Saturday, March 6, 2010

Alice in Wonderland review-ish

Before I start off this review, I should add that I am a college senior in animation/film. I have zero experience in the field and I don't know what it's like out there, so take these words with a grain of salt (or the whole mine).

I really wanted to love this movie, honest! But there's something terribly unsettling about Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland

No, it's not that it's not the traditional happy-go-lucky Disney film that everyone seems used to. I love the fact that it's an original look at Alice, ADDING to the story rather than retelling it. And no, it's not a terrible movie (with the exceptions of some funky fresh dancing). It's just an okay movie. Not great, not bad, just okay. I'm honestly not going to remember this movie in a year.

To understand why I can't call Alice in Wonderland a great movie, let's look at a really, really crappy cam rip of the opening of Serenity (sorry, it's all I can find)

Within the few minutes of being introduced to each of the characters, I at least get such a strong sense of their relationships to each other that I understood each of their characters even without having any prior exposure to the Firefly series. Mal and Jayne's first interaction with each other in the movie clearly establishes Jayne as a trigger happy/ shoot-first-then-shoot-some-more kind of guy. Mal's the leader that's seen better days (but he's used to it), and so forth.

Serenity has a bunch of things going for it- an excellent script, good directing and cinematography, and most importantly, ACTORS THAT UNDERSTAND THEIR CHARACTERS. Rather than merely reading out each line at the correct time, the actors did their homework and created backgrounds and motives for their characters. Everyone has different values and motivations beyond "stand here, point gun this way, say this line"-- good ol' fashioned acting.

The reason why I can't call Alice in Wonderland a good movie is that the characters aren't NEARLY as developed. In fact, they're all pretty flat; no one has much motivation for any of their actions beyond the fact that they're supposed to say it. Does this mean that the actors didn't do their homework? Maybe they did, but it certainly doesn't come through at any point in the film.

(Ah the dangers of green screen acting)

Character interactions never seem to go beyond just saying the lines they were told. Just listen to the voice of the White Rabbit-- absolutely no hint of subterfuge of subtlety in his voice. No frustration as he says "no no! stop!" Alice doesn't look like she's thinking at all- her reaction is more "Oh I'm growing. again. woooo." The Red Queen doesn't seem surprised at all to see a giant naked girl appearing out of nowhere in her garden, yadda yadda, NO ONE HAS ANY EXPRESSIONS IN THIS FILM. A majority of the characters have no life in them at all, just forced expressions, unclear motivations. Even the motion in each character is limited

Compare this acting (and all its wonderous 3D) to Who Framed Roger Rabbit (skip to 8:30)

There's absolutely no aversion at all in the White Rabbit. His cover is about to be blown and he's standing RIGHT NEXT TO THE QUEEN THAT CUTS EVERYONE'S HEAD OFF. Show some fear man! Or some life!

Look, I can understand being frozen in fear, but this is acting 101- getting your body to tell the story. I suspect the rather limited acting on everyone's part is because they're all acting in front of green screens without any hint as to the environment they're situated in (or the live actors at least. I don't know what was up with the animation-- perhaps it was really rushed? I'm going to give the animators the benefit of a doubt and assume that they were put up to a nearly impossible production schedule and had to cut corners)

Besides the limited acting, my biggest beef with Alice in Wonderland is that it has too many characters. No so much "X number of characters is too much!" because Serenity had what, 9 main characters (counting the villian) and that still had a really tight script and solid character relationships. "Too many characters" as in "Burton spent so much time juggling Alice around with the supporting cast that none of the characters could develop, or even express the existence of a believable/real relationship." I wasn't so much as experiencing the movie as waiting for her to get passed off to another member of the cast. At no point in the movie did I fear for her safety (I know I should have) nor did I cheer at her accomplishments; the lack of solid, believable characters in this movie made the movie flat and anticlimactic. Really anticlimactic. It doesn't help that they spoil the ending to their own movie many, many times ahead of the actual ending.

Alice in Wonderland is a pretty straight forward film. See it for the often times spectacular visuals and the novel concept, just don't expect much else.

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