Really weird film… even by Alice in Wonderland standards.

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Being unfamiliar with Czech director Jan Svankmajer’s previous work and also a bit patchy on surrealist cinema in general I didn’t quite know what to expect when I sat down with a pint of Doncaster’s finest ale at Phantom Cinema’s latest screening.

Svankmajer had made a number of celebrated short films during the 60’s and 70’s before he made his first feature film in 1988, Alice, a surreal and nightmarish take on Lewis Carrol’s classic novel. Svankmajer rejected the idea of Alice in Wonderland as a fairy tale and instead saw it as a ‘realised dream’ and it is this theme that creates such a memorable adaptation of Alice in Wonderland.

Alice definitely won’t be for everyone as Svankmajer continually uses extreme close ups and jarring sound effects to drive home what Alice is experiencing, but as in the novel Alice remains calm and almost nonplussed during the most frightening sequences. Indeed we see a lot more of Alice herself than in any other reworking and ironically for such an unconventional take on the story in this respect Alice is probably the most faithful to the source material. In recent adaptations such as Tim Burton’s, Alice has become almost a bystander in her own story with the Cheshire cat (notably absent here) and the Queen of Hearts taking centre stage but this is not in keeping with the original book which went into great detail about how Alice felt about each new development in the strange world of Wonderland.

Svankmajer’s take on Wonderland itself is completely unique. Gone are the colourful and beautiful landscapes, replaced instead by industrial house hold items and grey rooms lit by a single hanging light bulb. It is here where Alice is at its most dark and grotesque and the seamless mixture of stop motion animation and live action only adds to the dreamlike sense of unease and confusion.

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The stop motion animation is something commonly used by Svankmajer in his other works and it is really impressive in Alice – once again proving that just because new technology exists it isn’t always the most effective method as Wes Anderson’s brilliant use of stop motion animation in Fantastic Mr. Fox also attests to.

For all the innovative use of animation and sound and also the imaginative concept and fantastic ending Alice is a success because it goes back to the roots of what made Alice in Wonderland so magical in the first place – Alice herself – the dreamer not the dreamed.

This article first appeared in Doncopolitan magazine:

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