Alice In Wonderland [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (30th August 2010).
The Film

In my opinion there hasn't been a director I admire so much that has been so inconsistent over the last several years than Tim Burton (ok, maybe Steven Spielberg...) Burton's "vision" is so unique and interesting it's no difficulty in spotting a film made by the eccentric director. However in recent years his output has been somewhat disappointing, the last film Burton made that I truly loved was 2003's "Big Fish," "Planet of the Apes" (2001) was incredibly sub-par, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (2005) was just ok, "Corpse Bride" (2005) had it's moments but was nowhere near the brilliance of his collaboration with Henry Selick on "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993) and while many liked "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street" (2007) and while it was visually impressive I was disappointed by it, mostly because of the fact it's a musical (which I loath) and the fact that Johnny Depp just can't sing.

"Alice in Wonderland" starts off rather lazily, set in Victorian England, the young Alice (relative newcomer Mia Wasikowska) is bequeathed to marry Lord Hamish (Leo Bill), however Alice is not one for formality or tradition and is unsure of what she wants. Having seen a white rabbit while at Hamish's parents estate, instead of giving Hamish and answer to his marriage proposal she decides to follow the rabbit, falls down a rabbit hole and finds herself in Wonderland... a place which the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen) seems to think she's been to once before. And so begins an adventure through Wonderland, complete with Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the controlling Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), Tweedledee and Tweedledum (both played by Matt Lucas), The Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry) and the Blue Caterpillar (Alan Rickman) among other wondrous creatures and environments that Alice must navigate through in order to fulfill her destiny, defeat the Jabberwocky and restore the thrown to the rightful Queen, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway).

So here we are, another Burton film, another collaboration with Depp, their seventh so far in what appears to be another big budget cash grab that takes advantage of this new gimmick laced 3-D technology (although this Blu-ray release is only the 2-D version with a possible Blu-ray 3-D release forthcoming at some point in the near future). Don't get me wrong, I like 3-D... if the film was shot in 3-D and intended for that purpose like "Avatar" (2009, weak on story but visually excellent and certainly purposefully made for 3-D), while "Alice" was up-converted to the format (The film was original shot on a combination of 35mm film cameras and the Panavision Genesis HD Camera), and having seen the film originally in cinemas I was disappointed at how shoddily the 3-D appeared (the same can also be said for Warner Brother's massively flawed epic-adventure "Clash of the Titans" (2010)). It felt like an afterthought and rather hastily converted to the format, and while "Alice" had many 3-D elements going for it, such as a lot of action played to the screen, or objects hurled towards the foreground, the result wasn't as impressive as one would have liked. In any case audiences came in droves and the film was a huge success for Disney (making around $1 billion worldwide)... setting a rather dangerous precedent for studios that no matter the 3-D quality, people will still opt for the more expensive 3-D presentation. I hope people are more savvy to this and that the box office to both "Alice" and "Clash" are just flukes, and are early cash-ins before a proper standard is set for the format.

As mentioned earlier this Blu-ray release offers only the 2-D version, which in the opinion of this reviewer plays a lot better without the forced 3-Dness of the theatrical presentation, it certainly felt a lot less distracting, after all the world in which Alice is set upon is certainly filled with distractions, often exaggerated and certainly colorful! True to Burton's vision the film has a unique look, it both evokes the zaniness and off-kilter aesthetic of Lewis Carroll's Wonderland, yet still maintaining a distinct Burton-esque quality. The downside is that in previous films like "Edward Scissorhands" (1990), "Sleepy Hollow" (1999) and even more recent fare like "Planet of the Apes" (2001) and "Big Fish" (2003) created that aesthetic with intricate production design and practical sets, while "Alice" seems almost entirely conceived inside a computer, giving the film an altogether synthetic look. Often clean and shiny and almost always looking far too fake. Perhaps if most of the budget was used on practical sets and production design rather than green screens, 3-D up-conversion and the enormous salary of its star (Depp was paid $25 million for this film!) I'm sure we'd a have much more interesting and much more real looking visual aesthetic.

It's impossible to adapt a book that's better than the book, I don't think I've ever, not once, heard anyone say that the film was better than the book. That doesn't mean some films haven't come damn close, "Alice in Wonderland" seems pretty far away... but amid the candy-coated gimmicks are some diamonds in the rough, so it wasn't an all out waste of time. The best thing about this film for me was Depp's over-the-top performance, I wasn't all that sold on his make-up and costuming that made him look like a scary drag queen more than anything else (and perhaps that was Burton's intention?), but Depp hit the zaniness of the character on the nose, even though he tends to drop in and out of a Scottish accent... but I like to peg that down to the fact the character is mad.

I was also taken by Helena Bonham Carter's portrayal of the Red Queen. Her manic behavior makes for some scene stealing moments, even though in many ways this is Johnny Depp's picture, her gigantic head makes for a neat look and her mannerisms are perfectly played by the equally eccentric Bonham Carter who makes her sixth appearance in a Burton film (she also happens to he Burton's better half, so to speak!). Among the kooky and bizarre characters that populate this world she's certainly among the most memorable.

The weakest links of this film are spread across a wide canvas, starting with the script, which makes too many assumptions that the audience is more than familiar with the Lewis Carroll world, but connections are made rather quickly. The previously discussed artificial look of the film and then there's newcomer Mia Wasikowska, who is rather wasted in the role of Alice. She seems wooden and unsure of herself in almost every scene. There's a blandness to her take on Alice, and she doesn't really make the transition from meek little girl to champion very well either, in other words her portrayal wasn't believable and if I had to pin it down to one thing its that she didn't have enough conviction in her abilities as an actor. Something that takes experience, unfortunately something that Wasikowska lacks in.

"Alice in Wonderland" is filled to the brim with lavish effects and adventure-themed spectacle, in many ways Carroll's world would make a great theme park attraction (perhaps Disney is working on one as I write this... I wouldn't be surprised). The CG world didn't do Burton's style real justice and the role of Alice was a let down, the film smacks of gimmick from the outset but is marginally saved by Depp and Bonham Carter.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 1.78:1 in high-definition 1080p 24/fps mastered using AVC MPEG-4 compression encoding. Dariusz Wolski's photography is perfectly rendered here, even though a lot of it is melded with a CG world, the lighting is perfectly matched by the effects crew that it fits reasonable well together in a flawless fashion. The image displays a wonderful depth, the Wonderland world is layered with incredible visuals that seem to go on forever and the HD image holds that image without compromise. The sharpness is well rendered mostly around the live action character and even the CG characters, however some green-screened scenes don't hold up as well as they should and we see a blurring around some characters, creating a softness that tends to hurt the overall image. Colors on the other hand are vibrant and lush, and Burton doesn't totally rely on that to create his vision, as the film also features a darkness that's a little more sinister, offering a Wonderland that's a little darker and perhaps more realistic in it's tone than we're used to. Texture are excellent, black levels are appropriately inky and there isn't a single compression fault that I could spot. It's a terrific transfer worthy of HD presentation.

Audio

Disney has offered four audio tracks on this film, they are in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mixed at 48kHz/24-bit as well as French Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and English Audio Descriptive Dolby Digital 2.0 surround for the visually impaired. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS-HD audio track. Before I even popped this disc into my player I anticipated a bombastic and aggressive audio mix that would put my home theater system through an intense work-out and aside from Danny Elfman's score and the occasional directional effect the track was surprisingly meek. Dialogue is clear and distortion free, ambient sounds do well to immerse the viewer into the world in which Alice falls into, however the action-adventure scenes were a little lacking in punch. By no means is this a bad track, it's suitable, sadly that's about it, it's not impressive, nor is it amazing, both of which, by all accounts, it should be...
Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

Disney has produced a rather light collection of extras in a series of featurettes and bonus trailers, that's about it, and while the featurettes include some decent behind-the-scenes on the making-of an audio commentary would have been nice, or even some deleted scenes and perhaps a more in-depth documentary, these are the supplements I would have expected from a film that banked around $1 billion at the box office, instead it feels like Disney held back for a future Blu-ray 3-D release. The supplements featured on this release are examined below.

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY

First up are the "Wonderland Characters" featurettes amalgamates a collection of interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and completed footage from the film, which can all be viewed individually or with a 'Play all' option and runs for a total of 27 minutes 55 seconds, the featurettes included are:

- "Finding Alice" runs for 5 minutes 25 seconds, takes a look at the exhaustive search for the right person to play Alice but also a look at the marriage of Burton's style and vision applied to Carroll's iconic tale and on establishing the character in the beginning of the film and what the world of Wonderland represents, the costuming and physicality of the role among other things.
- "The Mad Hatter" runs for 6 minutes 4 seconds, Depp talks about the character and what his vision for playing the zany role, his research into playing the part, on becoming mad from mercury poisoning, developing his look and mannerisms and the intricacies of his costume.
- "The Futterwacken" runs for 3 minutes 22 seconds, takes a look at the Mad Hatter's crazy dance routine, on getting Depp to dance on film, the choreography and on finding the person to help create the dance.
- "The Red Queen" runs for 5 minutes 56 seconds, Bonham Carter talks about the motivation of the character, on getting involved in the film and on bringing the character to life.
- "Time-Lapse: Sculpting the Red Queen" runs for 2 minutes 40 seconds, as the title suggests is a time-lapse look at the make-up application with some narration on what makes for a successful make-up process.
- "The White Queen" runs for 4 minutes 28 seconds, finally we get a look at the White Queen character and being among Alice's only allies in the film, on Hathaway's involvement in the film, on finding her voice and bringing the character to life as well and the challenges of turning someone with naturally dark hair into someone with white hair.

Following that is the "Making Wonderland" featurettes that goes a little farther behind-the-scenes look into the process of creating the world of Wonderland and can all be viewed individually or with a 'Play all' option and runs for a total of 19 minutes 29 second, these clips include:

- "Scoring Wonderland" runs for 3 minutes 10 seconds, is a closer look at the music of the film and the collaboration of Elfman and Burton, the scoring process and the musical themes that come through.
- "Effecting Wonderland" runs for 6 minutes 54 seconds, examines the visual effects used to create the characters and world of the film as well as the challenges and complications of working with green screens, motion capture and other effects that were faced in bringing it all together.
- "Stunts Of Wonderland" runs for 2 minutes 32 seconds, is a closer look at the stunt crew and their work on the film.
- "Making the Proper Size" runs for 2 minutes 24 seconds, a look at the process of making Alice the right size throughout the film, she ranges from tiny to gigantic so here we see the tricks of the trade that the filmmakers used to create the various sizes of Alice from the practical elements to the CG elements that help blend the scenes together.
- "Cakes of Wonderland" runs for 2 minutes 34 seconds, is a look at the many cakes and delectable goodies made for the film by expert cake makers.
- "Tea Party Props" runs for 2 minutes 5 seconds, looks at the props that were created for the tea party scene.

There's also a "Disney File Digital Copy" promo clip that runs for 1 minute 4 seconds.

We also have a collection of bonus trailers for:

- "The Sorcererís Apprentice" which runs for 2 minutes 12 seconds.
- "Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue" which runs for 1 minute 39 seconds.
- "Genuine Disney Anti-Piracy" spot runs for 1 minute 7 seconds.
- "Disney Movie Rewards" spot runs for 19 seconds.
- "Disney Anti-Smoking" spot runs for 19 seconds.
- "Beauty and the Beast" which runs for 1 minute 8 seconds.
- "James and the Giant Peach" which runs for 1 minute 1 second.
- "Fantasia & Fantasia 2000" which runs for 1 minute 17 seconds.
- "Disney Parks" which runs for 31 seconds.
- "Disney Blu-ray" spot runs for 1 minute 4 seconds.

Also featured on this disc is Disney's BD-Live access for profile 2.0 players that grants access to Disney's online portal for additional content.

DISC TWO: DVD

This is a standard definition DVD copy of the film, only a few of the extras from the DVD have been ported over, they are the "Finding Alice," "The Mad Hatter," and the "Effecting Wonderland" featurette.

The disc also includes the "Dylan & Cole Sprouse: Blu-ray us Suite!" promo which runs for 4 minutes 45 seconds. As well as the "Disney File Digital Copy" promo running for 1 minute 4 seconds.

The bonus trailers on this disc are for:

- "Disney Blu-ray" spot that runs for 1 minute 4 seconds.
- "The Sorcererís Apprentice" runs for 2 minutes 12 seconds.
- "Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue" runs for 1 minute 39 seconds.
- "Disney Anti-Smoking" spot runs for 17 seconds.
- "Genuine Disney Anti-Piracy" spot runs for 18 seconds.
- "Disney Movie Rewards" spot runs for 20 seconds.
- "Beauty and the Beast" runs for 1 minute 8 seconds.
- "James and the Giant Peach" runs for 1 minute 1 second.
- "The Black Cauldron" runs for 1 minute 6 seconds.
- "Fantasia & Fantasia 2000" runs for 1 minute 17 seconds.
- "Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam" runs for 1 minute 2 seconds.

DISC THREE:

This is a digital copy of the film for portable media devices.

Packaging

This 3-disc set is packaged in a Blu-ray case housed in a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

The Film: D+ Video: A+ Audio: B- Extras: C Overall: C+

 


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