Both of this week’s major home video releases offer new interpretations of time-tested stories.
Alice In Wonderland
2½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations. And for a smoking caterpillar
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
When it was announced that director Tim Burton would take on the “Alice In Wonderland” story with none other than Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, film geeks couldn’t help but feel giddy. Burton, after all, is a master of fanciful fables and Depp was born to play lovable madmen.
Sadly, some film projects look better on paper than celluloid, and “Alice” is one of them. Burton’s take on the material is serviceable, but he never delivers the sense of wonder and awe that this tale really needs.
The plotting has been loosely adapted not only from writer Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” novel but from his follow-up, “Through the Looking Glass.” At the heart of the action is a teenage girl named Alice (Mia Wasikowska) who falls down a huge rabbit hole and finds herself in a magical world called Underland.
She meets many colorful characters while there and most hint at the fact that this isn’t her first visit, although she has no memory of an earlier journey. Still, Alice wanders about, interacting with fanciful creatures that include a smoking caterpillar, a cat that can disappear into thin air and, of course, a crazy hat maker (Depp). Alice also learns that she is thought to be the only person in Underland capable of slaying a fierce creature known as the Jabberwocky and ending the reign of the evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter).
Burton’s vision of Underland is colorful and wild, but the co-mingling of live-action actors with computer-generated characters isn’t as seamless as in better fantasy films. In fact, there are points where it’s obvious that Wasikowska is interacting with cartoon characters rather than living beings. Even more problematic is the fact that the story lacks energy, particularly in the second act.
Burton is a generally reliable filmmaker and there are things to like about “Alice,” but not enough of them to earn the film a recommendation.
The movie is available as part of multiple home video releases, including a three-disc set with Blu-ray, DVD and electronic copies of the feature. Extra features vary.
DVD and Blu-ray releases contain rated and unrated versions of the film. The rated version received an R for bloody horror violence and gore
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Universal Studios’ ongoing effort to revive monsters from its horror heyday took several steps backward with “The Wolfman,” a goofy-yet-gory werewolf flick that is loosely based on Universal’s like-titled 1941 thriller. One of the movie’s most telling problems is that director Joe Johnston (“Jurassic Park III,” “Hidalgo”) was apparently conflicted over whether to make a full on tribute to the ’41 classic, which starred Lon Chaney Jr., or to create a horror movie for the 21st century. As a result, his film is neither of those things.
Set in the 1800s, “The Wolfman” focuses on Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro), an actor who returns to his family’s English estate when he learns that his brother has gone missing. It’s an uncomfortable homecoming, as Talbot has been estranged from his father, Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins), for decades. Even worse, he arrives to learn that his brother has been found dead, apparently mauled by some large beast. Heartbroken, he tells his brother’s fiancée (Emily Blunt) that he will remain in England until he learns what happened to his sibling. He runs into a hitch, however, when he is bitten by a werewolf and learns that he must turn into a beast each time the moon is full.
The film (even the rated version) is quite gory, giving the impression that Johnston was attempting to craft a sinister and modern horror film. Oddly, that vision shifts gears about halfway through, when Lawrence turns into a werewolf that looks more like the one created by Lon Chaney Jr. in 1941 than anything that could pass as a modern monster.
Dragging the project down another notch is a haphazard storytelling approach that leaves way too much to the imagination. This may be a fault of the screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self or it may simply be an example of horrendous editing. Whatever the reason, the film is more likely to leave viewers howling with laughter than howling with fear.
Both the DVD and Blu-ray releases include rated and unrated versions of the film plus deleted and extended scenes.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Life”: This impressive Discovery Channel series – from the same people who made “Planet Earth” – offers a remarkable view of the many animals that inhabit our planet. The show runs nearly eight hours and takes up four discs on both Blu-ray and DVD.
“Peanuts 1970s Collection – Volume 2”: Digitally remastered two-disc set of TV specials from the Peanuts gang. Titles include “Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown,” “You’re a Good Sport, Charlie Brown,” “It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown,” “It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown,” “You’re the Greatest, Charlie Brown” and “What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown.”
“The Stranger”: Thriller starring pro wrestling star Steve Austin as an amnesiac man who learns that he’s being sought by the FBI and the Russian mob.
“Aqua Teen Hunger Force – Volume 7”: Animated, Cartoon Network series intended for adults. The stories take place in New Jersey and revolve around characters that are human-sized food items.
“Undisputed III – Redemption”: Eight convicts from maximum security prisons take part in a last-man-standing fight that is supposed to award freedom to the winner. Organizers of the competition have other plans, though.
“MLB Bloopers – Baseball’s Best Blunders”: Major League Baseball’s version of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” This collection includes some of professional baseball’s funniest moments from the past 30 years. Footage includes Jose Canseco misjudging a fly ball and having it bounce off his head and Tommy Lasorda taking a hit for the team.
Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com