By Nisha Susan
IMAGINE CASTING Shah Rukh Khan at his presumably extravagant rate, giving him prime billing and then using him for just a minute in your film. Filmmakers would find this illogical but rarely apply this thrift in the adapting of literary properties. So you have Arthur Conan Doyle, prince of the wicked plot, sidestepped to create a 2010 Holmes movie without any surprises. Or Alice Sebold’s Lovely Bones, a book largely about the inner life of a young girl, turned into a supernatural thriller. Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland,unfortunately joins these ranks. If it’s not broke, why must you mend it, O filmmaker?
Burton’s beautiful, eerie visual style and his taste for absurdity should have been a perfect match. So too would have been his off-kilter loves Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. But then there is the Disney machine. You might as well watch High School Musical.
Nineteen-year-old Alice is troubled by memories of a white rabbit. Alice (Wasikowska) is about to be married to a Victorian suitable boy and feels like she does not fit into polite society. What better moment to fall down a dizzy hole and discover her self?
A book memorable for its surreal imagery is ironed into an adventure film packed with chases, spills and over-sized animals — one of which Alice is destined to kill. Alas, poor, out-of-context Jabberwock. Alas, poor Hatter as well. For a while it seemed like Depp had decided to play it camp with large, not at all unwelcome whiffs of gay designer. But then there’s the super-subtle romance that develops unseasonably between Alice and him. Helena Bonham Carter plays Queen of Hearts with glorious lunacy. The movie insists on explaining her madness as arising out of a body-image crisis, its intended audience being the global teenager.
Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end whereupon Alice emerges from the hole and convinces her father’s business partner to extend the empire to China. He looks admiring while you gag. Alice once said: “What is the use of a book, without pictures or conversations?” Or apparently, without a paean to capitalism.