Nope, sorry. The Oraculum looks to be a pretty valuable catch for anyone seeking to look into the future and stay in complete control, and so it makes sense that HBC is looking for it. And then she finds it. And then the White Rabbit steals it back. And then...we hear nothing more about it for the rest of the film. Except for in brief references to Alice's destiny.
  • The captivity of Bayard's family: Nitpicky? Perhaps. But Bayard counts as a supporting character, but little time is given to the subplot of his family's captivity. Sure, we get a few shots of them languishing in prison, but they seem to be more of a cheap narrative device to give Bayard some sort of "motivation" to join the rebellion. And then they escape: how? How does the Cheshire Cat manage to get them out? For that matter--well, let's add the Cheshire Cat to this list.
  • The Cheshire Cat's selective omnipotence: The Cheshire Cat is pretty darn powerful. He can fly, he can disappear, apparently he can move the moon, he can adopt forms identical to those of other people (see: The Mad Hatter at the beheading), and he can help various characters escape. How? And if he's so powerful, why doesn't he just impersonate Stayn, stab Helena Bonham Carter in secret? Or something? This is the syndrome called "selective omnipotence", and it usually occurs in good characters. The characters can do a whole bunch of different amazing powerful stuff, but they don't, for one reason or another--they choose not to. For examples, see: Professor X and Superman. They CAN take shortcuts--they're able to--but they don't choose to. "Selective omnipotence" is also known as "lazy storytelling."
  • The romantic involvement between Stayn and Helena Bonham Carter: Okay, so this one was halfway decent. It just didn't get the chance it deserved. This narrative thread had a lot of promise, in my opinion, and the fact that it sort of scruffled away and died and then ABRUPTLY CAME BACK TO LIFE is, again, an instance of lazy storytelling. I'd have liked to have seen something come of the accusation of seduction, but that would have required actual character development. So it didn't happen.
It was a waste of time was not at ALL a compelling story. I checked the time repeatedly. There was no sense of "what's going to happen next?", and some parts were narratively incomprehensible. Like the scene in the Bandersnatch's kennel. That was certifiably bullcrap.

Tune in at some point later in the week as I discuss the other shortcomings of Alice in Wonderland, including the film's many thematic disasters, Tim Burton's contest with himself to see how unoriginal he could be visually, and a crash course in wooden acting and flat characterization.

Long live scathing damnations!

1 comment:

Hannah said...

You, sir, were built for blogging. Publish the next three parts so I have more spring break reading! :)

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