Visually engaging and quite amazing to look at, Alice in Wonderland really is a marvel to behold on Blu-ray. The film just looks fantastic, no question about it. But, as great as it looks, and as fluffy-enjoyable as it is, I can’t help but think I’ve seen this Tim Burton movie before, and I’m pretty sure it was called Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. Steeped in familiarity, the cleverness and stunning design work does get a bit watered down thanks to a “been there, done that” vibe and rigid story, but the film still delivers a pretty satisfying experience.
From Walt Disney Pictures and visionary director Tim Burton comes an epic 3D fantasy adventure Alice in Wonderland, a magical and imaginative twist on some of the most beloved stories of all time. Johnny Depp stars as the Mad Hatter and Mia Wasikowska as 19-year-old Alice, who returns to the whimsical world she first encountered as a young girl, reuniting with her childhood friends: the White Rabbit, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Dormouse, the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, and of course, the Mad Hatter. Alice embarks on a fantastical journey to find her true destiny and end the Red Queen’s reign of terror.
Once known for his gothic fairy-tales and fractured follies, such as Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice, it seems as though Director Tim Burton has taken a liking to remakes as of late, bringing his own spin on classic tales. This is by no means new. Look at his excellent The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, for example, a movie perfectly suited for him. But creep past that and look at his Planet of the Apes remake, or Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, or even Sweeney Todd. Kinda starting to hit a bit of a rut, it seems. He’s had some gems in-between those, like Big Fish and The Corpse Bride, but does his latest continue his ever-growing “remake rut”?
Well, with Alice in Wonderland, Burton’s visual sense is as astonishing as ever, likely thanks to an incredibly high budget and near-free reign, but it does seem to follow the motions. In addition, this is yet another Tim Burton movie where Johnny Depp plays another “wacky crazed genius” type role, which is starting to grow increasingly stale. Don’t get me wrong, this film is just covered in flash and spectacle, but it just feels so pedestrian at times, too. Like it’s…expected. That all the wackiness, no matter how out there, is just kinda of…normal. There’s plenty of wonder to see, and it will actually make for somewhat of a hypnotic watch, at least for the first go, but there’s an air of predictability that draws out a bit of the wonder that should come with a story like Alice in Wonderland.
And while the creative team here tries to merge story and style, the story itself seems at odds with the madcap insanity of Wonderland. The story is basically that Alice is prophesized to overthrow the Red Queen and mishaps happen along the way. And that’s fine. But everything feels so inconsequential, and the end itself feels rather anti-climactic and almost unimportant. And it feels that way because the story tries to shoehorn all this madness into a normal, sequential story, which I find actually hampers the movie. To me, it seems as though the movie should have been able to breathe a little more and just….just let the cards fall where they may. It would still be a madcap adventure in Wonderland, yes, but a little less restrained.
Despite the formulaic feel to the movie, the previously-mentioned atmosphere and the acting work put forth by a good chunk of the team does make this an enjoyable romp. Even Depp’s somewhat routine take on the Mad Hatter is somewhat enjoyable to watch…until the film goes a bit too overboard with his character toward the end of the feature. Nearly every character is a joy to watch, especially seeing some of the creativity put into their respective designs, which helps the film’s somewhat banal story. Sure, some of the characters seem so inconsequential, but they at least provide some amusement for the eyes while foregoing the brain.
At the end, Burton fans will likely get a lot of enjoyment out of this film. And, given the popularity of the movie during its theatrical run, many others will as well. But, to me, this film almost feels like “Burton-lite,” like he’s just coasting on the visuals and ignoring the story. The by-the-book plotting just doesn’t work with the madcap nonsense the movie should be overflowing with. On the plus side, I find this movie actually looks and works better in 2D than in the 3D theatrical release it received. The 3D actually made the movie feel flat and oddly layered, but here the layers blend nicely together and provides a nice sense of scope. The high-definition also helps immensely, of course, especially the wildly detailed CGI landscapes.
Still, this film just reeks of familiarity. It’s like we’ve seen this Tim Burton before. The characters may be different, and the CGI and effects are better, but it just all feels familiar, like Burton is just rehashing a previous effort. Then again, I used to be a huge Burton fan in my youth, though that has somewhat cooled as of late, so perhaps this film is just feeling the effect of that. Alice in Wonderland is a fabulous romp, full of brilliant visuals and stunning imagery, and some fun characters too, but the story seems to hold it back some. I enjoyed it, yes, as a visual experience, but I found the story lacking. If you can overlook that, and many can based on its amazing box office pull, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t revisit this fractured take on the classic story. Personally, I’d scribble this down as a Rental on DVD before deciding whether or not to own it. However, on Blu-ray, I’m tempted to recommend buying it since it looks so damn gorgeous, but I’ll get into that more below…
With three different versions of Alice in Wonderland all in one package – Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Copy – Disney continues to show that they are really embracing the Blu-ray format in a way that makes it easily accessible to everyone. Have just a DVD player? Well, future-proof your collection right here. Have an iPod or portable media device? Disney has you covered. Hats off to the company for their continued efforts in pushing and promoting this great, great format with their Blu-ray Combo titles.
Now, looking in, Disney has provided a stunning Blu-ray production for the movie. For the video transfer, Disney has provided a near flawless presentation. It’s simply immaculate, with nary a fault to be found. Colors are as deep and full as one can expect with this feature, with blacks a perfect void of darkness, and colors popping out with shocking vibrancy. If you thought the film looked good in theatres, well, you haven’t seen anything yet. The cartoonish CGI looks pretty great here, with the high-def transfer bringing out every little detail imaginable. Not as eye-popping as the recent Avatar Blu-ray, but easily reference quality.
Moving on to the audio, Disney provides a solid, robust track for Alice in Wonderland. Listed as a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, though it seems to be 6.1 actually, everything sounds both bombastic and finely immersive. Whether it’s a big action sequence, like the climactic set-piece, or the weird sounds squeaking out as Alice treks through Wonderland, Disney has created a fine audio experience for the home theatre. Dialogue comes out loud and clear in any instance, whether it’s wrapped in heavy action or quiet moments. Every speaker in your system will get a workout, no doubt about it.
Looking past the main feature and to the bonus features, Disney has provided the Blu-ray release with a nice assortment of extras but not as much as you might think. Starting off under the self-explanatory “Wonderland Characters” umbrella, we get six brief featurettes looking at individual characters and events from the flick. Mostly fluff material, though we do get the odd bit of neat information, such as the great length of time needed to create the Red Queen. The six featurettes run up to roughly 28 minutes in total.
Another collection of six featurettes, this time under the “Making Wonderland” banner, run at nearly 20 minutes and provide a closer look at the film’s production. We get a look at the film’s scoring, special effects, stunts and production design. Much like the previous six featurettes, it’s all pretty fluffy even though the odd neat fact pops up now and again, such as the interesting applications of digital effects used in the picture. After that, the disc is wrapped up with trailers. No commentary, no discussion on the source material, nothing. Just roughly 40-ish minutes of featurettes and a collection of trailers.
The second disc is a DVD copy of the movie, the third a Digital Copy for portable media players.
While the bonus features are a bit of a letdown, I think Disney has put together a pretty nice Blu-ray Combo package for Alice in Wonderland. The video and audio presentation is easily reference material, and the inclusion of a DVD and Digital Copy editions of the movie makes it easy to recommend. Still, the main feature isn’t as madcap as it could be, with Burton struggling (it seems) to keep the madness of Wonderland slave to a rather pedestrian story. That being said, there are some great moments to be found, solid performances all around for the most part. True, Depp’s shtick is getting somewhat old, but he does round out the cast nicely and provide a nice counterpoint to Alice. Personally, I’d recommend a Rental before purchasing the film, especially if you haven’t seen it before. For those who loved the film in the theatres? Well, be prepared to take another trip down the rabbit home inglorious high definition!
Alice in Wonderland is now available to own on Blu-ray and DVD.