ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
Directed By: James Bobin
Screenplay By: Linda Woolverton
Produced By: Tim Burton, Joe Roth, Suzanne & Jennifer Todd
Premiered On: May 27, 2016
Distribution By: Walt Disney Motion Pictures
Well… I just… Hrmm… For once, I find myself at wit’s end, pun not intended my dear readers. For while there were many elements of this film that I enjoyed, I cannot in good conscience say that there wasn’t just as many, if not more, that I abhorred. I suppose, for this film’s review at least, I’ll take a slightly different approach in that I will focus on the elements of the film that I disliked and those that I heartily approve of. As always with recent films, there will be SPOILERS ahead so read this entry at your own discretion.
First though, as always, the basic summary of the film goes that Alice returns to Underland and finds that the Mad Hatter has become even more mad than usual and is, quite literally, dying to find out whether or not his family had survived the attack of the Jabberwocky all those years ago. In a bid to help her dear friend, Alice goes to Time himself and, rather unknowingly, starts a chain reaction that means the destruction of all life as we know it…
That having been said, let me get the grit out of the way first. First and foremost, you see the dress that Alice is wearing? The one in the above poster? The first time I had seen it, I had thought that it was a purely Wonderland dress, one that had perhaps been made for her by the Hatter or one of his kin.
That dress is a gift that Alice had been given when she had received audience with an Empress in China. I just… Alice, sweetie, I’m not one to question your sensibilities none but for pity’s sake did you not once entertain the idea that the nation you were visiting was playing “make foreigner an outright fool of themselves” trick? I’m no fashion expert by any means but I’m a hundred and ten percent certain that many a fashion designer in China, past and present, felt the need to smack someone.
Speaking of Alice’s attire, for whatever reason, the film had it that when she’s on her father’s boat she dress as much like a man as possible. That is to say that she wears men’s clothing which, to be fair, is sensible whilst on a ship but for one problem.
She was not shown as being anything even remotely resembling a shipmate of the crew of her father’s ship let alone serving as captain. Admittedly, there might have been something might have occurred to the captain that put Alice in charge of the ship but it’s never outright stated. Worst of all, at the film’s ending when she boards the ship again she actually goes and trims her hair. I swear to god, it’s like a weird, rendition of Mulan or something here.
I mean… Oh, how do I explain this without sounding sexist? Alright, alright, hear me out here. Women, for as awesome and inspiring as they have been shown to be in fact and in fiction alike on the high seas, were generally not welcome or allowed to do much on ships. Aside from ye olde seamen’s superstitions, Alice’s country was generally male dominated and would not have likened the idea of a woman serving on a ship, never mind one that went involved in trading goods.
I could see Alice having cut her hair as a means of lessening the flack she’s had to deal with on her ship and with her crew in the film’s beginning, showing off the fact that time has worn her down and she’s lost some of the spark that she once had at the beginning of the journey, but doing it after the events of the film?
It makes her whole journey of self-righteousness seem nonexistent is all that I’m saying.
Speaking of time, not the person quite yet but in general, I admit that when I found out that this was to be another time traveling film, I utilized a lot of words that are not fit for pleasant company. For though there are a few time traveling stories that I have enjoyed, there are far too many to count that have left a sour feeling in my heart and absolutely agonizing ache in my head.
Yet… this film surprised me. One of the many key elements in most time travelling films is the unavoidable events. Fate or destiny, whichever you prefer, are forever set in stone and what has been must always be. Back to the Future was one of the few films that entertained the notion that time is not only fluid, it’s pretty chaotic with the slightest of changes having untold consequences in the future. Those films that adhere to the notion of changing the past being next to impossible, like the recent take on H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine however…
They beat it into a person’s head over and over and over again with the hero trying to change the past despite the obvious proof that it cannot be changed. Alice has a similar circumstance happen to her but rather than deny the facts, she goes on to what she originally set out to do. Mind you all she wants to do is find out what became of the Hatter’s family and could easily have been solved had certain events not transpired but that’s neither here nor there.
Contrary to what I presumed this film to be with all the timey-whimey and what have you, this film is more of an… origin story or two. It answers a few questions about a few of the characters, like how did the Mad Hatter and the March Hare offend Time enough for him to imprison them at the Hare’s tea party table until Alice’s return. Or how the Red Queen’s head got so frightfully large in the first place and where her feud with her sister comes from.
What it does not answer however is how the heck she got the Jabberwocky on her side, where in the world she found the Card Soldiers and got them to work for her, how she got herself a newer, and frankly rather disgusting, new tree/bug/thorny vine castle thing complete with fruit/vegetable people to work as servants and guards.
And that’s just on the Red Queen herself! As fun as it is to see a young Mad Hatter it is just another rendition of a character played by Johnny Depp having daddy issues. Seriously that makes it… three now? Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka, Mad Hatter… Anyway, for as much as we see of him and the Red Queen, why couldn’t we see more of the others? We see the Cheshire Cat practicing his invisibility but we get next to no bloody idea how or why he can even do that and if there are other felines who can!
More to the point, let’s get some kind of backstory on the Jabberwocky why don’t we? Remember that sole line of his? “So my old foe, we meet on the battlefield once again!” Couldn’t we see where this dynamic came from? At least a tiny bit? I understand that Sir Christopher Lee has sadly departed from this world along with the brilliance that is Alan Rickman but c’mon you guys give us a bone here.
All that said… there are plenty of things in this film that I loved. Time, for as much as I thought I’d initially dislike him, proved himself to be quite the interesting individual even by Wonderland standards. His performance is truly award worthy and truly shows off the complex nature of what is, quite literally, a personification of Time himself.
His palace and how one gets there is also quite an amazing sight to behold. Say what you will of the sheer abundance of special effects made in this film, they went above and beyond when it comes to the Palace of Time and those whom reside there. Specifically, Time’s “Seconds,” which are steampunk-styled little machines that can combine themselves into larger “Minutemen” and can combine themselves again into the larger and more powerful “Final Hour.”
Puns galore but darn it if the gear doesn’t fit…
On the note of time, the concept of time travel in this film is frankly without comparison to any other I’ve seen before. Most instances of time travel involve an instantaneous movement or, at the least, a brief travel through an otherworldly void. This variation takes the phrase “traversing the oceans of time” in its most literal of context with Alice having to steer her “ship” to find the one particular “wave/moment” that she’s looking for.
Though their moments were brief, I liked seeing the younger versions of the characters, particularly Cheshire because dang it, grinning cat is adorable enough but grinning kitten can break event the coldest of hearts. What I did not expect though was how much I liked seeing the kid and teenaged versions of the White and Red Queens. Though only mere glimpses, we see quite a lot of how the two of them feel for each other, especially in the case of the Red Queen.
Plus, there’s nothing funnier than seeing a young, though still quite mad, Hatter proclaiming Alice to be, and I quote, “quite bonkers.”
Last but not least, is the climatic moment in the film. That being when time in all of Wonderland comes to an end. Now, I have seen my fair share of “end of the world” scenarios in fiction. The sky tearing itself asunder as the oceans boils and the earth ruptures… Demons ascended upwards from the burning plains of Hell whilst angels descend from the ivory towers of Heaven… When it was mentioned that time would cease to be, I had wondered just how it would be portrayed. For a good while, I expected it to be another pun in that time would be “frozen” in every sense of the word.
I was wrong.
Oh was I wrong…
Time does not end with stillness or with ice. It ends with rust. Now, that might not sound that frightening to you but just imagine it for a moment. The oceans turning solid beneath a crimson tide, the very air hardening into an unyielding metal, the sky and the clouds stiffening, and the people becoming as statues, forever frozen because time simply does not exist. Past, present, and future… the whole of Creation has stopped.
Overall I give Alice Through the Looking Glass… Four out of five stars. I can’t say that I disliked this film despite leaving me with more questions than answers. Yet, I can’t also say that I adore this film either for as great as the visuals are. One major complaint I have heard from critics is that this film is nothing like its source material. Considering that this film is a sequel to a film that is otherwise unique unto itself, I honestly don’t see the problem here.
Films that are based on something, be they games, books, or even other films need not be carbon copies of the originals. There’s no fun in having the story retold in a different medium, not really. Elements should be there, intrinsic parts of what made the original so beloved but new elements should be tossed in too, to make this an entirely new story and something to be treasured not for the similarities but for its differences.