Burton's 'Alice' on Blu-ray: Lotsa Pretty Blandness

On June 1st, Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland will be arriving on Blu-ray from Walt Disney Home Entertainment. As per the usual -- with their presentation of No Country for Old Men, Princess and the Frog, and their entire roster of Pixar releases -- they've compiled an extraordinarily rich audiovisual presentation that'll get eye-candy mojo a-goin'. Here are my comments from DVDTalk:

Opinions will certainly vary on Tim Burton's production of Alice and Wonderland, based on its domestic and worldwide box office performance, but one thing that's not under dispute is whether Disney have done proper justice to this confetti-colored, highly visual film on Blu-ray. Arriving in a 1.78:1 1080p AVC encode, this will easily stand as one of the more ravishing eye-candy discs of the year, presenting every ounce of color and every nuance in the production design flawlessly. This happens to be one of those occasions where the high-definition home experience looks even better than the time I had at the theater -- which was in 2D, instead of the post-production 3D showings. Alice in Wonderland runs the full gamut of palette fluctuations, from containing near every color of the rainbow in one shot to desolate grays and muted colors in another, and Disney's Blu-ray preserves every hue with blistering high-definition pop and lush depth.

Starting with the English countryside at the beginning and pressing forward, the level of razor-sharp detail also escalates further as Alice begins her tumble down the rabbit hole. The dark, amber-drenched sequence in the "pre-Wonderland" entry room supports scintillating depth amid very dark lighting, allowing us to view every ounce of detail, such as the the curls on the mini cake, the subtle texture in the marble flooring, and the ever-changing fabric of Alice's gown. Then, as eyesight falls onto the world of Underland, an onslaught of color and a flurry of minutiae detail bombard the senses amid Burton's interpretation of Carroll's boundless world. Trumping through lush greenery in the woods, hiking with the Mad Hatter through a bleak yellow and blue forest, galloping across a desert-like plane, exploring the red-dominated halls of the Red Queen and waltzing around the glaring white and teal-trimmed castle of the White Queen provide a steady, persistent stream of images that are immaculately rendered in high-definition. In short, the marvels of computer technology offer what's essentially the pinnacle of the candy-coated, up-to-date Blu-ray experience. You know, as long as the content suits the viewer.

However, all that comes with one itsy-bitsy caveat: Burton's Alice ain't all that good. In fact, it has moments where the director of Sweeney Todd and Edward Scissorhands made my skin crawl with overblown indulgence. Excerpt from my original film review here:

This take on Lewis Carroll's inspired environment explodes into a bizarre yet disheartening beauty, one that holds our attention when nothing else does; Burton runs the gamut of color, from gloomy grayscale dilapidation with splashes of bold color during the tea party sequence, to sunset-drenched pathways through forests. The artistry succeeds in painting a dream-like world that's alluring, almost euphoric, to our eyes, while also spilling with a sense of malnourished joy. This concentration on landscape follows Alice wherever she goes, from the Red Queen's construed, gothic hub of operations -- one that has a moat filled with floating decapitated heads that's, in its morbidity, splendid -- to the glowing trees leading up to the White Queen's celestial construct. Underland's quite the sight, whether for its beauty or its bleakness.

If Burton had stopped with the computer-generated mischief at this point, we might've had a strong outing for Alice's ventures. Instead, he reaches deeper into his satchel of creativity and pushes the envelope, overreaching the bounds of respectable artistry into excess. Sony Picture Imageworks' lackluster animal creations, aside from their host of voices, simply stick out like sore thumbs from the sumptuous atmosphere. Cheshire Cat is, admittedly, rather entrancing as he spins through the air and speaks with a sultry rumble through a mouthful of dagger teeth; however, almost everything else -- from the fencing mouse and the smoking caterpillar to the assortment of hares, rabbits, porcupines, dogs, and large cat-like beasts -- neglect to give us anything beyond what we've seen in other fantasy epics, expanding to a point that comes so close to farce that we lose our patience with the world's peculiarity. A stellar vocal cast, including Sir Alan Rickman as the caterpillar and Michael Sheen as the White Rabbit, disappointingly gets swallowed up because of this.


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