Alice Through the Looking Glass is a rather faithful adaptation of the Lewis Carroll story, though some distinction should be made between Alice Through the Looking Glass and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. There are no mad tea parties, no chasing of a white rabbit, no imminent threat of decapitation, no Cheshire Cat, no puffing caterpillars, and for those familiar with the Disney animated film, I suppose there's little point in continuing on with such a list as you're already well-acquainted with the basics of that story. While one shouldn't go in anticipating a live-action spin on the familiar Disney film, some elements do cross over, such as Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum, and their story of the Walrus and Carpenter. Otherwise, it's very much its own story, one that's freely available to read online.
The more condensed version of that rambling paragraph is that Alice Through the Looking Glass adapts...well, Alice Through the Looking Glass, which follows Alice's journey to become a queen and her curious conversations with those she encounters along the way. I could cobble together a more lengthy synopsis, but its appeal lies in the dialogue and the strangeness of it all, and a clinical description of what transpires does it little justice. Some small liberties are made in bringing the story to television, such as the use of a different framing device. It's kitten-centric no longer, instead opening with a rather sleepy mother reading to her young daughter, who convinces her to...well, peer at the title for some small hint. Despite Alice's continual claims that she's seven years and six months exactly, she's portrayed by Kate Beckinsale, who's a good bit older (but certainly easier to look at). Some moments in Carroll's story, such as the Lion and the Unicorn, are dispensed with entirely, but the bulk of the dialogue is presented verbatim. That more than anything is what entranced me. The movie is almost wall-to-wall dialogue, with virtually no stretches without someone saying something. The deft wordplay typically involves a very rational Alice trying to converse with characters ensnared in their own circular, non-sensical logic. It's easier to transcribe than to describe, so below is one sample exchange between Alice and the White Queen:
"Living backwards? I never heard of such a thing."
"But there is one great advantage in that one's memory works both ways."
"I'm sure mine only works one way. I can't remember things before they happen."
"It's a poor sort of memory that only works...backwards."
"What sort of things do you remember best?"
"Oh, things that happened the week after next. For instance, there's the King's messenger. He's in prison being punished, and the trial doesn't even begin till next Wednesday...and, of course, the crime comes last of all."
"Suppose he never commits the crime?"
"Well, that would be all the better, wouldn't it?"
"Of course it would be all the better, but it wouldn't be all the better his being punished."
"You're wrong there, at any rate. Were you never punished?"
"Only for faults."
"And you were all the better for it, I know."
"Yes, but I'd done the things I was punished for. That makes all the difference."
"But if you hadn't done them, that would have been better still."
If reading that put a smile on your face (and, of course, the delivery in the movie adds much to that), then I'd certainly recommend giving Alice Through the Looking Glass at least a rental. If it didn't coax more than an indifferent shrug, than you probably needn't bother. I'd be more tempted to recommend this DVD to older children and adults, as I'm not sure what sort of reception it would meet with from particularly young children. They may be fascinated by the charming performances and some of the visual tricks eked out of what I'm sure is an exceedingly modest budget, I'd imagine the clever dialogue would be largely lost on them.
|"Look at the branch above your head; you'll find a snap-dragonfly. Its body is a Cornish pasty, its wings are holly leaves, and its head is a raisin burning in brandy."|
Video: Alice Through the Looking Glass was produced for television in 1998, so its 1.33:1 aspect ratio comes as little surprise. The image itself is rather unexceptional, appearing rather flat and two-dimensional and boasting lackluster contrast and fine detail. The film's palette is appropriately off-kilter, almost looking as if the colors had been supersaturated and then dialed down a bit, and black levels are fantastic, particularly when Alice finds herself immersed in darkness. It's not a particularly impressive presentation, but its shortcomings are all bearable.
Audio: The Dolby Digital stereo audio, which has been encoded at the usual bitrate of 192Kbps, isn't a far cry from what I'd expect from a television broadcast either. There isn't much activity in the lower frequencies, and some hiss is lurking in the background throughout. So much of the film's appeal lies in its dialogue, and although it does have somewhat of a sibilant quality to it, all of the characters can be clearly understood throughout.
Again, it's unremarkable, but I don't have any overwhelming complaints. There are no alternate soundtracks, but this DVD does sport optional Spanish subtitles and English closed captions.
Supplements: The only extras are a full-frame trailer for Alice Through the Looking Glass, alongside a pair of plugs for computer animated adventures of Popeye and the Care Bears. The movie has been divided into eighteen chapters, and the DVD includes a set of static 4x3 menus.
Conclusion: To reuse some of the same adjectives from earlier in the review, Alice Through the Looking Glass is a charming, clever story, and this adaptation is accordingly a charming, clever film. I'm not convinced that very young children would get much out of it, and as the execution is decidedly British, viewers who are turned off by such things should certainly steer clear. Writing strictly as the 26 year old American male that I am, I personally enjoyed Alice Through the Looking Glass quite a bit. I'd be more tempted to recommend this DVD as a rental, but readers with a particular interest in Lewis Carroll's works may want to consider a purchase as well. Recommended.