No director is in more dire need of a change of pace than Tim Burton. He needs some little story with two, maybe three characters just sitting around a simple, largely unadorned room. They should talk to one another, quiet little chats about their place in the world. There should be no music score and no special effects. Maybe then, just maybe, he’d be able to find his way back to making a movie with an ounce of humanity in it again. Until then, it’s safe to presume that he’ll follow his worrisome trend of grabbing onto well-established properties and overcompensate in putting his own stylistic stamp. That approach has dominated his cinematic endeavors since at least 1999’s Sleepy Hollow, and it reached a new low with last year’s Alice in Wonderland.
It takes no time whatsoever to identify the film as a Tim Burton effort. From the swooping opening driven along by the typical plunka-plunka-plunk Danny Elfman score to the portrait of the mundane class as a wandering troop of officious fools, the initial minutes are a pile-up of the overly familiar personality traits of Burton’s work. And that’s even before he send his title heroine tumbling down the rabbit hole where he can start letting his remarkable redundant imagination run wild.
Mia Wasikowska plays Alice with a furrowed brown so constant that it may as well be a Klingon headpiece. She surveys the upper class garden party where she receives an unwanted marriage proposal with the same crumpled paper expression that she gazes upon Wonderland itself. Everything has her annoyed and mildly confused, but nothing seems to amaze her, even a talking rabbit or a queen with an overinflated cranium. A little awe might be in order as she shrinks and surges in size, but she seems no more put out by the changes than someone who’s bus is running a little late.
It’s hard to blame Wasilowska too much since it seems that her director was entirely disinterested in anything other than collaborating with the creative craftspeople behind the costumes, sets and special effects to whip up a garishly unappealing melange of putrid lollipop colors to coat over the screen like the covering of a candy apple. The film is branded by colorful ugliness which the camera lovingly take in. Watching it is like having the shards of a shattered kaleidoscope jammed into your cornea. The Academy Awards won by this film simply provide fresh evidence for the theory that Oscar voters mistake “Best” for “Most” in the so-called tech categories.
Even still, the film could arguably been salvaged with some boisterous storytelling, a healthy awareness of its own over-designed absurdity. Instead, it’s languid and poky, lingering with poorly rendered characters as if every off-kilter thing that emanates from them is pure goofball genius. In general, characters just pop in and are there with Burton and screenwriter Linda Woolverton apparently counting on residual goodwill from other pop culture appearances by the Cheshire Cat or Tweedledum and Tweedledee to make their moments on screen special. The film lazily relies upon recognition to carry the film as the fundamentals of good storytelling are thrown aside like so much smashed, trod-upon cake. The main exception is the Mad Hatter, played by Johnny Depp as a mash-up of every gentle, forlorn kook he’s ever played. The Hatter gets a tragic backstory that provides unneeded motivation while lending the character no added emotional investment. It’s nothing more than narrative busywork.
I made it about 50 minutes into the movie before giving up.
Previously in The Unwatchables…
— Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen directed by Michael Bay