Monday, January 9, 2012

Malice in Wonderland

Now this was an interesting find. Hidden in the deep, dark recesses of Netflix's Watch Instantly queue, Malice in Wonderland caught my eye only because of the literature to which it pays homage. I cast a glance over its synopsis and found it peculiar but not a complete turn off. A girl, named Alice, finds herself lost and on a trippy adventure in a modern, urban England city? Quite odd. So, despite eyebrow-raising skepticism over how well it would turn out, I decided to give it a shot.
Alice and the Cheshire Cat
This is Alice in Wonderland On Drugs

One thing is for certain: this portrayal of Alice takes some getting used to. Caustic Cockney Brits come out of nowhere, assailing Alice with the most bizarre and opaque language imaginable. Billboards come alive as if they're televisions. Cameras perch quirkily at odd angles. As the viewer, you are immersed in a sea of the nonsensical weird. Now, given that it is based on Alice in Wonderland, you'd kind of expect this to happen. But to this extent? It took some getting used to, and it wasn't until I was twenty or thirty minutes in that I got over it and began to truly enjoy the experience.

For that is what it is: an experience. It doesn't necessarily make sense most of the time but, hey, neither did Lewis Carroll's book. What Malice does brilliantly is provide a modern take on it through the lens of gritty London urban nightlife and, by doing so, creates an atmosphere of the odd that really immerses you in the world. Once you can overcome your inclination to appraise it all on a realistic and rational basis, then it becomes that much easier to enjoy. And you come to realize that, though insane, the world of Malice has a sort of unique feel and logic of its own that makes it so you aren't totally lost.
The Dodo
The Eclectic Menagerie

A big part of what makes Malice, and the original Alice, so engrossing is the medley of exotic characters that populate the landscape. The White Rabbit, the Red Queen, the Mad Hatter, the Duchess, the Dodo, the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum... While they usually aren't referred to by name in Malice, they are definitely present and each has their own intense moments in the limelight. And, though they have elements to their characters which resonate and seem familiar, there are also twists to them that help make the portrayals seem fresh. For example, the White Rabbit has a much greater role in Malice than the book, having a borderline romantic connection with the attractive Alice (played by Maggie Grace).

Part of your ability to enjoy it, however, depends on your ability to welcome such changes. I personally did not like how the White Rabbit took such a central role in the story (to the point of almost serving as the main character). But, by contrast, I enjoyed the unique depictions of Tweedles Dee and Dum (two deep-voiced bouncers in this version), the Red “Queen” (a viciously charming mob boss King) and the Cheshire Cat (a trippy, teleporting, charismatic radio DJ). These representations are so fun to watch, though, that Alice's character suffers as a result. Though Maggie Grace is certainly beautiful and nails the innocence part without a problem, she just isn't all that interesting as a (*spoiler*) amnesiac, lost little rich girl. Consequently, the ending where she discovers her real mother (of whose existence we had no previous idea of earlier in the film) is where it loses steam, slapping the audience with a dose of reality and conventional storytelling when everything previous has been a glorious smorgasbord of chaos and unpredictability.
The White Rabbit

Altogether I really enjoyed Malice in Wonderland. It was an incredibly unusual modern take on Alice that, in reading the plot synopsis ahead of time, I did not expect to work. And yet for the most part it did with aplomb. Though Alice herself was kinda 'meh', the potpourri of quirky side characters carries Malice without a problem.

The only thing I need to point out is that this version of Alice is definitely adult only. Hookers, constant drug use, threats of rape... There is a reason it is called Malice, you know. But it is hard for me to imagine it any other way; the deep urban, modern take would've felt watered down and would've lacked resonance without such a genuine approach to it.

1 comment:

  1. I've been reading a book of short essays and such by C.S. Lewis where he discusses various aspects of stories, and Lewis Caroll's Alice books come up a lot. Lewis posits that in this genre of literature, where someone ordinary enters an odd and very extraordinary world, then the very ordinariness of the main character is almost essential, and that if the main character were defined by extra quirks of their own it would take you out of the essential story. For another example of this he gives Gulliver's Travels. I think modern screenwriters may struggle with this concept as they try to tease out more details of Alice's life. As you suggested here, and also as I felt about Burton's recent Alice movie, all of these extra elaborations on character detract rather than add to the core Adventures.

    Still, it sounds like this movie could definitely prove entertaining. I love Netflix instant finds!