Tuesday, December 8, 2009


I'm a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland. I've read the books (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass) multiple times, which is saying a lot. I've watched and own most film adaptations of the story. I've bought video games just because they are based on the character. I've even purchased figurines from the Disney film and Robert Sabuda's amazing pop-up book of the story. I love the story, the characters, and the setting. In short I love everything about those books.

That said I should have hated the new Alice miniseries done by the SyFy (or as I prefer SciFi) Channel. I should have been upset by the fact that the series never really touched on the original story. I should have hated that the characters are so loosely based on the book's characters that the only thing they have in common is the names. The Hatter is not mad, the White Knight doesn't move backwards, and The White Rabbit isn't really a rabbit at all. I should have hated it. But I didn't. Apparently I'm easily seduced.

Similar to SyFy's (back when it was SciFi) Tin Man, while I bristled at the license taken with the characters and story, I found the tone to be spot on. The premise of this story is that Wonderland is run by the Queen and King of Hearts (so far so good). They maintain peace in the kingdom by providing their subjects with liquefied emotions (ummm what?) particularly good emotions. In order to get the emotions, the organization called White Rabbit sneaks through a looking glass into the modern world and steals people, who they call oysters. The oysters are then kept happy while the emotions are drained from them. Alice, following her boyfriend Jack, stumbles into Wonderland in possession of a ring of power. The Queen will stop at nothing to get the ring back. Alice, with the help of Hatter (a street wise hustler character) and the White Knight (who's crazier than "a box of frogs"), set out to save Jack and bring down the Queen's reign. That's the story in a nutshell but there was far more going on.

As expected the setting was incredible. Wonderland's city is an odd mirror of the real world except that most of the action takes place in the buildings or on narrow ledges. The Queen's palace (Hearts Casino) is an elaborate house of cards. The settings themselves are beautiful and over the top. Which is what drew me in. SyFy, both literally and figuratively, gave Wonderland an edge. And not just the edge where the action takes place. It is a beautiful place but also incredibly deadly. The grit of the city and its maze-like buildings made sense to me. The fact that Alice would be guided through this chaotic urban world by a street hustler makes even more sense that way. And I liked the comparison of the urban grit with the polished atmosphere of the casino. The setting really made this for me.

The character of Alice is also a bit different from what you are used to. In this adventure Alice is the major butt kicker. She's a blackbelt in Karate and can easily defend herself physically. What she can't seem to do is defend herself emotionally. She is easily misled and is constantly trusting the wrong person. Her character is afraid of heights (which is never explained) leading to some annoying hysterical scenes. Hatter on the other hand is a much more enjoyable character to watch. He alternates between menacing, cocky, charming, pitiable, and sweet. I was seduced by his understated charm, his puppy-dog loyalty, and his hat tricks. He's a manipulative character but with a solid core. Kathy Bates is a fabulous Queen with just the right amount of anger and self-righteousness. She's vain and over-the-top in just the right way. And to balance all the grit and menace of the others is The White Knight, who is seriously crazy. His constant singing, his useless showmanship, and his wild facial expressions made him seem more like the book's character than anyone else.

The one issue that I had with the series was that the plot tried to do a little too much. It tried to work in characters that shouldn't be there. It tried to add family drama in the form of Alice's father who was dragged into the world decades ago and brainwashed. Most of the scenes with Doctors Dee and Dum were too bizarre, even for Wonderland. Where Tin Man followed one story much more successfully, this miniseries is like a juggler keeping way too many balls in the air.

I'm sure most people will disagree with me on most of this review. Those who really enjoyed it will say that most of those extraneous parts are needed. And those who hate it will say that it was too far from the story to even be considered an Alice in Wonderland adaption. I myself will simply say that I'm infinitely seducible. I went in with a vague curiosity based on images and ended up enjoying it. I won't be rushing out to own this Alice, but I won't turn it down if I find it at a reasonable price. A dark story with some bizarre twists and turns that made for an entertaining, if not over the top, Alice. And a very different take on the story.

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