Maybe the formula needs invigorating...6/10
I attended the Cast and Crew screening on Sunday, in Leicester Square, with high hopes for this film as it's without doubt the most exciting job I've had. This was my first feature experience, and working for Tim Burton was a hell of a way to start.
But, even as someone with a lot of time for his films, and a pre-existing bias, I couldn't really connect with this. The cast acquit themselves well, especially considering the noted difficulty in emoting to a tennis ball on a stick, but all their tics and quirks seem to be masking a void at the centre of what should be a free-floating, evocative trip. Sure, it's weird looking, but we've seen it before, and back then in films like Edward Scissorhands it had a sense of purpose. Now we're left exploring a CGI wonderland that seems to be without a great deal of wonder. The book revels in its bizarre environs, absurd dialogue and whimsical characters. This film grounds them, drains them of that mystery and leaves us with a colourful but forgettable retread. It seems intent on driving us to a narrative conclusion that few people will have had much stake in through its running time, simply because we're not giving much to care for.
With a source material so familiar, even to those whose knowledge is second hand references, there needs to be a degree of innovation (as in Svenkmejer's dark stop-motion version, or the co-opting of Terry Gilliam in to his "Tideland" narrative), or else a studious and inspired adaptation that completely returns to Lewis Carroll. What we end up with is a mid-point that fails to get to grips with what enchants people about the Alice story, and another chance to see a beautiful waif walk around twisted, quasi-Gothic landscapes to a score by Danny Elfman.
Not that this isn't an enjoyable experience in itself, and as seen in the vast Screen 1 at the Empire it is at times breathtakingly pretty. It's just inessential, and while it may be unfair to expect a classic from a favoured filmmaker every time out, when they tackle something with the pedigree and history of Alice In Wonderland you can't help but hope for something special. And that's the problem, that Tim Burton, while he is still making decent films, has been a long way off special for some time now.
6/10 (if they gave half stars it'd be 6.5), but that doesn't mean it's a bad film. It's possible that my grade is affected by high expectations and lost potential. If you have kids, I'm sure it'll be better than 90% of the dross that passes for family films now. At least there is some artistry involved, and while he might not be at his best I'll still always pay to see a Tim Burton film (although I got this one for free...)