Page to Screen: Alice (2009)
This adaptation takes more of the form of a reimagining, or one could argue, an event that takes place so far in the future of Wonderland that it's removed from the book's timeline. In no way is this a direct adaptation nor a sequel.
Released in 2009 just before Tim Burton's stab at the franchise, this adaptation was shown on Syfy, a channel that's usually built upon notoriously bad science-fiction movies (with the infrequent exception, such as this). Unlike its source material, the setting for this work vaguely dystopian in a futuristic setting. Both versions are Wonderland, however, although it takes about 10 minutes for a clear reference to be made, further engrossing the audience into watching the film.
In a nutshell, Wonderland has been taken over completely by the Queen of Hearts. People are captured and drained of emotions in order to provide drug-like fixes for Wonderland denizens. Alice's boyfriend is captured by these Wonderland-ians and she chases them in order to save him. Through in a couple of strong plot turns and there you have it, a sleeper adaptation of Alice in Wonderland set in modern times.
While featuring well known actors Tim Curry and Kathy Bates as the Dodo and Queen of Hearts respectively, its cast also includes Caterina Scorsone as the titular character, Andrew-Lee Potts as The Hatter, Matt Frewer as the White Knight, and many more.
Also, Nick Willing, the director and writer of this adaptation, also directed the 1999 Alice in Wonderland as well.
The subject books that are used as source material for Syfy's Alice are Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) &Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871). Both works were written by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, known better by his pen name Lewis Carrol, and are classified as literary nonsense, filled with talking, anthropomorphic animals and plants, puzzling scenarios that force one to change size, and excellent wordplay.
As such, there's barely a plotline that involves Alice trying to find her way home (in the first book) and in the sequel she's trying to be crowned Queen. Nonetheless, the words and characters (supported by John Tenniel's iconic illustrations) are hard to forget and likely to charm their audience. That goes to explain why so many cinematic adaptations are made off this source material.
In the film, it's largely claimed that at least Alice's Adventures in Wonderland took place in the cinematic universe as the Alice of Legend took down the House of Cards, which I assume to be the Queen of Hearts's army.
To be fair, Syfy's Alice is a bit more of a love letter to its source material than it is a recreation of the story. It's largely modernized, but modernized properly, keeping a fair amount of the source's charm while being particularly satirical at times.
The world presented is fantastic. It's not just modernized but re-imagined. Taking pieces from various Lewis Carroll works, people from our world are called Oysters (as taken from The Walrus and The Carpenter poem whose titular characters are also present for a bigger part of the story). But it's not just a name drop. People from our world are drained of their emotions, called pearls, in order to fund the most profitable market in Wonderland. Suits are a double entendre, referring to characters literally wearing suits and referencing suites in a card deck. Tweedledee and Tweedledum are also two of the most terrifying psychiatrist-like characters I've seen, mirroring their presentation in Alice: Madness Returns.
It's all very fresh, very new, and still pays proper tribute to the original work in a wonderful, unforeseen way.
This iteration of the titular character is unique for numerous ways. No longer do we follow an Alice unsure of her life and suffering from naivety. This Alice is literally introduced to us as a judo instructor (and the film reminds us about that fact repeatedly by showing her taking out several antagonists), a woman who can take care of herself in a strange land, and doesn't suffer the cliché of being 'The Chosen One' (although many people ask her if she is the said Alice, she's always claims ignorance and there's no prophecy otherwise). In fact, this Alice is a strong female character, one that doesn't solve her problems because a prophecy said she would, but because she's attempting to rescue the guy she likes, a typical role reversal.
The Mad Hatter
Andrew-Lee Potts does a fantastic job of playing his part, without delving into the trademarked insanity the character always has. He's sly, conniving, and plays the convincing part of the rogue. He possesses a good sense of comedic timing as well.
The only problem I really have with this character is the set up as a love interest, something that nags me considering his source material. However, due to the portrayal of the world and the rest of the film, I can easily overlook it. Also for some reason, they give the film version of this character an extremely powerful right hook which is a bit random but not overused to where it detracts from the plot.
Charlie the White Knight
Hardly any adaptations really give any kind of attention to the White Knight, someone who takes up a big chunk of Through the Looking Glass. He's a spectacular character and he's brought to life in this film, channeling much of Jim Carrey's recognizable performance. I couldn't help but roll my eyes at the ending because of how silly I thought his actions were, but I digress.
I could literally write an academic report on the adaptation itself, but that's not what this is for. If a fan of the original work, or even faithful adaptations such as Disney's animated film, I strongly urge you to check this out and see all the little nods perforating this new story.
Despite it being branded by Syfy, why do I enjoy this iteration of Alice so much? Because it takes the wonky source material and tries to do something different with it. It's hard to ignore the amount of work put into this production. It's not just the set pieces either. Every actor and actress brings their character to life, becoming so easily recognizable even when compared to other Alice in Wonderland adaptations, lines delivered with fitting emotion, and just overall fantastic.
I will say that the second half of the film/miniseries is far inferior to the first half, however. While there are definitely some strong finishes to certain character arcs (redemption and the like even among unlikely characters), things just seem to be a bit rushed in parts and villains start acting unbelievably stupid (largely in the White Knight's attack). The plot doesn't hold together as strongly. While I largely don't have a problem with the C level computer animation that's consistent with Syfy, it becomes more pronounced during the climax when characters act unbelievably.
Nevertheless, I'd be lying if I said I didn't really enjoy the film. It goes against Syfy traditions and does a wonderful job with storytelling and, in my opinion, is a far better story than Tim Burton's adaptation the following year. Honestly, it might be my favorite live-action adaptation and I would strongly refer it to most anyone, those who had read the books and those who hadn't.
Book vs. Movie
For those of you who read the book and watched the movie, what did you prefer?
For more Alice in Wonderland adaptations, you can check out my commentary on Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010) or another popular adaptation in the 1999 version. You can read also commentary on the Page-to-Game adaptation in American McGee's Alice series.
You can read more varied Page to Screen adaptation commentaries if you click here.