Is three better than two?

By Elise Lundstrom
ArtsPost staff writer

Alice

The world of Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland"

To 3-D or not to 3-D? That was the question when I was on my way to see Disney and Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” over spring break this spring.  I had seen “Avatar” in 3-D and been dazzled by the clarity and the believable space James Cameron and his team had produced.  Could Disney really match that? Did I want to wear those glasses, even if it was only for 108 minutes? The answer to the latter was no.

But after seeing it in 2-D, I was left doubting.  Were the little blurs of images I detected gone in the 3-D version?   Did the smoke Absolum blew from his opium pipe billow out into the audience when the glasses were donned? These were questions I needed answered.

Tim Burton brought his signature dark-bordering-on-creepy touch to the much idolized subject of Lewis Carroll’s story of Alice.  Though the movie is titled “Alice in Wonderland,” the story comes from Carroll’s “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” the second installment in the story of Alice Kingsley.  “Alice in Wonderland” is referenced briefly throughout the story as Alice struggles with accepting that what she thought were bad dreams are actually memories of her first experience in Underland. Burton was an excellent choice to bring out all of the more twisted aspects of Carroll’s story.

Little known actress Mia Wasikowska was wonderful as Alice, playing her as a sweet but progressive in her ideas and smart as a tack.  Her accent was lyrical and a pleasure to listen to, and that, along with her iridescent pale skin, made her entrancing to watch.

Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway played the two queens, red and white.  They played to their strengths, Carter as the fiery tyrant and Hathaway as the beloved sovereign. The supporting cast, including on-screen actors and voice contributions, made the experience come alive.  Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry and Crispin Glover shone in their respective roles.

Opposite Wasikowska, Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter was up to many of his usual tricks: the funny walk and head tilts of Captain Jack Sparrow, the smile, voice and far off look of Willy Wonka. That being said, he did it all masterfully.  His deep Scottish brogue when he tells the tale of the Jabberwocky made the audience smile with pleasure and shiver with dread simultaneously.  Depp’s Hatter was endearing and frightening, and every moment was worth watching. His niche character continues to work wonders.

The story of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass” are well known to most if not all of America through the books, numerous television adaptations and the iconic 1951 Disney animated film. Thus, the storyline was not going to be a surprise to anyone, and Disney did not take any liberties with the plot.  How they kept us interested, waiting for the next scene, was with the special effects.

The fabulous world of Underland, conceived out of Carroll and Burton’s eccentric minds, is translated beautifully onto the screen.  The fantasy plants and animals are a far cry from the 1951 Disney animated version.  The two queen’s castles, in their respective glory, stand in the landscape as monuments to dreams of little girls everywhere. The desolate areas destroyed by the Queen of Hearts leave you with chills.  The characters, including weeble-wobble Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum played by Matt Lucas, lurching Stayne played by Glover, and the “globe” headed Queen of Hearts are all created by CGI, computer-generated-imagery, but they look as real as Alice.

Now on to the real question: “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” Oh no, I’m sorry, excuse me: what was the difference between 2-D Alice and 3-D Alice?

After digesting the 2-D version of “Alice in Wonderland,” I decided that I had to see it in 3-D to see if there was any difference in clarity or brilliance of the special effects. So I paid my fee for the 3-D glasses and got ready for the show.

While the difference was not immense, the forest did look deeper, the room of doors more imposing and the Jabberwocky a bit more fierce.  The blurry scenes of the 2-D were now clear and steady and much more life-like. When Alice is running through the landscape between the Red and White castles, it was much clearer what she was running past in 3-D.

The only disappointing character was the Jabberwocky.  It was not nearly as terrible and frightening as the Hatter’s poem described.  It looked like something out of a claymation fairy tale. Even the 3-D and the bellowing voice of acclaimed actor Christopher Lee could not save it.  That scene was the most frustrating of the entire film.  It seemed like an afterthought, like Burton put more effort into the Bandersnatch’s hut than the epic final battle to save Underland.

The difference of 3-D is never that things jump out of the frame into your face, though we all want that to happen because of the way 3-D is advertised.  The Jabberwoky’s tail did not come within inches of my nose. However, it did complement the creative style of Burton and the fantastical world he created.  To truly experience falling down the rabbit hole, it is worth the extra fee and the cumbersome glasses. My only real disappointment was that the Blue Caterpillar’s smoke did not billow out into my lap.