Chris versus the Movies: Alice in Wonderland

Posted: March 15, 2010 in Braak, reviews
Tags: , , ,


Okay, let me get this part out of the way first. “Jabberwocky” is the title of a poem about a Jabberwock.  The “-y” suffix is a way of indicating, “Jabberwock[being about it]”, see?

Now, I don’t want you to think that the problems that I had with this movie are little nitpicky things like that, because it’s not the case.  Rather, something like that is symptomatic of what I perceive as being the real problem with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland — namely, did you even read these books at all, Tim Burton?  Or did you just appropriate whatever was nearby and convenient to make an ode to your own aesthetic?

Actually, let me be DOUBLY clear on this.  I don’t have a problem with appropriating characters and ideas and images, at all.  I don’t have a problem reimagining something that we all loved in childhood as a new, kind of adult world.  I think, in fact, that Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, and her equally-surreal adventures through the looking-glass, are uniquely-suited to that kind of reimagining.  Wonderland, after all, is the what the adult world looks like if you are a child and strange childish things make sense to you, but the world and customs of grown-ups are unfamiliar.  If you are a child, for instance: of course rabbits and newts and dodo birds talk and have personalities; adults spend nearly all of their time taking tea, an activity which is conducted according to an incomprehensible set of wholly counter-intuitive rules; the universe is populated by intriguing monsters like March Hares and Mock Turtles; and your entire life is presided over by a boisterous, angry woman that doesn’t do anything but set arbitrary rules and mete out harsh punishments.

Looking at that world, and seeing how it’s changed according to your maturity is, in principle, a fantastic idea.  Appropriating ideas and images from that world is fine, why wouldn’t you do that?  The story is so iconic and so enduring as to make half of the ideas in it fairly common parlance in our language and culture.  As an artist you have a right to extract and address those ideas whenever you like.

What you do NOT have the right to do is to appropriate the ideas and images from Alice in Wonderland to make something stupid, which is basically what happened here.

In a sense, I empathize with the problem that Burton must have faced; he’s trying to make a movie that is adapted from a source in which the main character is basically a passive observer to a panoply of strangeness.  Alice’s adventures are, essentially, a travelogue through Wonderland, and while they’re entertaining and compelling, it’s a little problematic to make a good movie out of them.  Not impossible, of course, it just would have required a certain amount of effort (as much effort as it took to, say, read “Jabberwocky”, maybe).  Instead what we’ve got is a kind of literary short-hand, indicating the existence of a plot, without ever actually producing one:

1) We’d better make her a misfit in British society; let’s have her refuse to wear a corset.

2) The audience needs to sympathize with her desire for freedom; shove her into an arranged marriage.

3) Bad guys need to want to get her; let’s stick in a prophecy about something or other.  Monsters.  Jabberwocky, whatever.

4)  There should be some kind of “character growth”; have her refuse her destiny, and then embrace it.

5)  Her time in Wonderland needs to teach her a lesson.  Uhm, I don’t know.  Break off her engagement, run her dad’s old company.  She can trade with China, or something, I DON’T KNOW, I’M FUCKING BUSY!  Do you have any idea how hard it is to make Helena Bonham Carter’s head look this big in EVERY SCENE?

This is compounded by the fact that I can’t tell if this movie is for adults or not.  Making Alice nineteen instead of six certainly suggests that she’s the kind of character that grown-ups might be interested in, I guess.  But grown-ups might ask troublesome questions like, “How is she nineteen and she doesn’t know that caterpillars turn into butterflies?”  or “Wait, so it was Alice that started the Opium Wars?”

Even if you leave inconvenient details like that aside, the entire story still doesn’t jive.  Does Alice reject social norms or not?  She refuses to wear stockings and a corset, but she doesn’t know if she wants to marry that huge douchebag.  She isn’t sure if she wants to marry him, she needs a minute.  It’s not like, she HATES the society she was forced to live in, but her adventures in Wonderland showed her that she can accept it because there will always be a world of magic and strange adventures for her.  And it’s not like she’s accepted the boring work-a-day world of British manners, but Wonderland teaches her that she doesn’t have to do what’s expected of her, she can go out and kill Jabberwocks if she wants.

No, she starts off kind of confused about what she wants, and then goes to Wonderland and is pretty sure she doesn’t want to kill the Jabberwock (not for any kind of comprehensible reason; if she thinks the whole thing is a dream anyway, why SHOULD she be worried about slaying the Jabberwock? — oh, right, Hero’s fucking Journey.  You can’t be a Hero if you don’t Refuse the Call), but then eventually she does, and then “oh, hey, I guess I don’t want to marry you, whatever, let’s go colonize China.”

It’s not hard to understand what’s going on in the movie, it’s just kind of hard to give a shit.  Mia Wasikowska doesn’t help; at first I thought she was so dull an actress that she kind of dulled everyone else around her, and she was only in it because she’s a step closer to Tim Burton’s platonic ideal of “Skinny Pale Blonde Innocence.”  Now I think the problem is maybe just that no one was ever in the same room as anyone else when they shot any of these scenes.

The part where she fights the Jabberwock was kind of exciting, and by god it should be.  There’s a DRAGON and a SWORD, and Danny Elfman was there with urgent violins and choral voices that swelled at appropriate times, and if that doesn’t capture your interest then I don’t know what will.

Yeah, I think that’s the thing.  Here we go:  in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, every element was there for a very specific reason, to represent an idea, or to illustrate a situation.  In Burton’s movie, the specific reason is, “Because you’ll recognize them.”  This movie has the  laziest story-telling I have ever seen.  There is not a minute of film here that is compelling in any way beyond the visuals.  It is a junk script, a cliched, hackneyed story knocked together from whatever crap Linda Woolverton found lying around the Disney studios, all written in service to Tim Burton’s self-aggrandizement.  “Oh, do you like something that’s neat and weird and strange?  Well, you haven’t seen weird and strange until TIM BURTON DOES IT!  Here, let me put in a crooked door and some weird trees!  Someone get Danny Elfman and his fucking violins!  By god, I’ll show you weird!”

Oh, the visuals.  They were nice.  Burton’s weird door and his messed-up trees were there.  The whole thing made you wish that Burton had been the art director for Disney’s original Alice in Wonderland. The March Hare threw a teacup, which must have looked awesome in 3D, but I saw it in 2D, so it just made the March Hare look really aggressive (which was kind of cool).  The Jabberwock was awesome.  He does look a lot like Fin Fang Foom, but in Burton’s defense, Fin Fang Foom:

looks a lot like the Jabberwock:

I don’t know why they made a movie of this at all, to be honest.  They should have just made an art book that was all of Burton’s designs for it; they could have sold it for twenty bucks a piece, people would have bought that.  The overhead would have been lower, and I wouldn’t have felt like I was wasting my money.

  1. Jeff says:

    This is the first review that really explains the problem with the movie. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s that there’s so little reason for everything. As my wife said while leaving the theater: “I don’t understand why I was supposed to care about any of that.”

    It really did feel like we were being dragged along by the scriptwriter…”And now this happens…and now this…why? Shut up, that’s why!” (Most films shorten this to just “prophecy.” Much quicker and easier to say.)

    I really enjoyed the film all the same. The world was so amazing that just being there was worth my time. But yes, I’m sad that they couldn’t inject a bit more Lewis Carroll craziness into it which, as you note, is NOT just wacky for the sake of wacky. Carroll’s ‘wacky’ always had some logic to it. (Usually too much logic, actually, which is where the craziness comes from.)

    I really loved Alice’s line early on about everyone wearing cod-fish on their heads. THAT’s the kind of weirdness that the original books are all about. Just like painting the white roses red…it’s weird, but it makes sense in a certain way. Like, as you said, to a child.

    I was hoping that they could have come up with more new things that were like that for the film, but they really didn’t. They either just took things from the book or just made up very strange things without much reason behind them. To me, that was the biggest letdown. Logical illogic is tough to pull off. Oh, if only they could have brought Douglas Adams back to life to give the script one last refresh. If there’s a God out there then I sure hope THAT’S a project currently being worked on in heaven.

  2. Carl says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with every single word you’ve written here, no reservations of any kind. (Mark the date!)

    I also saw it in 2D. The fact that many who saw it in 3D seem to have been swayed in its favor, taken with the public embrace of AVATAR (which I also thought was kind of shit in every non-visual regard) has now made me entirely suspicious of movies shot in 3D. Remember a few years back when Hollywood was at its wits-end because the industry was tanking and folks were refusing to pay $14-a-pop to see canned, formulaic, product-placement nonsense? It’s reasonable to assume that one solution has been to keep on making the same crap but give the crap the dazzling veneer of the 1980s– and its worked. I wished I’d seen UP in 3D cause that was a terrific movie. I guess it worked well with THE POLAR EXPRESS. And I didn’t see CORALINE, but I am made to understand that was a decent flick made terrific by the 3D enhancement. But look at some of the other 3D offering of note in the past few years: SPY KIDS 3D: GAME OVER, THE ADVENTURES OF SHARKBOY AND LAVAGIRL, BEOWULF, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, MY BLOODY VALENTINE.

    I saw several of those films and let me say, not good. I watching you, 3D. (Or I mean, I’m NOT watching you. Or sometimes I am. But I am withholding my approval. I am watching you with suspicion. Shut up.)

  3. Jeff Holland says:

    I can only speak for Coraline, where was probably a better balance between things looking fantastical (because it’s all models) and things looking like they occupy a physical place (again, because they’re all models, rather than any CGI to cope with).

    But yeah, it didn’t hurt that Coraline was a good movie first, a 3D movie second. Or that the 3D glasses were straight up Roy Orbison lenses that were comfortable to wear, not the ridiculous 80’s-futuristic yellow triangles passed out for Avatar.

    I also watched the Brendan Fraser “Center of the Earth” on a hotel TV with no special goggles (because I couldn’t sleep and I have a Fraser soft-spot), and that…that needed a little extra 3D kick, for sure.

  4. V.I.P. Referee says:

    Lewis Carroll wasn’t the later J.M. Barrie; “Wonderland” wasn’t just a place of grand adventure, whimsy and quirky characters, it was a reflection of the absurdity and inevitable decay of Victorian society. It was wacky, fun but also slightly sinister and, at times, very somber indeed.

    Queen Victoria had a fixation on “purity” and expected “good society” to follow her example by de-sexualizing (and de-sensitizing) their lifestyles and instead, tailoring everything with celebrated reverence given to the “innocence and purity” of childhood. By the time of “Alice”, Victorian society was a mature dame being dressed in “baby-doll” attire and expected to obey the whims of the Queen like a child is expected to obey her mother; weightier topics, like the essence of real morality and the social responsibility of the upper classes, were perpetually being whitewashed and buried in rose petals and lace; endless parades of ettiquette and structure. It is as early as the beginning of the story, when Alice is going through the usual, daily motions alongside her sister–two primped like china dolls–that we realize how very unlike childhood Queen Victoria’s perception of it really was; by removing individual passion, creativity and freedom, the ability to experience the world around you with a child-like sense of awe and wonder is also removed.

    In “Alice”, we have a central character who is a child, wryly observing the nonsense and unending boredom associated with adulthood in Victorian society–the routines, the endless waiting, waiting, waiting for the next social gathering, waiting for caretakers to complete tasks, the incessant waiting associated with living a life of leisure as a “moral” person of the era, with all the social scripts and expectations that accompanied it–all while attempting to find ways to prepare herself for the time when she must also enter that circle of Hell.

    And how does she do it? By associating in Wonderland with all the fascinating misfits of The Victorian Age; the hedonists, the mad-rush characters of the industrial revolution, the creative thinkers and intellectuals, the hookah smokers. She turns her back on the dull, colorless patterns of “good” and “proper” society, to notice new, more magical patterns in the world around her and starts munching on radical ideas and perspectives, new ways of looking at the social expectations of the world she belongs to, all introduced to her, compliments of the quirky characters of Wonderland. In Wonderland, those that seek to hold this band of madcaps back, are presented as dusty relics of The Old Guard; “good” and “moral” members of Victorian society–with the prim, conservative Queen, herself, being held to task here–translate as characters of violence, intolerance and oppression when viewed from the other side and through The Looking Glass.

    Lots of flash and wild imagery doesn’t quite capture the essence of a story that’s supposed to be, visually speaking, eerie and dreamlike and both amusing and bleak in its social commentary. Bobble-headed characters and acid-trip colorscapes are just a distraction–a fun distraction, perhaps (and one that could be appreciated on those terms alone), but still a distraction from the essence of the story. I know I’ll always be in the minority with this one, but in my opinion, Jonathan Miller’s 1966 version–even with its defects–best captures “Alice in Wonderland” with a sense of what Lewis Carroll had in mind while writing it; playful games in logic and rip-your-hair-out nonsense and ennui.

  5. V.I.P. Referee says:

    …I should’ve written “…a sense of what [I think] Lewis Carroll had in mind while writing it…”

    I didn’t, you know, actually converse with him while he was writing it.

    Yes, that’s the story I’m sticking to. And no, I haven’t been enstrusted to ferry baby clothes from Wonderland into that strange little room in your apartment building. Nothing of the sort.

  6. braak says:

    Yeah, I don’t know about that. She doesn’t seem like she’s any better friends with the Mad Hatter or the Caterpillar than she is with anyone else. I don’t know that there’s anything in the narrative that really suggests that she falls on one side or the other, up until the end. If anything, she certainly doesn’t seem to ostracize the weirdos, because she looks at Wonderland the way a six-year-old does, and from her perspective everything is equally ridiculous.

  7. deb says:

    “Everything is equally ridiculous” — or, maybe, equally normal. Six-year-olds don’t have much grasp of what the world is supposed to be like — only what it SEEMS like to them, yes? So it just IS.

    I just re-read the books before I saw the movie (which I did rather enjoy) and what’s interesting is, 1) how short they are, and 2) how so many of the scenes that have become iconic for us over the years (and for some of us, over more years than that) are really quite brief. Which, I guess, speaks to the power of the images they leave behind as much as anything else.

    For more fun on what Lewis Carroll may ALSO have been up to, check out this link. It will come as little surprise to anyone who is an Alice fan, but it’s worth recalling.

    As to 3-D, while I wouldn’t want every movie filmed in 3-D, and I agree that a good story should come first, I would just like to say that I was bowled over by the technology of it. It’s a far cry from the old red/green cardboard glasses of the 50s and 60s — in fact, it makes those movies look like nothing more than pretty good high definition TV. Of course, as anyone will tell you, I’m easily impressed by things I can’t do myself……

  8. Amanda says:

    I just would like to say that I liked it so much that I saw it twice.

    And just as important to that statement is the fact that I DESPISE 3D, and the fact that I saw it in 3D both times (due to the availability of showings) only hindered my experience because A, it hurts my eyes and B, it blurred the clarity and brightness of the picture. I refuse to see Avatar and I wish they would find some alarming health problem associated with 3D so that 3D movies will go away. One of the main reasons for my hatred is that in my experience when making a 3D movie, people focus more on the 3D-whiz-bang than they do on the characters and story, not to mention they often default to animation when IMO nothing can replace the emotion you see in a real actor’s eyes when they don’t have to say anything at all. 3D is killing the art of writing.

    So. In short, all the above paragraph is saying is that my judgement is not clouded by the fireworks of technology.

    As far as what you wrote goes, I’m not saying it’s not valid, but I just wanted to see a really entertaining and even inspiring story that at least mildly resembled a character that I’ve always identified with. Not to mention I jump to see anything that Johnny Depp puts forth NOT because I think he is attractive, but because I think he is brilliant. So there.

    Yes, if Burton was going to set it in the future, then all of the scenes/symbols should have been different- I mean yes, it’s obvious Tim Burton just wanted to put a more attractive lead actor in the film and that’s why he set it when she’s 19 – in reality it doesn’t make sense that she would do everything exactly the same as she did when she was 4 years old….But in the end I really don’t care. This over-thinking is just way too much effort for something that is nothing more than a piece of fun, entertaining, and yes, inspirational story-telling. I thought it was quite poignant how she is having to make these decisions that will effect the rest of her life and I attributed the Jabberwock as being representational of what she had to overcome. That in itself was very relevant to the twenty-something that I am. So much so that I was willing to overlook the fact that she relived the exact same journey – verbatim – that she had when she was 4 years old. It’s Alice in Wonderland. It’s a fun story. If there’s anything we’ve learned by now from the rash of book-to-film projects like Harry Potter, Twilight, The Lightening Thief, The Notebook, etc. in regards to staying true to the print, it’s that we NEED TO GET OVER our snobbishness and just be happy to get an entertaining movie out of it; otherwise we’re never going to enjoy another movie ever again. Acceptable adaptations rarely happen and frankly, I’m tired of complaining about it. Tim Burton’s specialty is to take well-known characters and present them in a twisted/colorful way. That’s what he does, nothing more. And by now we should all know what we are getting into when we see one of his movies. I was happy that for once his movie was less macabre and even a bit optomistic. Yes, I enjoyed it and I think ALL performances were quite excellent. Including Mia’s. I look forward to seeing more of her in the future.

    Thank you.

  9. braak says:


    In the first place, you mistake regular thinking for over-thinking. What do you mean, “way too much effort”? This is just what happens when I see something. It doesn’t burn calories, it doesn’t require concentration, it’s just my regular brain going at regular speed when I watch a movie. In fact, I’m skeptical that there can be such a thing as “over-thinking.” Statements like that are perilously close to violating Moff’s Law, which I’m loathe to invoke among friends.

    In the second place, I’m not being a snob. I don’t have a problem with the quality or accuracy of the film as an adaptation, I have a problem with the script as written. I don’t have a problem with adaptations at all, I love adaptations. This movie was a trite, by rote script. For god’s sake, Amanda, we even use the phrase “slaying our dragons” as a metaphor for dealing with things that frighten us. Alice doesn’t even have a character, she just has a suite of Disney’s trademark “Characteristics of Rebellious Princesses.”

    Don’t tell me that the only way I can enjoy movies is by not caring whether or not they’re good — it’s that attitude that leaves us with a wealth of movies that aren’t any good. If we don’t ever demand that film-makers make well-written movies, then we will never get well-written movies.

    In the third place, I don’t think that IS Tim Burton’s specialty. I think the best movies that Tim Burton has made (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Nightmare Before Christmas) were actually all original characters and stories. It is, in fact, Burton’s WORST movies (Planet of the Apes, Sleepy Hollow) in which he took well-known characters and presented them in his patented Crooked Door style. What I do know about Tim Burton is that he can’t pick scripts for shit; if he gets a good script, it’s only by complete accident. That’s what I know when I go in to a Tim Burton movie, that there’s basically an even chance that the script will be good or that it will suck. I think this one was a failure.

  10. Amanda says:

    I wasn’t calling you a snob, specifically, as in, attacking you. I said OUR snobbishness because I’ve done the same thing and have seen lots of other people be that way too.

  11. braak says:

    Well, good, because I think my unabashed enjoyment of Speed Racer indicates that I am not, in fact, a snob. Of course, the difference between Alice in Wonderland and Speed Racer is that Speed Racer is a movie based on a stupid cartoon. You can demand that Speed Racer be more intelligent, that’s fine, but the fact of the matter is, there just isn’t that much there to work with. Whatever Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland were, they weren’t stupid.

    Everybody I know who watched Alice in Wonderland and liked it liked it because it made them remember the good parts of the book, or because they saw it as an homage to psychedelic drug culture, or because they projected themselves onto Alice. And how could you not? I can’t blame anyone; the script is so inane that you’d have to invent a better movie in your imagination and then substitute it for the one that you saw.

  12. V.I.P. Referee says:

    Fine, maybe it’s just me projecting that I would’ve enjoyed an afternoon with a den full of rowdy, trouble-making dandies immensely more than tea with Queen Victoria. But “Alice in Wonderland” without significant gothic sensibility and social irony just seems like a bland summary of what Carroll was pulling at.

  13. braak says:

    I’m not disagreeing on the social irony part, just the part that Alice (and, presumably, Carroll) is identifying with one particular group or individual.

    And Burton, to his credit, did at least manage some gothic sensibility there. Those castles looked pretty neat (though both, disturbingly, like the Disney castle itself).

  14. Jeff Holland says:

    @Braak: If Speed Racer had been released in 3D it would have blown out every retina in the theater. We dodged such a bullet.

  15. Gabe Valdez says:

    Having seen Alice in 3D, I can attest that it was a wholly distracting experience. Tim Burton has a terrible habit of alternating between very deep focus shots, that show everything from the twig an inch from the camera to the tree on the distant horizon in crystal clear definition, and very shallow focus shots, wherein Alice is clear as can be and the characters standing a foot behind her are a muddled, out-of-focus mess.

    It was horrendously distracting to find onesself alternated between these two shot styles in rapid succession. In 3D, every time a scene was edited this way (and there were many), it completely broke down what suspension of disbelief I’d mustered up (and I have considerable reserves of suspension of disbelief). In 2D, this tendency in Burton’s filmmaking would have been much, much less distracting.

    All that said, I still enjoyed the film, if only for the little things like Helena Bonham Carter channeling Madeline Kahn and Johnny Depp alternating between his own starring role as the Mad Hatter and Captain Jack Sparrow’s starring role as the Mad Hatter. I also thought Wasikowska was quite good; she did her best with limited material.

    Roger Ebert had an interesting perspective: that Burton really wanted to make a Return of Return to Oz, but couldn’t get the rights.

  16. braak says:

    That’s interesting; I was going to say, but it never made it into the review, that Return to Oz is a really good example of how you can, in an older frame of mind, revisit childhood fantasies and see how they’ve changed. Of course, Return to Oz was based on a story written by L. Frank Baum, but I don’t know that that’s essential. Anyway, I’d be surprised if Burton couldn’t get the rights to it; like Alice in Wonderland, I believe Oz is in the public domain.

    I’m actually kind of curious as to how Burton ended up with this script writer, anyway. Linda Woolverton’s last major success was Beauty and the Beast, which she wrote with contributions from, like, twenty other people. Everything else from her is contributions and one or two episodes of weird cartoon shows.

    How does that work? When you get a contract to do something for Disney, do they just assign you a screenwriter?

  17. Dan Neff says:

    First I should say, while I have some issues with the movie, I have seen it twice already, once in 3d and once in 2d. The 3d doesn’t really do anything for it.

    The original books were written on three different levels: as children’s literature (by someone who felt that children were more intelligent than adults), as an intricate series of logic and math puzzles, and as a rather grim commentary on Victorian society. On that note, there are comments and jokes about death throughout both books, most of them very subtle.

    The thing to keep in mind is that this is not a retelling of those books, this is a sequel to the original Disney movie. A movie which Disney himself hated, by the way. He didn’t feel that Alice would make a good movie but his animators convinced him to do it.

    I think that I agree that, as a whole movie, this doesn’t hold up that well. However, as a series of vignettes, this is really good. At this point Burton is assuming his target audience are 15 to 25 year old goth kids with short attention spans. He spends most of his more recent movies pandering to them. This is even more obvious if you’ve seen “The Corps Bride”. Case in point: Alice goes through no less than six costume changes, so now goth kids have six different ways to dress up like Alice.

    As for appropriating stuff: yes its a good idea, particularly for Carroll stuff, it just lends it self to modification very well. Did Burton do this perfectly? no. Even American McGee’s Alice probably pulled it off better. However, Burton still made an entertaining movie out it, and it is a hell of a lot better and more original than “Avatar”.

    And yes, i think Disney does just assign screenwriters.

  18. Gabe Valdez says:

    I can’t agree that it’s better than Avatar. More original, perhaps, but Burton has real crafting problems at the most basic filmic level. I still enjoy his work, and he can certainly hit a home run in terms of mis en scene and shot composition (as in the first third of Sleepy Hollow), but the rest of the time it feels like he’s either not even trying or he’s aping his B-movie inspiration too harshly. He’s way too uneven to put entire, solid stories together.

    James Cameron’s hardly the master craftsman David Fincher is and he’s certainly not a brave experimentalist like Darren Aronofsky, but I think he’s the best “classic” action movie director around.

    I’d also say American McGee did a better job of appropriation. The negotiation between source material and game mechanics was done well, and the liberties taken (and there were many) always felt part of the place. Much of this was due to his focus that the world was part of Alice’s (broken down) psyche and not a real place in and of itself.

    To me, this was the big mistake of Burton’s Alice: making Wonderland – excuse me, Underland – an independent world means you get to make up whatever rules you like. Whatever liberties you take, Wonderland should always remain a reflection of Alice’s psyche. Every decision made about the shape and logic of that world needs to have a reason tied back to her. That’s what gives Wonderland impact, not the notion that it’s kooky and strange.

  19. beelzebubjones says:

    i quite enjoyed tim burton’s version of alice.

    i think the beauty of lewis carroll’s story of alice and her adventures is that it’s full of puzzles. the idea that the books are a parody of victorian mores, or that it is a child’s view of society are very interesting takes and i’m certain have some validity; but they are most definitely NOT what lewis carroll’s books are “about”.

    at the heart of the story is mathematics. and i don’t believe it was charles dodgson, lewis carroll’s true identity as a conservative mathematician, voicing his dislike of quaternions.

    the story of alice is about how at the time, the study of mathematics was evolving to areas that could not be observed or proven by nature or intuition and even more surprising that there were areas of mathematics that were proving to be inconsistent. inconsistencies are a nightmare to mathematicians. two plus two MUST always equal four, or why bother.

    what mathematicians in lewis carroll’s time were having to deal with were math problems that were illogical, inconsistent; NONSENSE. alice left the world of whole and rational numbers to a world of irrational ones. if you expect to come away from a reading or viewing of alice on her adventures with any “sensible” conclusion; you’re missing the point.

    the cheshire cat says in the book that by standards of dogs he is insane; he growls when he’s happy and his tail wags when he is not. and the white and red queens at odds? no game can be played with one player using chess pieces and another using playing cards. further, whether you call it a jabberwock or jabberwocky is unimportant because it is described with unreal words, it’s actions and their effect on the surrounds are all nonsense. the irony is that the reader seems to understand vividly.

    by standards of nonsense i think tim burton was spot on while in wonderland. alice in the real world was a different story. but no one can blame him for trying to put some sense into the story; even lewis carroll, as charles dodgson the mathematician and his contemporaries were uneasy about all the nonsense. in the end, godel came up with the answer.

    godel’s incompleteness theorem. basically if you want consistency you cannot have completeness and conversely if you want completeness it will not be consistent.

  20. braak says:

    Well, I think my problem with Tim Burton’s nonsense is one of quality. Where Carroll provided a thoughtful, carefully-crafted nonsense–an idea constructed with its own internal sense, but which was at odds with the principle sense of the reader–what we got with Burton (really, with Woolverton’s screenplay) was an attempt at regular sense that just had a bunch of things that didn’t go anywhere. It’s structured around a pretty straightforward Hero’s Journey, with a Good King/Bad King problem that needs solving, and none of that explains why Alice, at 18, doesn’t know that caterpillars turn into butterflies, or what the purpose of the animosity between the Hatter and the Cheshire cat is.

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