Saturday, May 2, 2020

Alice (1988)

A young girl named Alice is chilling out at home one day when she sees a mysterious white rabbit come to life, and jump into a chest of drawers after complaining about being late. Alice follows, and finds herself in a weird and eerie land, where nothing is as it seems, and everything is out to get her...

Alice is a mesmerising and unique film, filled with unending creativity. It's a surreal and abstract take on Alice in Wonderland, and takes the material in a darker direction, but not in a bad way. Some modern adaptions of classic fairytales try to be all edgy and make them into grim horror films (or PG equivalents), and often they feel like they're trying too hard, or just don't fit with the source material. Where Alice succeeds is the the darkness doesn't come from any forced additions, but rather [the interpretation of the story to its simplest traits, as though expressed through a nightmare].

The movie is very sparse on dialogue, and what little there is is narrated by Alice herself, in an interesting and strange way (especially if you watch the dubbed version!). It moves from one scene to another with no real overarching plot, just Alice journeying through this strange world, encountering new things along the way. Despite being a full length movie, it's never once boring with a plot as minimal as this, and you're always entertained or enthralled by what you're seeing.

The insane logic and rules (or lack thereof) in Alice in Wonderland works perfectly with this film's dreamlike structure. Alice doesn't really have that much reason to continue going forward but does so anyway, regardless of how hard it'd be to go back. She meets all sorts of threats and dangers along the way, and finds the only sustenance besides breadsticks filled with nails are biscuits that either increase or decrease your size, or those of things around you.Some monsters even try to steal her socks! Can you imagine?!

The location is an interesting part of Alice. Rather than take place in open green pastures, or fantastical locations, the movie is very claustrophobic, and is set entirely indoors, in very real locations. This doesn't feel like a cheap cop-out, but enhances the surreal tone. It feels quite eerie being in such a familiar place but That's what really sells the dream atmosphere I feel. Being somewhere you'd normally be, but lacking a feeling of certainty of safety, where anything could happen and you couldn't stop it.

The climax features a dramatic sham trial, where Alice has an amusing time defending herself (I'm not sure if eating the evidence is the wisest move, but it's certainly the funniest and most effective!). The resolution and lead-in to the ending is pretty abrupt, but in a way that works. It wouldn't really feel in keeping for a dream to have a climactic final showdown. We get enough of an ending to satisfy us, thankfully.

Who the film is suitable for is an interesting question. It could certainly appeal to children in terms of curiosity and wonderment, but it would also terrify any kids who watch it, so perhaps it's best reserved for older ones, rather than sticking it on for your 5 year old. Unless they're a particularly scary 5 year old!

Many of the familiar Wonderland characters show up here in one form or another, though they may be hard to recognise. There's the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, the Caterpillar, and the playing card royalty. Beyond them there are various animals or other creatures,
characters  At times I almost felt bad for some of them when bad things befall = (like Alice tossing them from a ladder, or the rabbit getting his hand caught in a door), but then again they do probably deserve it. They are pretty mean animals! The meanest of all is the Queen of Hearts, who's perhaps the most unchanged character, in that she's psychotically crying for beheadings no matter the version.

The effects in Alice are a high point in more ways than one. The denizens of 'Wonderland' are realised through intricate stop motion, using a mix of taxidermied animals, and everyday objects, to fantastic and offputting effect. Despite their deliberately artificial designs, these creations feel very alive, and you wouldn't wanna be stuck in the same room with them. What I liked best is that it never feels like this is just a hollow special effects showcase. The effects serve the story, rather than the other way around.

There's really only one actress in Alice, and that's Kristýna Kohoutová. She does a very impressive job, carrying the movie well on her shoulders. She also nails Alice's often strange or blase reactions to things. Camilla Power does the English version, and is good at times, though strange in others.

The sound here is very effective. There's very little music, with a creepy silence lending much to the atmosphere. There are lots of ambient noises, from water dripping, boards creaking, rocks clattering, and more. All creature uneasy choruses, and despite not having much scoring, the film is never quiet.

Alice is a fabulous spectacle, and really shows the wonders and terrors that cinema can hold even at its most simple! While other more normal adaptations may be better, no other version of Alice in Wonderland can overtake its dreamlike portrayal. I highly recommend it if you're into Wonderland, morbid films, or artistic stuff in general.

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