Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Wrong "Alice in Wonderland", Part III: How To Annoy Audiences Without Really Trying

This keeps getting more and more fun!

I mean, I started off delving into the narrative shortcomings of Alice in Wonderland,  and that was cool. Difficult, but enjoyable, and--I think--profitable.

Then, yesterday, I looked carefully at the thematic flaws that plagued Tim Burton's latest work. A bit longer, more esoteric, but even more enjoyable than the first instalment, because I got to imagine what an Alice with some thematic unity would look like.

Tonight...tonight, I'm going to rip into the biggest problem that confronted Alice--its characters. Development was weak, casting choices were weak, character arcs were weak, character choices were weak...the whole thing reeked of laziness. (For more on the riveting topic of laziness, see the first instalment of this miniseries.)

Let's start off at the beginning with the most controversial characterization in the film: Cap'n Edward Todd, owner of a famous Chocolate Factory--or, as he's known in real life, Johnny Depp. Now, I don't claim to be a Depp fan--Depp fans are the ones who can recite his lines from "21 Jump Street". But I have seen some of his stuff--especially his earlier stuff--and Depp used to be amazing and versatile, and he hasn't entirely lost that (see: Public Enemies). But Depp is falling into Cap'n Jack mode more and more nowadays, and that's a bad thing.

See, Cap'n Jack is just fine--in the Pirates universe! Cap'n Jack really should NOT bleed over into every character Depp plays. But, unfortunately, he does, to an extent.

I did not witness Burton's direction of Depp, so I don't know if this weird hodgepodge of characters that Depp sports is something he came up with, or if it's a product of Burton's imagination. I suspect that it's Depp's fault that the Hatter is so sketchy.

The other thing about the Hatter (I hated the Hatter, in case you, my imaginary audience, can't tell) that drove me crazy was his swirling and eddying accents. There was deep Scots brogue in there, which in my uninformed opinion would have been excellent for the entire film. Then there was some of that weird half-British drunk dialect that Cap'n Jack is famous for ("...'allo, beastie!". Then there was some normal American. What gives? If that's supposed to illustrate the Hatter's insanity (multiple personality disorder is more like it), it failed, at least in my case. I didn't hear all those different accents and say, "Of course! The Hatter is a conflicted person!", I said "Johnny Depp is a lazy son-of-a-gun."

Enough about Cap'n Edward Todd, the Demon Barber of the Chocolate Factory. Moving now to what was the best performance of the film--Helena Bonham Carter's. And yes, I still am refusing to call her the Red Queen.

See, Carter's a bit of a quiz. For a while she kinda was a rut actress--she played characters like Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter and Marla in Fight Club. That was her bread-and-butter, and it really worked for her. So when I heard that she'd be playing the Red Queen, the only reason I wasn't surprised was that I knew that she's married to Tim Burton.

Carter's character was good--probably the best in the film--but it was regrettably shallow. As much as she could, she developed it, but there really wasn't that much to run with. She shows sparks of depth, but the fault ultimately lies with the scriptwriter.

We're throwing a lot on Linda Woolverton, aren't we?

Mia Wasikowska...wooden. Nothing more needs be said. Sure, the script didn't give her a lot of wiggle-room, but she had only three settings: mildly confused, mildly amused, and mildly afraid. Or maybe that last one was "mildly angry." I really couldn't tell. This is the difference between a good actress and a bad actress: Helena Bonham Carter turned the terrible character that the script gave her into a halfway-decent character, but Wasikowska just played the script straight up. Bad idea.

While I'm bashing on poor Linda, I might as well bring up another one of my major beefs with the film: too many characters who didn't know their places. It's fine to have the Tweedles in the film, for instance; they're memorable and, if done right, can be funny. (They weren't done right in Burton's Alice.) But give them little glorified cameos; don't give them major screen time unless they're going to advance the plot. The frog- and fish-footmen were well-done; they're small but hilarious characters in the book who everyone got a kick out of seeing in the movie. That's how the Tweedles should have been. Another example of this was the Dormouse. Was she/he supposed to be a cheap Reepicheep knockoff? Funny? Heart-warming? Stirring? What? Whatever the purpose of the Dormouse, it failed--it was a waste of screen-space and screen-time that did nothing whatsoever to advance the plot.

And then we have good ol' Anne Hathaway, an actress who used to command a lot of my respect and now has about a teaspoon of said respect left before I begin despising her entirely. What was that she was doing with her arms? Was that supposed to be ethereal? Because it didn't look ethereal. It looked a) colossally stupid, b) like she was drunk, and c) like Cap'n Jack.

Funny how we keep coming back to Jack, isn't it?

Anyway...she could have been good, again--if she had been given some sort of backstory. Like, to whom was the vow of pacifism made? Why did she make this vow? How did she get hold of that armor? What's the background on her being a accomplished potionsmistress?

A review I read suggested that maybe Hathaway wanted to play it a bit more edgy, a bit more ambiguous, and some of that seeped through. As in, is the White Queen good or bad? But all I saw was a pathetically butchered performance that should be shot on sight and buried in an unmarked grave.

Those, then, are my thoughts on the horrible characterization within Alice. Depp really left a bad taste in my mouth, but Woolverton and Hathaway come in for a fair share of my ire, too.

Tune in tomorrow as I discuss the visuals of Alice in Wonderland, answering such riveting questions as: was 3D worth the extra charge? Does Burton still have it in terms of visual design? Are Alice's visuals its redeeming factor? From what classics of cinematography does Alice shamelessly borrow? Does this look infected to you?

Well then, folks. Till tomorrow!

Long live disdain!

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