After much debate, I think I like the flying flamingo hovercrafts the best.
Syfy’s Alice, debuting Sunday night, is the first of two major Alice in Wonderland reboots slated to arrive over the next few months. Tim Burton’s big-screen version is poised for a March 5 release, and looking at all of the posters for his adaptation – knowing his preference to create entirely new realities – I tend to think his Alice will be more of a road trip through a grotesque countryside. I could be wrong, but I bet he will be more interested in the “wonderland” aspect of it all.
By contrast, this weekend’s Alice is much more about tweaking and redefining the characters, often in scenes that play out deep in the bowels of a perverse casino (read our interview with Alice herself, Caterina Scorsone). Writer-director Nick Willing has set out to create a more pointed, live-action vision of Lewis Carroll’s far-flung story, and a large part of the fun here is getting lost in his peculiar remix. Alice is no longer a little girl who falls down the rabbit hole, but a seriously confused grown woman who goes running after her would-be lover – the same guy she kicked out of her apartment when he proposed marriage – and falls through the looking glass. There’s a Mad Hatter here, but he’s less a mad tea party host than a rough and tough bodyguard who Alice starts to fall in love with (yes, there’s even a love triangle in this thing!) We have pink flamingos that are really flying jet skis. The Jabberwock is more flying dinosaur. The white rabbit has mutated into something downright terrifying here – an assassin who sports a porcelain rabbit head (and speaks with one hell of a creepy, robotic voice). The Queen of Hearts, as played by Kathy Bates, is as vicious and merciless as ever, but she has an interesting new repartee with her husband, played by Colm Meaney , who sports a tux and bow tie and succeeds in tempering his wife’s anger.
(More on Techland: SyFy’s Alice: Wonderland 2.0)
And then there are all the various additions to the original story – most notably the hand guns and the buckets of ammunition. We have white knights – a nice reference to another Carroll story – who lead an assault on the Queen of the Hearts. The Queen’s kingdom is housed almost entirely within a casino, where abducted humans from above ground are glued to the floor and propped up in a comatose state. As these “oysters” play their games, their emotions are sucked out, in an elaboration operation that is being overseen by Alice’s long lost father. The most sordid addition to the text involves the wife of the Queen’s son – basically a prostitute who has been put in her position by the Queen herself, to serve as a spy on the heir.
Some of these additions work and some don’t – the stuff with Alice’s dad is a little flimsy, and there’s a little too much of the confused White Knight – but what’s consistent about Syfy’s “Alice” is Willing’s unflinching desire to scramble it all up. Purists will surely hate what he’s done, but for the rest of us, what’s most memorable about this whole endeavor is the lengths to which he goes in paying homage to Carroll’s canon and exaggerating the themes of this particular story. Willing conceives of entirely new ways to depict Alice’s frazzled conscience and this world’s creepy power structure. He injects new romantic subplots, extends the ranks of the royal family so he can examine its dysfunction, and offers up some genuinely ominous commentary about the pacified masses being milked by those in control.
The result is an Alice that feels familiar yet starkly different – a fantasy world down below that has quite a few things to say about the real world up above. There’s no denying that Alice has put it all on the line. And even when it comes to those who may not think that the whole thing gels perfectly, Alice’s unhinged creativity is bound to at least earn their respect.
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