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Red Queens and White Knights

We’re not through with the Looking Glass, here, people
By SHAULA CLARK  |  March 10, 2010

FILM031210_ALICEBAR_main 
ALICE [2009] | What cruel sorcery is capable of making Tim Curry boring?

READ: Peter Keough's review of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.
How doth the little production studio improve its shining tail? Why, by swimming in the slipstream of Tim Burton and pumping out any Lewis Carroll–related material within clawing distance. Here are four new DVD releases that capitalize on the latest Alice in Wonderland rush.

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ALICE IN WONDERLAND: SPECIAL UN-ANNIVERSARY EDITION [1951] | You didn't need the White Queen's daffy future vision to see this one coming (though it won't actually arrive till March 30). What better opportunity for the House of Mouse to make yet another buck off its pinafored heroine? But even if this release is transparently piggybacking on the Burton buzz, it's hard to begrudge anyone an opportunity to cozy up to the original Disney classic again. This tumble down the rabbit hole comes drenched in sumptuous visual texture and the odd modernist designs of artist Mary Blair. Expanding on the extras-laden 2004 release, the new two-disc edition offers the deleted scene "Pig and Pepper" and the featurette "Reflections of Alice," which chronicles the history between Walt Disney and Wonderland -- the two go back as far as 1923, before Mickey ever entered the picture.

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ALICE IN WONDERLAND [1933] | Stuffed to the gills with big-name actors — Cary Grant as the Mock Turtle! W.C. Fields as Humpty-Dumpty! — and state-of-the-art special effects, this Depression-era film was sufficiently wow-factored to make Lewis Carroll muse Alice Hargreaves (née Liddell) breathlessly exclaim in the New York Times that "only through the medium of the talking picture art could this delicious fantasy be faithfully interpreted." Norman Z. McLeod's rendition is a jaunt through a WTF-fortified world of talking mutton legs, screepy fursuits, and croquet with actual flamingos. Despite its relative flash, Alice was a flop, and the film was largely forgotten. Now it's on DVD. The bad news: this is the 76-minute edited-for-TV version. Guess we'll just have to wait another 75 years to see McLeod's film in its original 90-minute glory.

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ALICE IN WONDERLAND [1966] | Here, a grim little Alice wanders through a decidedly human Victorian-era world (no Gryphon suits or White Rabbit ears in sight), with the help of a dreamily drony Ravi Shankar sitar soundtrack and a noteworthy cast (Peter Sellers as the King of Hearts, John Gielgud as the Mock Turtle, Michael Redgrave as the Caterpillar). Unfortunately, unless you have a fetish for pretentious, shoestring-budget vintage BBC programming, this Alice is hard to enjoy on its own. It is enhanced by the commentary track of director Jonathan Miller, who dishes on Sellers's fits of "superstitious gloom" and recalls how the British tabloids initially labeled his "adult" portrait of Alice as pornographic. (Note: it isn't. Not at all.)

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ALICE [2009] | What cruel sorcery is capable of making Tim Curry boring? And a bland Curry (here playing the Dodo) isn't the only impossible thing this Syfy original mini-series will force you to believe. Taking a cue from the success of Tin Man, Nick Willing's three-hour science-fiction rework cops as much from The Matrix and Aeon Flux as it does from Carroll. Under the rule of the tyrannical Queen of Hearts (Kathy Bates), White Rabbit operatives kidnap unsuspecting folk from the other side of the Looking Glass to harvest their emotions (Wonderland's drug of choice). Here, the March Hare is a cyborg hitman, Colm Meaney is the sniveling King of Hearts, and Alice (Caterina Scorsone) is a black-belt karate instructor with daddy issues. Terrible pacing and IQ-lowering dialogue make Alice kind of a mess, but it shines during the parts featuring Max Headroom star Matt Frewer as the doddering White Knight and Harry Dean Stanton as a velvet-clad Caterpillar who'd fit right into Naked Lunch.

  Topics: Features , Entertainment, Entertainment, Harry Dean Stanton,  More more >
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