Written and Directed By: Nick Willing
Staring: Caterina Scorsone, Kathy Bates, Tim Curry, Philip Winchester, Andrew Lee Potts, Matt Frewer, Colm Meaney, Zak Santiago, Alessandro Juliani, Nancy Robertson, Eugene Lipinski, Harry Dean Stanton, Geoff Redknap, and Charlotte Sullivan
The whimsy and pleasure of the Alice we once knew is now replaced by a world we are familiar with but know nothing of. SyFy takes on another momentous task after the triumph of Tin Man and makes a modernized adaptation of the classic tale “Alice In Wonderland”. Not only is Wonderland a dark and oppressed world of people enslaved by addiction and controlled by the Queen Of Hearts, but Alice is now a dark haired strong willed woman in search of answers and discovery. The dark tone this story takes is ominous and very successful in it’s venture.
Alice who finds herself in Wonderland after chasing after her new love, Jack Chase, whom she sees get abducted by two men in suits. She still tumbles through the Looking Glass into Wonderland. Wonderland is not the same place of beauty and whimsical adventures. There the malevolent tyrant the Queen of Hearts reigns a world of cruelty and intolerance. The Queen has been kidnapping people from Alice’s world and extracting their emotions while keeping them in a drugged state. This drama oriented tale puts Alice in the middle of a battle between the Queen and a group resisting her power led by the Caterpillar. Unfortunately for Alice it becomes difficult to figure out who’s lying to her and who’s using her.
Nick Willing is incredibly clever in how he weaves each of the characters from classic literature to suit his empire of cards. The motivations of Alice herself, the characters she meets and connects with on her journey and the very real decisions she is forced to make are exposed exceptionally well to us. They are all there in one form or another, but the main players are the Mad Hatter, The White Knight, The White Rabbit, The Red Queen, The March Hare, and of course The Caterpillar.
The visuals of the film continually surprised me. The green screen was utilized very well and even the moments where some of the effects lacked it was OK, and enough imagination had already been inspired that I felt OK using that part of my brain. There was a true feeling that we’d been whisked into another darker realm, and not just based on special effects, the character costumes were spectacular, and moments where Alice was transformed into a psychedelic world, like Dee and Dums prison, were visual highlights to me.
The intensity of emotions and relationships really caught me by surprise, and though sometimes felt a bit too forced or exaggerated, and at times really killed the pacing, it gave the story a lot more depth than a character just going through the motions and conveying a tale to us. Alice herself had many faults and realistic character moments that made me like her and connect with her, even when I was rolling my eyes and yelling “WHY”!
The beginning is a bit difficult to get past as there is a mass of confusion about who’s who, what the foreshadowing is in relation to, but you are given enough little moments of unveiling and have enoughfamiliarity with old characters to be smart to what Nick Willing feeds you initially. It wets your palate for more understanding, and halfway through Part I it really hits it’s stride.
Many purists will not approve of the liberties Willing has taken with Carroll’s “Alice”, but I was impressed. Alice lacked the panache and financial liberties of what feature films today have, and it made a far better movie by simply utilizing what this kind of book inspired in the first place: Imagination. It took a lot of guts for SyFy to put this out there so close to the release of Burton’s “Alice In Wonderland”, but I think this stands pretty impressively on it’s own. I hope SyFy continues to give Nick Willing more chances to take us to a world we know but don’t. I’m pretty sure I liked this just as much as his “Tin Man”. Excellent original.