Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland on Blu-ray

Disney's 2010 take on the Alice in Wonderland story is just what you'd expect from a Tim Burton movie – a visual feast that also has its own peculiar doses of strangeness.

The story is an update of the classic Lewis Carroll tale that Disney made into an animated film back in the 1950's and is kind of a cross between that story, Disney's Return to Oz and Steven Spielberg's Hook. It features an older Alice (played by Mia Wasikowska) who's now old enough to be proposed to by a stuffy boring twit we can't imagine her having a happy life with.

Fortunately, the White Rabbit happens by just then, and it's off down the rabbit hole again and to an adventure that begins very much like the original story, at least until she gets through that first small door and into Wonderland. It doesn't take long then to discover that this Wonderland isn't nearly as full of wonder as it was before, that now it's more like the Oz of Return to Oz – a land under the thrall of an evil queen (the Red Queen, played deliciously by Helena Bonham Carter) and yearning to be free.

Kind of like the U.S. under the Obama regime...

An underground revolution is brewing, however, led by such characters as the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) and the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), aided by much of the gang from the original adventure. The chief obstacle to be mounted other than the Red Queen (not that anyone er, mounts,her) and her little friend the Knave (Crispin Glover) is the fearsome Jabberwocky, a dragon-like beast whose demise at the end of the movie comes in a scene that looks right out of a Ray Harryhausen film – and how can fantasy film fans not like that?

Alas, the story is a bit of a mishmash, wandering around in an episodic way that isn't necessarily bad but which does seem more than a tad disjointed.

But turn off your brain and turn down the sound (Well, don't turn down the dts HD sound, just don't pay attention to the dialogue) and enjoy this terrific-looking ride through the looking glass as Tim Burton brings you a wild blend of live action, CG, motion capture and just about every other moviemaking technique you can think of.

We'd have preferred if they hadn't rewritten Alice and instead gone with the original story, which is delightful in its own right. Maybe they wanted to make it more "relevant" to a modern audience by growing Alice up somewhat and giving her a life more easily identifiable with for today's young people – growing up, dealing with relationships, the work place, etc. – or maybe they just needed to pad out the Wonderland part with a bit more "real world" stuff to give the movie an adequate running time. Whatever the reason for the change, we wish they'd resisted the temptation.

Still, it's a movie that really should be seen if only for its fabulous look, and we would expect nothing less from Tim Burton than a treat for the eyes.

The Blu-ray does it justice. Our review copy was a three disc set that included the BD, a DVD and a digital copy.

While the film played in 3D in many theaters, the Blu-ray is only 2D and that suits us fine; we think 3D is merely a gimmick and if we were betting people we'd bet it's only a fad and won't become really mainstream no matter how many studios and electronics manufacturers try to push it on the public.

Heck, the most hyped 3D movie of all time – Avatar – looks better in 2D on Blu-ray than it did in 3D IMAX (we didn't see Alice in a 3D theater, so can't comment on it) and if it isn't enough to push the "technology" we don't know what is.

Anyway, Burton's Alice looks great in 2D 1080p (aspect ratio of 1.78:1, which fills the 16x9 widescreen TV beautifully), with a picture perfect picture that pops right off the screen, thanks to its excellent black levels, wonderfully rich colors and an image that exhibits all the fine detail you want and expect from the best Blu-rays.

Alas, when you put the disc in you not only have the usual assortment of Disney previews inflicted on you (and, to be fair, we don't mind Disney's promos as long as we can skip through them if we choose) but, undoubtedly because the caterpillar – ARGGGGH! – SMOKES!, your intelligence is also insulted by an anti-smoking, anti-second hand smoke rant that assumes you're so stupid that you'll run out and get addicted to tobacco immediately upon viewing the film.

There's an anti-piracy spot, too, undoubtedly taking the place of the spot Disney had meant to include thanking you for your business.

The dts HD Master Audio soundtrack is as excellent as the picture, enveloping you with wonder, whether it be the freaky rumbling of the Jabberwocky (wasn't it a Jabberwock in the book?) or the well-attended party in the real world. Your home theater is guaranteed such a good workout its flab will disappear. 

We were surprised to find this to be a rather Spartan disc so far as extras are concerned. Disney usually piles on the extras, but this disc is comparatively extra free. Not that there's nothing in the way of value-added material, mind you, just not as much as we expected, and the stuff is usually not as good. There's no commentary, for example.

You do get a just-shy-of-half-an-hour documentary on the characters, which is actually six featurettes on Alice, the Hatter, Red and White Queens, etc. It isn't much, though. The featurette on the hours-long process of applying Helena Bonham Carter's makeup is okay, but we've seen this type of thing so many times before and this one doesn't really offer anything new.

Making Wonderland is pretty good, but it just whet our appetites for more.  

Is there a Special Edition coming? We wonder; did Alice in Wonderland hit video so quickly they didn't have a chance to come up with a full slate of extras, are they getting cheap, or are consumers getting suckered into shelling out for an extra copy much like was done by another studio with the Lord of the Rings DVD's and Blu-rays?

Time will tell.

Alice in Wonderland, from Walt Disney Home Entertainment,
109 min. 1080p widescreen (1.78:1), dts HD Master Audio
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas
produced by Richard D. Zanuck, Joe Roth, Suzanne Todd and Jennifer Todd,
written by Linda Woolverton, directed by Tim Burton

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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