Thursday, December 10, 2009

SyFy's Alice miniseries (2009)

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass have always fascinated me and I’ve always wanted to take the tumble through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole to explore Wonderland. So when I heard an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classics was being done by the SyFy Channel, I was excited…as well as a little nervous. We are all familiar with SyFy’s uneven record when it comes to their films, but trailers for Alice actually looked pretty interesting and promising. And you know what? After catching the miniseries on SyFy the past two nights I was left pleasantly surprised! Alice has a great vision and gives the Alice in Wonderland story a marvelous modern twist!

Writer/director Nick Willing has modernized Alice, making the titular character a woman who chases after her mysterious love interest, Jack, after he gives her a mysterious ring and is shortly thereafter kidnapped by the sinister White Rabbit organization. She ends up falling through the looking glass and ending up in the strange world of Wonderland. Here, The Queen of Hearts rules with an iron fist and is kidnapping humans so they might be drained of their emotions, which are then used as liquid currency among the populace. The Queen uses the humans’ bottled emotions to control her populace and make them complacent. As Alice tries to hunt down the man she loves and return home, she encounters many different personalities that try to help or hinder her quest. On her side are Hatter and The White Knight, as well as “The Resistance” that wish to stop the Queen. Against her are The Queen of Hearts, her minions called “Suites”, evil Doctors Dee and Dum and many others who seek the ring that Alice possesses. Can Alice find Jack and return to her own world or will she lose her head in the process?

This was a delightful adaptation of a classic! I especially enjoyed the clever placement of characters from the original book and how they were updated for this modern take. For example, The Caterpillar is actually an old man (wearing a green coat that closely resembles the original Caterpillar’s skin) who is a leader of The Resistance against the Queen. We even get the flamingos from the book, but this time they are mechanical flying machines that look like a flying Vespa. The infamous Jabberwocky even makes a memorable appearance in its full glory! I loved the modern take on all the characters and appreciated how Willing kept them in the story while still twisting their appearances and characters.

The world that Willing has created is absolutely stunning – from the Queen’s casino where humans are being drained of their emotions to The White Knight’s fallen kingdom and everything in between, Alice is a visual treat! Sure, the CGI is a bit hokey-pokey when Alice is falling towards Wonderland or when they are riding the motorized flamingos, but none of it really affected my overall enjoyment of the miniseries and overall, I think they did a pretty decent job with all the special effects. I thought the Jabberwocky was especially impressive!

The story has a lot more going for it than one would think, too. With corrupt corporations, a wicked Queen, refugees and humans being basically milked of their emotions, not to mention all of the emotional turmoil Alice goes through with her family history and her long-lost love betraying her, this is one story that has quite a bit going on. Yet, it never once feels convoluted or weighed down. On the contrary, all of these different aspects make it feel more cohesive and seamless. Willing did a fantastic job updating the story for modern audiences and adding many pertinent, modern-day issues to it. Plus, he also kept the original humor and absurdity that laced Carroll’s original work.

Of course, the acting assisted in getting me invested in the story. Caterina Scorsone was fantastic as a modern-day Alice, kicking butt and taking names. She also showed the perfect amount of vulnerability without ever losing her edge. Kathy Bates was perfectly cast as the hot-headed Queen of Hearts, Andrew Lee Potts was adorable as Hatter (and a bit more helpful and even-keeled than Carroll’s Mad Hatter), Matt Frewer was entertaining as the cavalier yet confused White Knight and all the other actors did equally amazing!

I had my hesitations about watching SyFy’s Alice, but Willing has created a delightful yet dangerous Wonderland that’s all grown up. I dare say it might even turn out to be better than the wildly overblown look Tim Burton is going for in his adaptation (I still love you, Burton!). So have your own tea party and try to catch a repeat of the miniseries when it plays again on SyFy or when it is released on DVD!

Check it out on Amazon!

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