Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why I Think Ender's Game Did a Good Job

Ender’s Game. Dir. Gavin Hood. Screenplay by Gavin Hood. Perfs. Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield. 2013. DVD. Summit Entertainment, 2014. Rated PG-13.

Ender’s Game, the classic sci-fi novel of 1985, is a dark, personal story that follows a young boy searching desperately for understanding and safety in a world that refuses to let him have any. The boy is being groomed to become the savior of the human race, so he is guided, coerced, and forced into dangerous, violent, and depressing situations to see if his natural aggression and ingenuity will be strong enough to overcome mankind’s greatest enemies.

For many readers, the success of this story lies heavily in watching the character Ender grow from a frightened, instinct-driven prodigy into a calculating genius through his experiences in the space station/private academy Battle School. The trials he faces and victories he earns are usually very dark, but they are relatable enough that Ender’s victories become cathartic to our own struggles. The fact that his genius is eventually recognized and respected by friends and enemies alike is a dream that many misunderstood teenagers wish for with all their hearts.

More mature readers were also surprised and impressed with the other relationships in the book, like Ender’s private struggles embracing his internal aggression, his desire for “peace,” or the oddly parental relationships that his teachers and handlers assume. Front and center on this list is the penultimate relationship Ender has throughout the book with the very enemies he is being trained to destroy. In many instances, these relationships are only referenced in the book as chapter headings or through intense symbolism that is only explained in retrospect. Mature readers understand that these relationships--the character traits they reveal--are what make Ender such a unique character, and that they are what ultimately redeem him.

For years the novelist, Orson Scott Card, had refused to allow Ender’s Game to become a movie adaptation because he feared the loss of creative control over his work. A natural fear for such a subtle book, and one that many of his fans agreed with. Filmmakers may have felt a similar aversion to adapting it, since the images of children fighting would be so horrific that it would smother anything else the story had to say. However, in 1996 Card decided to write his own screenplay adaptation of the book when he co-founded the Fresco Pictures movie studio the same year. Several years and drafted adaptations later, Card simply assumed the role of co-producer, letting Gavin Hood’s screenplay and Summit Entertainment do the rest.

The struggles of making a film adaptation of a book are often discussed and mostly understandable. Books can fit more action than movies can. This means the filmmaker has to choose what the most important scenes to include are. Books can express internal character struggles and dialogues much easier than movies can. This means the filmmaker has to invent visual or vocal opportunities to convey the information, which means adding or changing existing scenes from the book.

All of these, however, are cardinal sins for people who want to see the book or other source material preserved in its entirety. If you are a movie goer with this mindset then you have already determined to dislike the movie. Unless you enjoy being disappointed, you really should just turn around and go home instead of watching any film adaptation. Usually, this hypothetical person is me. It’s for this reason that I waited until the movie was on Redbox to watch it.

When the first scenes flashed--no, before that. When the movie opened on a quote, white text on a black screen that should have said, “spoiler alert,” my knee jerk reaction was so strong I almost broke my teeth. Then came the rest of the complaints. The kids were way too old. The first scene of violence wasn’t strong enough. Ender wasn’t innocent enough. The script made Ender explain too much. It was all getting a little painful. Yet, between all of these thoughts, the movie also explained to me why most of these decisions were made.

When a flashback to the first alien war was the first thing on the screen after the floating text, I immediately got upset that this was going to be a war movie instead of a personal drama. But as the narration continued and the scene eventually transformed into one of the school’s wargames Ender was engaged in, I realized how well the director had just conveyed the information that the war wasn’t over and that it was being force fed to all of these kids.

The upset I felt over the ages of the children in that first interaction was replaced by surprise when the next scene was Ender’s vulnerability as he tried to deal with being kicked out of the program, as he thought he was. The frustration I felt regarding the relative tameness of how Ender physically dealt with his bully, mixed with the confusion I felt over Colonel Graff’s (Harrison Ford) too-approving face, was forgotten when the interaction with Valentine and Peter conveyed more emotional information than I thought possible for the brevity of the scene.

This give and take continued throughout the movie, but it taught me early to give it a chance before I judged too harshly. When Bean was introduced before Alai (and when Bean was almost “cool”) I almost popped out the DVD, but then Alai appeared and I calmed down a little. I turned to my wife and started explaining to her why I was so angry that the movie didn’t show the other launchies getting mad at Ender after Graff singled him out as the smartest cadet, when the movie included a conversation between Ender, Graff, and Major Anderson that helped explain not only the previous scene, but helped foreshadow other relationships. The filmmakers clear had a grasp on the material and I tried to bite my tongue from then on out, and I'm glad I did.

In general, I think the movie was a little too straightforward with many of the themes. The conversation I mentioned above left no room for the audience to personally interpret Ender and Graff’s relationship, because Major Anderson immediately explains it to us in no uncertain terms. The opening quote of the movie is still my pet example. The quote says, “When I understand my enemy well enough to defeat him, then in that moment, I also love him. --A.E. Wiggin.” For those in the audience who don’t know who “Wiggin” is, this may just be an excellent thesis for what to look for in the rest of the movie. Or they may well forget that it said anything at all after they see Ender mangle and threaten his school bullies within the next ten minutes. For me, it told me that this movie was not going to make us bear the burden of using our own minds to decipher the proceeding events. I think I was right, and I also think they made the right decision. 

Ender’s Game is a very nuanced book. Card did an excellent job weaving so many plot lines and internal conflicts together in a relatively short book and it worked so well. But I don’t believe this movie could do that. Movies, almost by definition, have to be more pointed. Scenes have to be directed by cause and effect and can’t be allowed to ramble like books can. Sure, some movies are so stylized that they can allow multiple story lines and less linear structures, but could they risk that with this movie? Between the stress of pleasing fans, dealing with Card’s unfortunate political influence among fans and general audiences, and trying to make a movie with a major theme of child violence while starring children (which almost always draws a younger audience, its own undesired controversy), could the filmmakers really afford to take major chances by deviating from the most easily profitable format? Maybe. It did have a $110 million budget, but where much is spent, much is required back.

Regardless of the reasons why, this movie demanded that filmmakers pick and choose their points of focus. The book spends a lot of time the movie doesn’t have proving to us that Ender is as capable, as compassionate, and as much of a genius as we hope he is by giving us a lot of details and adventures in Battle School. The victories and lessons he has there, along with the relationships he forms seem to be what most readers, at least the ones I talk to, remember best. The movie rushes past almost all of them with reckless abandon. The film makes us take it’s word for it that Ender is smart, because we don’t get to see it often, and we don’t get to see it grow at all. So, if it has to pick and choose what to include, and it chose to remove the most memorable part of the narrative, what did it choose to focus on?

They chose to focus on the climax and the deeper themes. One of the basics premises of story writing from the climax backwards. Is the climax of the book that fact the Ender finally has friends? Is the climax of the book that Ender and his sister are separated? No, the climax is that Ender has killed a proverbial mockingbird and his soul is damned, in large part because he was lied to and kept from exploring options beyond violence by the powers that be. 

So they rushed through the human friendships, often stating them blatantly through direct dialogue, leaving just enough to let us know that relationships were important to these other themes. They rushed through the psychoanalyzing game to make sure we saw the more important parts of it: the egg and colony planet. They let Ender get to know Mazer Rackham so that we could understand the nature of the Formics. They focused on leaving Ender overworked in that classical Kafkaesque confusion so that he wouldn’t know what he was doing and put the pieces together. At least not until it was too late. These decisions worked in the movie because none of the fun of the Battle School game, none of his tactical expertise mattered when it came to his decision to leave humanity and meet the Formic at the end.

All of us can admit that the book had more oomph. It's hard to say that any part of this incredible story is "more important" than another, but when structure has to define necessity, you have to make decisions. The book is plainly the better version of the story, and we can all wish that the movie did things differently; but when it comes to the heart of story of the book, and the final point the author wanted to make, the movie conveyed it as well as it could. This is proven well enough by people who hadn’t read the book and really enjoyed the movie. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a positive score, if that means anything to anyone here. If you wanted the movie be an adrenaline rush that got your illiterate friends pumped from watching people outsmart each other in Battle School, then you’re out of luck. Red Cliffs is a great replacement for that sort of movie. If you wanted a surprising consideration of the nature of violence, and what it means to know your enemy, then this was probably as good a shot of it as we could’ve hoped from Ender’s Game.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Twitter, The Wheel of Time, and some Feminism

Universe, I am not writing about movies today. This blog should just be a literature blog. My reviews have never been the same as other movie reviews. That is because I want to discuss more about the media than the gut reaction I had while experiencing them. Whether or not art is its purest when experienced on a first impression or as a study, I can't begin to say. What I can say is that I enjoy discussing art to the furthest extent it can be taken. And so this blog will now become a dumping ground for all of my media thoughts.

I have recently started a Twitter account detailing my reemergence into the Wheel of Time book series written by Robert Jordan and completed just earlier this year by Brandon Sanderson. The account is called @wheeloftimetrav (the word "traveler" had too many characters). I took my inspiration largely from another Twitter user going by the handle @mugglehustle, who is detailing his experiences as he reads the Harry Potter series for the first time. It is a hilarious and wistful experience, one that I suggest to any who wish to remember how it felt to experience them anew. My other muses were two of my personal friends who are doing the same thing but with the Zelda video game series. Their accounts are @jackhyrule and @hyrulespad.

These Twitter chronicles are a nice way to find a community while doing the very personal and solitary activity of reading. The experience is similar to a book group, but I feel its more like talking during a movie. And I love it. However, Twitter is necessarily brief, which is not good for prolonged discussion.

Earlier this evening I began what turned into a twenty minute tweetfest with myself over the gender roles and sex balance of the first book in the Wheel of Time. Now, I am not a very well read feminist scholar. I have had a few college courses on sex, race, and gender studies in film but I am far from the most dedicated feminist. That said, I almost always agree with the feminist logic.

The Wheel of Time does not lend itself well to feminism, however. It was started 23 years ago and I don't know how far the feminist dialogue has come within that time, but I can imagine its developed quite a bit. The story starts with several surprisingly strong female characters all with more social and literal power than most men. This changes pretty quickly after the first book and eventually becomes a harem situation. Quite the turn about.

I have not finished the series yet (that's why I started the Twitter account) so I can't say how it ends, but I'm going to go out on a limb and just say that this series is not a good example of gender equality. That said, I found myself feeling increasing uncomfortable talking about my opinions on the female characters in the book so far because it probably reveals my own biased feelings about what women should or should not be, which I have no right to dictate. I understand that I cannot express any opinions about womanhood that do not coincide with the current feminist beliefs without branding myself an enemy to all things female, which I also do not wish to do. Yet, I feel I have a right to have a say on how the characters came across to me. Basically, I felt that I needed a more appropriate venue than Twitter to discuss this topic. So here we are.

I have already had my say on this topic on my Twitter account (https://twitter.com/WheelofTimeTrav). Feel free to read up and leave your thoughts here or there. But from now on when I have extended observations I will take them here to have, hopefully, a more civilized discussion.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Twilight Saga: Eclipse with a grip-load of spoilers and disturbing images

Directed by David Slade. Released 2010. Rated PG-13.

If you wanted to see this movie you probably have already. If you haven’t, you didn’t want to anyway. That established, I am going to spoil this movie as much as possible.

First, let me assure you that I am as disturbed by the frequency of children’s movies in my reviews as you are. This next one straddles the line between the grown-up and children’s genres, and should probably have its own category. I’ll call it the Woman-Child’s genre. This genre reflects the dreams of women while retaining unrealistic views that can only be called childish.

In case you’re worried I’m being sexist, there is a Man-Child genre. These films are mostly action, though. Like Die Hard 4, or The Losers. The unrealistic points of view in Man-Child movies are mainly awesome to watch,

and don’t make you uncomfortable like Woman-Child movies do.

(Like walking in on your mom....)

So, here we have an interesting specimen of Woman-Child cinema: Twilight Eclipse. It’s a new sort of woman’s movie that is dark without being lesbian-feminist, yet still so estrogenially driven that only women can stare into directly…like the title hints at.

And that’s why I had to watch it at a drive-in. Watching a movie like this is like being locked in a car while an incontinent Pepe LePew has his way with a futily-resisting cat. Watching it at a drive-in is nearly the same, but with your head refreshingly out of the window.

(Just another reason why Smell-o-Vision would be a terrible idea)

But let’s get to the gritty. Eclipse has a story! Or something very close to it. I have suspicions that Eclipse is two stories, but the interesting one is not only told by secondary characters, but has almost no impact on the main characters.

We all know that Bella and Edward are simply made for each other, right? And we all know that it’s Jacob who really deserves her, but she’s, like, too conflicted over her relationship with Edward, right? Good, because this movie is nothing like hearing about it for two hours.

Except that Bella is really only leading Jacob on for her own selfish means. And not only Jacob, but his entire tribe of Indians. On top of that, she never lets Edward into the know. Does this make her a bad person? What part of it doesn’t? Whatever. There’s cooler stuff going on, while this is unfolding.

There is a vampire that is pissed at Bella from the first movie. This vampire is raising an army of vampires to kill Bella. Bella’s house-trained vampires hear about it, via equal parts obvious news reports and clairvoyance. They immediately and unquestioningly step up to the table, putting all their lives down. They are naturally worried that this army of super vampires could be dangerous to their six-man team.

(I don't see why people so fashionably dressed would worry about anything)

Selflessly, Bella enlists the services of the were-wolf tribe Jacob is from. She has some few concerns that are all silenced when she reasons: “But this is for my protection.” It’s never talked about it again, and she never talks to any of the fighters ever again.

This is probably shy of the half way point. After here we just see poorly delivered line after poorly delivered line from both good and bad guys, along with different training sequences. Bella exemplifies Triflin’ brand Ho behavior, and Edward proposes. She accepts and then lets Jacob rub up on her in front of Edward for an entire night without ever acknowledging that it might be awkward. Then she makes out with Jacob the next morning. Honestly, if Jacob could just shut up about trying to be alpha male he could bank on a piece of that triflin’ booty being available every time Edward left the house. Or, apparently, whenever Bella was in the mood.

(Edward is just overreacting. This is part of the uniform for milkmen now a days)

We get some more back story on some other vampires. It's kinda fun, but like I said, Bella couldn’t care less. Then the war happens. You may hear some bad things about the war, but it was ok. Arms were being torn off, heads were snapped, and giant wolves were eating people. Of course, the main characters were pretty safe and far away. Only the two most important bad guys break free and make their way to Bella so we can tie the two stories together.

Everything turns out ok. Bella even cuts herself to distract the bad vampires so she doesn’t have to see Edward’s head broken. I say “even” because Bella actually did something for someone else, not because I think it made the movie better. I think we can all agree killing Edward would only simplify things and lead to a happier ending for everyone.

But she never apologizes for risking everyone’s lives, never apologizes for cheating on Edward in front of him, and actually insists that she becomes a vampire for the lifestyle, not because she loves Edward. In fact, she makes it sound like he is simply convenient.

For some reason, Jacob gets mangled by a stray enemy in one of the last sequences. I think it was an excuse for the doctor vampire to do good deeds to werewolves, but, like everything else poignant in this movie, it has no moral effect on Bella.

So there you have it. I couldn’t say anything more. If you aren’t getting turned on by Jacob’s abs, there is no reason to watch this. Don’t let anyone tell you that they like it for the story. They like it because they want to be immaculate whores.

(She may have the name, but she don't look like Mother Mary)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Toy Story 3

Directed by Lee Unkrich. Released 2010. Rated G.

How does a movie like this end up being a wonderful children’s movie? How does someone write a children’s movie about death, abandonment, elderly-care, and religious questioning with never actually using the terms associated to them?
Actually, a few people in the after-movie discussion were a little irritated that I would take the movie that far from its target (five-year-old) audience. Let’s see if I can break it down.

Andy is the owner of a small band of desperately loyal toys, all of whom wear his name on their bodies. It would be perfect for these toys, who value nothing more than being played with by their kid, except their kid is not a kid any more. He’s seventeen and pretty much done with toys. The beginning of the movie is a slow paced kick in your mortality. You will get old, people will leave you, and when that time comes it’s either wait to die or take the quick road. In fact, many of the familiar faces from the first two movies have already found their way out of Andy’s life.

(Bo Peep is definitely not in this movie)

At this point, you only have a few thoughts to keep you afloat: an unknown future (which could be bright. Possibly. Maybe.), or the “at least we still have each other” mentality. Neither thought seems very buoyant; after all, Andy didn’t care about tossing their friends, and what’s keeping them together if not faith in Andy?

See how that word faith found its way in here? Keep it in mind.

That’s as far as I’ll take the synopsis. You should already know most of that just from the first trailers. It was hard to watch with those themes in mind, but the movie doesn’t keep you in agony for long. Soon we’re back to enjoying toys in action, with all of their caper-like stylized action. So what’s new? Naturally, a few new characters, a new world to explore, that sort of thing. While the toys have had to deal with misfortune and human wickedness before, this time they have to deal with it from other toys. This new dynamic lets light in on the toy moral ethic and many of the driving forces in their lives. It helps the audience question their own methods. Or not. Sometimes it’s just fun to chuckle at the simple life of a toy.

Can anyone actually tell me if the visuals are actually getting better? I swear, in 1995 the characters looked perfectly in their element. They still do and I can’t tell if they were just perfect the first time or if Pixar just effortlessly keeps up with the pace so easily that they won the gold while jogging.

It’s interesting to relate toys to the abandoned parents of children, but that seems to be how Toy Story has always taken itself. They stay with a child, a child they love more than anything, and they stay until the child is grown up and can make do without them. Then the kid has to do SOMETHING with his poor care givers. Donate, attic, or trash. In this movie you can substitute those words with old folks home, your basement, or...trash. But a kid's gotta do something.

However, Toy Story 3 deepens that relationship into near worship. The dramatic question throughout the movie is “how can we return to Andy,” but just behind that question is the question that was asked before they were separated, “does Andy care?”

While some toys are set on making their own fortune and cutting their losses, others, like Woody, are constantly urging the toys to just stay together and stay as close to Andy as they can; someday he may need them, and, if not Andy, maybe his children. It is the faithful waiting game; there is no guarantee, barely a promise and no future vision. Why bother? Just have faith.

In a climactic moment, disaster seems eminent, one faithless character asks the ironically religious question, “Where’s your boy, now?” Personally, I use the root phrase of that as often as possible.

In conjunction with this movie, it’s impossible to not see its religious connotations. I shouldn’t really go into detail about what happens next, but I think it is a very honest way to look at faith in reality.

When all is said and done, the movie is a blast, even if you don’t care for its theological themes. All of the characters the movie retains are more fleshed out than ever. After the previous films it’s obvious that these toys are old hands at working together and getting out of situations, so their caper-style antics are at their best. The Potato Heads have some of the absolute funniest scenes and gimmicks as it turns out that their mix-and-matchable parts can connect to other things than their bodies.

(This is not one of those moments)

Definitely a high rating. 3-D was good because it wasn’t intrusive, but I’m not sure it was necessary. I’ll tell you what, though. You better watch it 3-D just so no one can see you cry behind the dark shades at all the sad parts.

(You'd never guess he just shot his woman...and then watched Toy Story 3)

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Adapted from the graphic novel. Released 2010. Rated R.

Honor, Courage, Maturity, Idealism, Love, and the importance of Fatherhood: these are the unspoken key-words in of Kick-Ass. Another list of its contents might be gratuitous Stylized Violence, an abundance of Teen Sex, a contradictory Disregard for Life, and a lot of Heart. Or laughs. I probably laughed more. Yeah, definitely a laughing movie.

And, Oh! The things we laughed at! I’ve been entertained, or awed, by senseless violence before, Watchmen and any number of Tarantino movies come to mind, but to say I’ve been delighted by violence before—well, that’s just something I haven’t said until now. I was disturbed to be delighted by a thirteen year old girl playing an eleven year old and killing mobsters in the most gangster-ninja ways I’ve ever seen. I’m also a little disturbed to have to mention my infatuation with the youngest actresses in two reviews in a month. American directors must be learning something from the Chinese Olympic coaches, and I’m all for it.

Actually, I’m a little torn. The first list of Kick-Ass’ virtues carry out the best themes of the movie, but the follow-ups on each are less than clear. Let’s review--
Kick-Ass is the story of high-school student nobody, Dave Lizewski, in the mean streets of New York, tackling crime as a homemade superhero. Acting on principles born of comic books, he inspires the city via YouTube and Myspace. This makes him the most up to date hero yet. Of course, things get out of hand. It’s a movie after all. Hilariously, his alter-ego includes confusion on sexual orientation, but that should be the least of his worries as the mobsters he faces get badder and badder.

What we have to deal with is the psychological cost of all of these choices. Is it worth it to be inspiring and effective if it also means to be as ruthless as the bad guys? This question is barely addressed by the characters, but it stares the audience in the face more than once. You’d think a movie based on comic book morals would address this age-old question. Maybe that’s why it didn’t, but it felt like the movie transitioned from a story about courage to simply a story about power. We never question the characters with power; we are simply impressed by it. Even the bad guys have enough charming moments that we only root for the good guys because they seem to care more about each other.

Now, the movie does briefly give a reason for why it abandons its high ideals. Without revealing too much, our hero discovers something that is more valuable to him than simply following his dreams. It’s a bold message and an interesting one in a genre that mostly values na├»ve idealism and dream-following supremely. However, Kick-Ass only mentions it in passing and is swallowed up in more questionable themes.

All in all, it was a very fun movie to watch. If it wasn’t for the unnecessary sexuality that could’ve been replaced with more superhero fun, and the moral basis it abandoned, I’d give it 4 stars. As is, it’s probably just a 2.5. But we don’t need to look at it as a movie that loses points for being shallow; we can look at it as a movie that murders its way to our hearts.

The 'R' is well deserved, so don't bring your kids. That is so obnoxious.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders. Adapted by Cressida Cowell and Dean DeBlois from the novel How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell. Released 2010. Rated PG.

If Norse Vikings speaking in Scottish accents is a sin then I will be sure to wear my tartan to hell. But who can blame DeBlois or Sanders for making this decision? Vikings just look like Scotsmen. On top of this, the Vikings had what Scotsmen are always trying to get: Their Freedom!

Oh, and they have one other thing: the most realistic cartoon dragons you’ll ever see. How to Train Your Dragon was one of the best looking animations I have ever seen. On the people, you’ll spend most of your time looking at hair and clothes. The textures are tangible. On the dragons, it goes much deeper.

You know how babies will pick up anything they see and try to eat it? Or have you ever seen something and just wanted to touch it? I was resisting the urge this entire movie. The dragons looked like layered scales and muscle. Their scaly skin stretched, scrunched, and folded like real reptiles. I wished my pet turtle was still alive so I could name him Toothless, after the leading dragon. But my turtle would fit the name better, for reasons you’ll see in the movie.

How to Train Your Dragon is a contemporary take on romanticized Viking life. “It snows nine months of the year and hails the other three. All the food that grows here is tough and tasteless. The people, more so,” says the sarcastic hero of the story, Hiccup. He happens to be the skinniest, least war-like Viking that has ever lived. His dad happens to be the opposite, and the Chief. Neither of them is very impressed with our hero when occasional dragon outbreaks occur and the only thing Hiccup can do is help the gimpy weapon smith. But when Hiccup secretly befriends a rare and dangerous dragon his opinions change.


It may not be the most original story line, it may not even resemble the novel it’s based off of, but if you don’t enjoy the plot then you must not have liked E.T. and in my book, that lands you in the same fiery hole as the Pagan Scots.

The movie deals with a vast array of themes starting humanism, flirting with pacifism, dwelling on familial acceptance and then thinking twice, following in Dreamworks’ pattern of producing higher level family entertainment (ignoring Madagascar). If our hero isn’t as bloodthirsty as his neighbors are, don’t think that Greenpeace made it, either. Action is very present and when its not, sarcastic and clever characters are. The audience, at any age, shouldn't be bored.

I didn’t see this movie in 3-D. Alice in Wonderland and Up had scarred me. I regretted my decision the entire movie. The parts that were obviously 3-D would have been really cool and the parts that weren’t were so crisp that I don’t think 3-D would’ve ruined it.

Basically, this is a fantastic movie that everyone on your phone list would enjoy. Rated PG because it's just too good to be restrained by just one letter.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

Directed by Tim Burton. Adapted from Lewis Carroll by Linda Woolverton. Released 2010. Rated PG.

I am amazed that Alice in Wonderland can still pull in a crowd. It is a drug-induced story by a man who may or may not have had a pedophiliac relationship with the title character. Yet, Lewis Carroll’s (or Charles Dodgson’s, if you will) unfathomable imagination and lyrical nonsense have intrigued readers and audiences for over a hundred years. However, now we are in an age of story-telling that has minimized lyricism and emphasized visuals. We are left with the nightmarish characters of an imagination that transfers poorly to realism. Who better than Tim Burton, right? Well, hold on to your popcorn, he actually did a decent job. Despite his reputation for surrealism, Burton delivers the safest image of Wonderland yet. It may not be the most canonical, but he’s done Disney proud. At least he’s done Disney a new money trophy.

Oh, Tim Burton. At first, I forgot that he was the director. London seemed so sterile. It all came crashing back to me when Alice started her tumble down the rabbit hole. The next blazing paced sequence dropped her into a dark world of prophecy and violence, complete with grotesque, classical faerie-tale maiming. But then it was over. Tim Burton put a reign on his imagination and never beat you in the head with his stylistic choices again, even in other dangerous moments.

But watch this movie in 2-D. Of course the trend is fun to be a part of, but 3-D actually detracts from this movie. Sure, the Caterpillar’s hooka smoke looks cool, and sure the Cheshire Cat has some novel perspective, but Burton’s framing is wasted if you spend the entire movie hoping for the depth of Avatar. Most every shot is brilliantly composed from left to right. I would take off my glasses and revel in the color schemes and placements. Then I would put the glasses back on and gaze at the emphasized depth of Helena Bonham Carter’s forehead. Not worth it.

In fact, color choice was a trend that I couldn't get over. In the beginning, Alice is in London and grudgingly attends a well-to-do. Everyone at the party is wearing white with dull, earthy tones like brown, tan, or occasional subdued gold. Alice, on the other hand, is wearing sky blue. Obviously, Alice has differing values from the other guests, except for her sister, who also wears blue even though she seems to be at home with everyone else. Nothing extraordinary except that Burton’s choices are always so blatant that he makes it part of some caricature that only he seems to fully comprehend.

Most are color themes are easy to grasp. The Red, violent, and passionate queen is the villain and the White, serene, and liberal queen is the side of justice. What I couldn't figure out was the connection between the White party in London and the White kingdom in Wonderland.

For being such a blockbuster, Alice has a surprisingly unmotivated plot. This fits the world of Wonderland, but sits unevenly with the epic atmosphere that Tim Burton attempts to create. Alice is thrown from situation to situation, all very exciting, but she barely lifts a finger in her own self interest. Things just happen to Alice, who allows it because she knows it’s "her dream" and nothing more.

She struggles each step of the way with her own integrity. Her mother wants her to be this, the rabbit wants her to be that. In response, the Hatter, Johnny Depp, says that Alice has lost her "muchness." "Why is it that you are always too small or too big?" These concepts culminate well with the climax, but it leaves the journey rather tasteless.

How serious should this be taken? Does Alice care? Do we? Add to this the necessary element of every character being more than half-crazy, and it seems like random elements simply lead to a fated outcome rather than one that Alice actually reasoned out. Which is both contradictory with, and discussed in, the plot.

Johnny Depp may have been a good choice for a Mad Hatter, but he was more distracting than entertaining since Linda Woolverton, the screen writer, had to spend so much time on him make him into a sympathetic character. I never wanted to buy it for a minute. The make-up artists blacked a gap in his teeth that never convinced, and the whistle he tried to affect for it only sounded like an inconsistent lisp. The tirades of Scottish brogue and stifled whisper never got a chuckle out of me, or the audience I was sitting with.

Now, Mia Wasikowska, Alice, had some interesting parts. We all saw that she ends up with a sword from the trailers, right? Well, she knew how to use it. Better than Depp knew how to use his. Most of her exultant moments surround the ending when she exemplified boldness and endeavor. When she was simply a bemused face, tripping through Wonderland she was typically boring, but I was more than satisfied to see her get her ire up. Backing up Wasikowska's performance of Alice was Mairi Ella Challen as the 6 year old Alice. She was so charming that I spend a lot of time wishing the movie was about her than the 19 year old Alice.

The rest of the cast did their jobs well. Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway absolutely sealed their parts, though the characters were not equal. Even the bizarrely enhanced toadies of the Red Queen felt entirely at home, though Crispin Glover's CG enhancements as Stayne were jerky at times. My personal favorites were the slimy servants of the Red Queen: the deep, bass voiced frogs and slithery fish.

I’m not a big Wonderland fan, and I left not quite satisfied in the entire experience, but very content with the conclusion. I'd say rent not buy, and if you really want the theater experience, watch the 2-D version.