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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Alice [Blu-ray]

 

(Nick Willing, 2009)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Studio Eight & Reunion Pictures for SyFy TV

Blu-ray: LionsGate

 

Disc:

Region: 'A' ('B' + 'C' untested)

Runtime: 1:45:34.578 + 1:18:50.434

Disc Size: 42,455,294,056 bytes

Feature Size: 42,121,267,200 bytes

Video Bitrate: 24.99 Mbps

Chapters: 32

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: March 2nd, 2010

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 3556 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3556 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps
 

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), English, Spanish, none

 

Extras:

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Nick Willing and Leading Lady Caterina Scorsone

 

 

The Film: 6
I can't remember when I have taken such an instant and unyielding dislike to an actor's characterization. Twenty-eight year old Canadian Caterina Scorsone may only be following the guidance of her writer and director, Nick Willing, (in the commentary Nick makes it quite clear that he didn't want his Alice to be "passive" as he feels she is in Carroll's book) but I feel she overstates the case for the alternate view. Her models seem to be Sarah Michelle's Buffy and Eliza Dushku's Faith, except that she lacks the necessary charm or wit or sass. Her Alice certainly doesn't lack for attitude – a contrived faux-feminist stance that finds fault with everything and everyone.

The director wants us to take this as part of Alice's psychology, having been abandoned by her father at a formative age. But the actress still has to convince us (alright, convince me) of its reality – that she is Alice, and not merely acting the part. There were times when I felt Caterina was still in rehearsal, where mannerisms stand in for true feeling. Watch how she stands, especially once she hits Wonderland – diagonally, like she's bruisin' for a fight – all the time, with no let up. I found her very fatiguing to watch. I exaggerate, but not by much. Truth is Caterina has her moments of tenderness, vulnerability, even a flash of humor, mostly in our world, but once she hits Wonderland she is a real pain in the ass. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

But these things pale into insignificance compared to her Alice's lack of imagination. When she tells Wonderlanders her name, everyone asks: "THE Alice? – The Alice of Legend?" I can understand her resistance to wanting to be taken for someone who might be imposed upon to rescue the country from the terrors of the mad Queen of Hearts but she doesn't seem to have a clue as to what they're talking about. Yes, she has heard of some children's book or other blah-blah-blah but she has no conception of its contents or its characters whom she continually bumps into. Mind you, this Alice isn't na´ve or ignorant, she’s just stupid – in the sense that she has no imagination. Carroll's Alice may have been "passive" but at least she had Curiosity – in spades, you might say. So what is the new Alice doing in Wonderland, you may well ask? Let's go back a bit:

Alice, whose age, by the way, is up for grabs, lives with her mother. Alice thinks she is 20. "When did your father leave home?" she is asked. "When I was ten." “How long ago was that?" "Ten years." But her mother thinks she is quite a bit older, else why would she complain that Alice quickly finds fault with every guy she herself brings home for dinner. Anyhow, Caterina looks more like 30 than 20. (She was 27 or 28 during filming.)

Moving right along: Alice works as a martial arts teacher – another thing Caterina's unconvincing at – and wants to bring Jack home to meet mom. She thinks maybe he's the one. (I told you she was older.) Jack (Philip Winchester) oozes a believable brand of charm and the couple are making their way to first base when Jack receives a text message on his cell, after which he loses his grip on propriety and proportion: "How would you like to meet my family?" he asks urgently – followed quickly with an attempt to present her with a family heirloom, a curious ring that he just happens to have in his pocket. (It's the urgent part that sounds alarms for poor Alice who, ever since her father vanished when she was a kid, doesn't give men much wiggle room.)

Alice calls it quits on the spot. (She says "I think we should slow down" or words to that effect, but we boys all know what that means.) Jack leaves. Alice finds he left the ring behind. We're not having any of this, she thinks, and tails after him only to see him being dragged off by a couple of thugs. Cutting to the chase, Alice gives pursuit, only to end up accidentally falling into a large mirror. It's at this point that the movie gets its first of two launches into warp drive, and before long Alice is trapped inside a box, airborne for some uncharted land. There is some serious magic at work here – I mean on the part of Willing and his crew – especially for some extended piece for the SyFy network. The characters, many derived from Lewis Carroll, are not merely updated, but reconceived, more like a sequel in a fairly original way, even if the plot borrows some from Monsters, Inc.

 


The idea is that the Queen has a standing order for some while now that people from our world are kidnapped and brought through the Looking Glass into Wonderland to be mined for their emotions, which are, in turn, the principal currency thereabouts. More importantly, perhaps, with these elixirs, the Queen can control her subjects by diverting them with a series of instant gratifications. The queen and others who can afford it are always on the lookout for the next and most exotic emotion – and it takes more than a few "oysters" as they so cleverly refer to us to make enough distilled spirits for a marketable product. The ring, we learn soon enough, is the key that controls the mirror, and thus the Queen's power.

By this time, Alice sees Jack as a victim, rather than a stalker, and sets about trying to rescue him with the help, more or less, of Hatter (Andrew-Lee Potts, who, for my money, never quite gets a handle on his character – unlike Caterina, who is too certain about hers.) Hatter is not so much mad as he is a con artist. We have trouble trusting him entirely, as does Alice. In fairly quick succession Alice meets and often falls prey to one character after another. Among them, Dodo (Tim Curry) – forget Disney and Ice Age, this guy's a major player, not merely a band leader - the Carpenter (Timothy Webber), the Queen (Kathy Bates), the King of Hearts (Colm Meany), the White Rabbit (Alan Gray), Caterpillar (Harry Dean Stanton) and, for our second kick of warp drive: the White Knight, played by Matt Frewer in what could be the performance of his career, Max Headroom notwithstanding. (Listening to the commentary, we learn that both Nick and Caterina were completely bowled over by him. I mean, really.)

For my money, despite my feeling about Caterina, the show is worth watching just for Matt. By turns he is Don Quixote, imagining adversaries, and the Cowardly Lion, with a sense of person, place, fate, and guilt that is positively heartbreaking. And he's funny. In short, Frewer is everything Caterina is not, and when the two of them are in the same frame, which is often enough, the discrepancy is so great as to lend an unintended pathos to the proceedings.

 

Image: 9/9   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

The image on this AVC encode can be quite stunning at times, especially in the exotic interiors of Wonderland with its sparkling color and light. I solid bit bate yields sharpness, detail and dimensionality that are first rate, and are only moved down a peg or two when mattes and CGI lend a hand, as in all those outdoors shots where buildings suddenly give way to bottomless chasms and gauzy views of the fjord. But most often fabrics, faces, even the trees of the forest have a lifelike appearance in respect to both texture and color without a hint of noise reduction, edge enhancement or other potentially troublesome transfer mishaps. As expected for a movie of such recent vintage, the print is spotless.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 9/8
The musical design is inextricably a part of the entire soundscape. In its default DTS-HD MA there are some wonderfully gooey bass throbs when Alice is under the spell of Doctors Dee & Dum. Forest noises are subtly reproduced. Dialogue is clear and appropriately larger than it might be in a straight drama or comedy. Surrounds come alive in Wonderland with mostly accurate pans and locational cues. A superb audio mix.

 

Operations: 2
There is one operational mistake that could lead to our missing out on the one extra feature this Blu-ray has to offer. I don't know about you, but I no longer initially go to the Set-Up window but rather launch directly into the film, checking my audio on the fly, as it were. If I want to know about the extra features I can do that either before the start of things or along the way, but if you do this you will lose out on the commentary, which is not indicated in the Extra Features but only in the Set-up under Audio. Worse still, there is no indication of a commentary on the cover, so you might not have known it was there at all. Not so much an Easter Egg as a Dodo Egg?

 


The cover is misleading in that it lists Tim Curry as one of the three actors placed above the title. He's in it, certainly, and has a couple of scenes (in which he is, of course, wonderful), but he's hardly the number 2 or 3 character. I can understand the inclusion of Kathy Bates, since you will want to have at least one recognizable name, and she is, after all, the Queen of Hearts, but Andrew Lee Potts as the Hatter or Matt Frewer as the White Knight should be up there.

 

Extras: 3
There are no featurettes or documentaries, but there is a running commentary with Writer/Director Nick Willing and Leading Lady Caterina Scorsone. You might not think these two could fill up a full three hours with a whole lot more than reminiscences but they do. Taking the lead is Nick whose English is a delight to listen to. He takes us through various steps of production as each scene suggests. Caterina is there mostly for the sake of variety, but she is no hindrance either.

 

 

Bottom line: 7
I'm of two minds about this release. On the one hand, the image, audio and music are all first rate. The extras are skimpy to say the least, but the commentary is entertaining and informative. I very much like Nick Willing 's concept of Wonderland and its technical execution. And I found all but two of the Wonderland characters to be ingeniously conceived and engagingly acted (the other, besides Hatter, is the retile, which I could have done without entirely). On the other hand, I feel the leading lady's characterization of Alice is wrong-headed and tiresome. So, there it is. BTW, Amazon incorrectly lists the running time as "240 minutes" which it isn't by a long way. Do not be concerned that this Blu-ray is only the first episode (titled on the IMDb as "1.1") – it does not require a sequel.

Leonard Norwitz
March 1st, 2010

 

 

 

 


 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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