Follow us on

Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Alice in Wonderland

May 27th, 2010

Alice in Wonderland - Buy from Amazon: DVD, or Blu-ray, or Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy Combo Pack, or Combo Pack Gift Set

It appears that this weekend Alice in Wonderland will cross the $1 billion milestone at the worldwide box office making it just the sixth film to do so. It set a number of box office records during its run, including biggest weekend in March, biggest single day in March, etc. Granted, a lot of this was earned on 3D screens with all of the extra money that brings in, but this is still a huge amount of money. That said, not every movie that makes a bundle at the box office is worthy of its success, so how well can Alice in Wonderland fare in this regard?

We first meet Alice Kingsleigh when she is six years old and interrupts one of her father's business meetings complaining about her recurring dreams of Wonderland. We then flash forward more than a dozen years later. Her father has passed away and her mother is berating her for her unconventional way of thinking, which is a trait she inherited from her father. She is traveling with her mother to the home of Lord Ascot, who is about to buy her late father's company. She also learns she is there because Lord Ascot's son, Hamish, is going to ask for her hand in marriage, something she has no interest in. When he does propose, she instead runs off to chase a rabbit that is wearing a waistcoat that she has seen throughout the day. When she chases him down, she falls down the rabbit hole and to Wonderland, which she assumes is merely a dream.

It's not. But it has been 10 years since she last traveled to Wonderland, or Underland, as it is properly called, and things are not as they once were. Everyone was always a little mad, but now the Red Queen has taken over and is ruling with an iron fist (head?). But the White Queen has allies who are trying to bring down her sister's reign by searching for the true Alice. That's why the White Rabbit was in Alice's world; he was looking for the one true Alice. Now with the help of The Mad Hatter and other assorted crazies, Alice must find the Vorpal sword and slay the Jabberwocky and thus break the Red Queen's hold over Underland.

Currently, Alice in Wonderland's Tomatometer Score is almost exactly 50% positive, and it is hard to argue with that. For everything that works, there seems to be something that doesn't. First of all, the film is visually wonderful; I don't think even the harshest critics are going to say the film is dull to look at. On the other hand, at times the visuals seem oppressive, like Tim Burton is figuratively shouting in a megaphone, "You will be amazed!" It's bigger than it needs to be at times, including the early chase scene and the final battle at the end. Even Alice's fall down the rabbit hole takes too long and, by trying to go bigger, fails.

Dividing the script up into characters and plot, we again find equal parts good and bad. Granted, Johnny Depp's performance as The Mad Hatter is fascinating, but it is also strangely shallow. We get introduced to a wide array of strange characters, but almost none of them are developed enough to have motivations, histories, etc. that are intriguing. Likewise, we are introduced to world that is not as real as it should be in terms of history. I understand this may seem contrary, considering the books are very nonsensical. However, Tim Burton and his screenwriter, Linda Woolverton, tried to create a lot more conventional story using the characters and some of the situations from the two books. I think it would have been better to choose one extreme or the other and since the books were very episodic, they needed to spend more time grounding the characters. While there were some very good performances in this movie, in the end I wasn't emotionally invested in the characters enough to be drawn into the film as much as I should have been.

I only have the Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy Combo Pack, but since it comes with the DVD and the , or Blu-ray, it should be pretty easy to figure out the extras on each version. The DVD found in the combo pack have just three extras, starting with a five-and-a-half-minute long featurette on creating the movie focusing on the casting Mia Wasikowska as Alice. There is a six-minute featurette on Johnny Depp's portrayal as the Mad Hatter. Finally, there's Effecting Wonderland, a seven-minute featurette on the extensive visual effects.

The Blu-ray has these three featurettes, plus a few more under two headings. Wonderland Characters has Finding Alice and The Mad Hatter from above, plus The Futterwacken Dance. This three-and-a-half-minute long featurette is about the dance the Mad Hatter does after the climatic battle, but while the featurette treats it as something impressive, my response to this was, "Huh." Not, "Huh?" but simply, "Huh." When the dance is a mix of real and CG, it seems fairly unimportant what the mix is. If it was 100% CG, my impression would not have changed. There is a six-minute featurette on the Red Queen called The Red Queen. They talk about the make-up job in the movie, and there's a time-lapse look at the actual process with three-hour ordeal sped up to just under 3 minutes. Finally, there's The White Queen. The other section is Making Wonderland, and it has all of the making-of featurettes starting with Scoring Wonderland, which is on Danny Elfman's score. Effecting Wonderland is ported over from the DVD. The Stunts of Wonderland is a short look at the numerous stunts. Making the Proper Size runs just over 2 minutes and it's about the trouble dealing with characters of various sizes. Cakes of Wonderland deals with the cakes, hence the name. Obviously this is not a long featurette. Finally there's Tea Party Props. In total, there are nearly 50 minutes of featurettes, compared to 20 minutes on the DVD. Granted, none of these extras push the technical limits, but at least they are presented in High Definition.

Looking at the film's technical presentation and I'm suitably impressed. This is one of the best looking live-action films I've seen on High Definition. Although calling it "Live-Action" is not strictly accurate. Colors pop, where appropriate (some of the movie has a Post Apocalyptic feel to it and the colors in these scenes are more muted). Everything is crisp and clean and the black levels are fantastic. As for the audio, the dialogue is clear, the bass levels are strong, and the surround speakers are given a workout. Everything you could ask for.

The final note is the price. The DVD is downright cheap at a mere $16 on, but the short list of extras suggests is better as a rental. The Blu-ray only costs 25% more, and with the additional extras and the technical presentation, it is absolutely worth the extra money. The Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy Combo Pack again costs 25% more and is a bargain if you are looking for copy of the movie on High Definition for the main room and one on DVD for the kids' room and another Digital Copy for road trips. As for the Combo Pack Gift Set... this Amazon exclusive costs $85. Ouch. That's a lot of money.

The Verdict

Alice in Wonderland is based on one of the most famous stories of the past 200 years. Tim Burton certainly puts his stamp on the movie, but the result is mixed. Enough works that I can recommend watching the movie, while the Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy Combo Pack is good value for the money. That said, it is not a fully satisfying movie to watch while the extras do not do enough to push the technology. Finally, I'm a little worried about a 3D special edition coming out sooner rather than later and that complicates the situation. Unless you think that this movie needs to be seen in 3D or not at all, and unless you are determined to be one of the first to have a 3D home theater system, then I don't recommend waiting for the latter. I would recommend purchasing, but I can't be too enthusiastic about that.

- Submitted by:

Filed under: Video Review, Alice in Wonderland