2008-03-02 21:36:03 ET|
I have no problem with dark interpretations of children's classics, provided they're done right. This, to me, means using the darker elements that are already there without shying away from their implications, but also without overblowing them into something the original author wouldn't recognize. It's way too easy to degenerate into pseudo-goth silliness (I'm looking at you, American McGee).
Jan Svankmajer is a strange man who makes strange movies. His creepy stop-motion and puppetry films did little to endear him with the powers that be in Communist-era Prague, but they never actually stopped him and he's still working his eldritch magic today. His adaptation of Faust is one of the most hypnotically weird things I've ever seen. So what happens when someone like this tackles "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland?"
I'll skip the plot, since you know it already. In this version of the story, almost all the action takes place indoors. Alice (Kristyna Kohoutova) chases the White Rabbit around what seems to be the dusty, unused back rooms of an Eastern European cottage. This goes on for a good hour or so, to the point that you think all the other characters have been excised completely. Then, with twenty-five minutes left, the Caterpillar, Mad Hatter, March Hare, and Queen of Hearts (and her court) make appearances. I would compain about this more fervently, but adapting even one of the Alice books involves a lot of editing, and some semblance of the original plot does remain intact. It takes a hell of a lot of liberties, but it's far from the worst adaptation I've seen.
The real reason to watch this is for the creepy visuals, and boy howdy does this movie deliver. As previously stated, everything is dark, gray, and dusty, with lots of display cases and jars holding unidentifiable items. It could almost be called "Alice in Cabinet of Wonderland." The White Rabbit is a stuffed and mounted taxidermy rabbit come back to life, complete with a hole in his gut where the sawdust leaks out. The Mad Hatter is a marionette, the Queen of Hearts is actual playing card art, and the Caterpillar . . . well, the Caterpillar might well be the most horrifying thing I have ever seen. Ever. Most of the random, nameless creatures Alice meets seem to be made of animal bones and household objects.
There is so much visual detail and deliberate ambiguity that a few paragraphs don't really do this movie justice. Since a long "WTF" list is outside of the scope of my review, I'll just end this here by saying it's a very odd but not invalid interpretation of the story, it's not for the squeamish, and it could be the basis for a good drinking game. Take a drink whenever we see a closeup of Alice's mouth, or whenever she goes to open a drawer and the knob comes off in her hand. Take two whenever the White Rabbit licks the sawdust off of his pocket watch.
Also, the version I saw was dubbed in English, which offends me, but apparently the original Czech version is almost impossible to find.