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Alice Through the Looking Glass

BBC Worldwide // Unrated // March 12, 2013
List Price: $14.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted April 17, 2013 | E-mail the Author

The Movie:

A 1973 made for TV version of Lewis Carroll's beloved book of the same name, Alice Through The Looking Glass stars Sarah Sutton as the titular Alice, a girl deep in conversation with her cats when we first meet her. Shortly after, she takes a curious interest in the large mirror situated in the house, and after a bit of poking around decides that this isn't any ordinary mirror but instead a portal that leads to a far more unusual version of the world she knows.

Being a brave and curious type, Alice decides to enter the portal and arrives on the other side where things are about to get... strange, beginning with her introduction to a strange person referring to herself as Tiger Lily (June Watson). As she explores, she realizes that everything seems to be centered around a huge, life sized game of chess made up of living pieces, and ruled over by The Red Queen (Judy Parfitt). And then there are the odd twins, Tweedledee (Raymond Mason) and Tweedledum (Anthony Collin). These strange young men warn Alice of a monstrous creature known only as The Jabberwocky. Soon enough, The Red Queen tells Alice that if she can navigate her way across the entirety of the massive chessboard that she too will become a queen, and so begins her quest. Along the way she meets The White Queen (Brenda Bruce) and The White King (Richard Pearson), Humpty Dumpty (Freddie Jones) and the bumbling The White Knight (Geoffrey Bayldon).

Very free and dreamlike at times, this one is more about the journey than the destination. Alice just sort of wanders through this alternate world meeting one strange character after another not seeming all too concerned about her quest to become a queen herself. Sarah Sutton, best known for playing Nyssa opposite Peter Davison's Doctor on Doctor Who in the early eighties, is well cast here. At eleven years old she has the right sense of childlike wonder required to convince, but so too is she able to show demonstrable backbone when butting heads with some of the citizens of this strange new world. The best example of this is probably her back and forth with The Red Queen but her exchanges with Humpty Dumpty are also quite amusing. Much of the credit for that is due Freddie Jones, however, who brings some of the most ridiculous facial expressions imaginable to his portrayal of the character and who in turn steals the scene. The rest of the cast are also quite good here, each putting in enthusiastic work, but it's Jones who, when the end credits role, you'll really remember.

The effects work here is understandably dated and obviously low budget, but sometimes that's half the charm of a movie like this, a product of a bygone era. Where a modern take on this would no doubt involve loads of CGI here there are instead people in costumes wandering around in front of stage sets (or to be more accurate, usually simple illustrated backdrops which are done in keeping with those seen in the book), with some occasional in-camera effects work showing up here and there. When The Jabberwocky eventually shows up it's a little hard to take things seriously and the low budget is at its most obvious in this scene but overall there's a lot of creativity in the way that Carroll's creations have been brought to life here. The movie is also quite a literal adaptation of Carroll's original book, it sticks to much of the text and so purists will no doubt appreciate that. The pacing is strange, but then, so is the story being told so somehow that seems appropriate even if in some ways it does hurt the movie. All in all, as dated as it is and as stagey as it is, this is worth tracking down simply because it's quite an effective take on the book and one that treats the subject matter seriously and without the need for parody of or modernizing of the original text.

The DVD:

Alice Through The Looking Glass is presented in 1.33.1 fullframe and it looks about as good as you'd expect a made for TV movie from 1973 to look. Detail is okay considering the source material but things are a bit on the flat side in terms of color reproduction - these issues are common with BBC productions from the era and are inherent in the source material. With that said, the source used was in decent enough shape though and the disc is free of authoring issues like compression artifacts or obvious sharpening, but some soft focus might be a bit off putting to some. All in all, this isn't an amazing picture but it's certainly watchable enough and you definitely do get the impression that they BBC have done the best job they can with the source, just keep your expectations in check.


The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 track on the disc, the only audio option available, is fine even if it is more than a little flat, even hollow, sounding at times. Aside from that, the dialogue is easy enough to understand and perfectly clear. Of course there isn't as much depth as a newer movie might offer but there are no problems with hiss or distortion to complain about and you won't have any problems understanding or following the performers in the feature. Optional English closed captioning is also offered.


Aside from a static menu offering episode selection, there are no extra features on this DVD.

Final Thoughts:

This 1973 version of Alice Through The Looking Glass will certainly be of interest to those who adore the material and want to see each and every version out there, but as to how much it will appeal to the general public? Obviously not as much. With that said, however, it's certainly worth a watch if you're an Alice fan and just want to see an interesting and faithful, take on the material. This version is not without its own charm, though the fact that the presentation is barebones is a strike against the disc. Recommended for enthusiasts, a decent rental for the rest.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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