Thursday, August 20, 2015
I had previously seen Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmajer's short film Jabberwocky, adapted from the Lewis Carroll poem. So I knew what to expect when diving into his Alice, based on Carroll's most famous work. Heavily surreal, impressive stop motion animation, general disregard for plot in favor of image, and that's pretty close to what I got here. I'm not sure how much of a fan I am, but it's undeniably impressive viewing.
The movie is silent for a good portion of its runtime, as the familiarity of the Alice story unfolds when she follows the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole (or down the desk drawers in this case). Alice is the only human character, other than the narrating mouth that shows up annoyingly when anyone talks, adding "Alice said" or "The Queen demanded" or whatever. All the other characters are animated, in stop motion form, from various starting points. The White Rabbit is a taxidermied white rabbit that has come to life, and there are others done this way as well. The King and Queen of Hearts are like living cards, there are dolls for some characters and many other things brought to life through what must've been painstaking and terrific animation by Svankmajer.
The problem, as it always is with Alice, is that there aren't really any characters. There are impressions, dreamlike of many characters, and Svankmajer captures that in his creepy stop motion work. But there's nothing but a set of weird things that happen, and we then move on to another weird set of things that happen, and then it's all over and none of it mattered or meant anything or really makes much of an impression. Honestly, if I'd just read the book instead of seeing the countless adaptations that've been made of it, I would have almost no memory of the story because there really isn't one. It's just kinda weird and dreamlike and then Alice wakes up. I don't find it very engaging. I was hoping that Svankmajer's supremely odd sensibility would bring something new to Alice for me, and while his imagery is certainly new, I simply didn't care.