Some Kind of Wonderland
I just spent most of Sunday watching an advanced screener of Alice, the two-night miniseries that debuts on Syfy tonight at 9pm Eastern, and I’m sorry to say that the most intriguing thing about it is the fact that this screener Syfy sent wasn’t completely finished, FXwise. So there were lots of bits with green screens and temporary concept art standing in for what will be, I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever, totally spectacular and dazzling visuals to come in the cablecast for public consumption. I love seeing all that making-of, behind-the-scenes shit, and I’m always especially delighted to see how actors manage to do what they do — like look genuinely astonished — even when they’re looking at nothing but a studio wall draped in what looks like surgical sheets.
More’s the pity that it ends up feeling pointless and empty and humorless, for it starts off rather intriguing, this modern update of Lewis Carroll’s classic novel [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon U.K.]. (There’s a lot of this going around: Tim Burton’s production arrives this coming spring.) Alice (Canadian actress Caterina Scorsone) is not a little girl but an adult, a modern woman with a black belt in karate and a cute and mysterious English-accented boyfriend, Jack (Philip Winchester: Flyboys, Thunderbirds). And when Jack is spirited away by thugs in a panel van, she does not hesitate to follow him with plans to rescue him from whatever is going on. We sort of guess right away that Alice will be following him into Carroll’s wonderland, and dang if it ain’t actually a place called Wonderland she ends up, the same world “the Alice of legend” discovered a century and a half ago, though it’s moved on in the same way that our world has: Alice goes through a looking glass and ends up in a place that’s a literal underworld, in both the fantastical and the criminal senses of the word.
It’s a grimly appealing place, the stuff of urban punk fantasy, where liquid emotions — harvested from people kidnapped from world above — are for sale by the Dormouse at a place that’s more like an OTB than a tea shop, and there’s an organized resistance to the Queen of Hearts, who rules the land with an iron fist, or something. (Later, there will be torture, which has become the tedious shorthand for “dark and gritty” on TV of late.) This is where it all starts to fall apart, in so many ways. Alice, who had been so cool and tough and proactive, becomes little more than a tourist in Wonderland, voicing plaintive claims once in a while that she has to find Jack, but mostly just along for a sightseeing ride through this drug-addled, hedonistic, techno-brutal Wonderland.
Alice mistakes style, which it has in spades, with content, which it has hardly none of. All these cool ideas that it has — like emotions harvested from humans — it has not one whit of a notion what to do with. Carroll’s book was deliberately nonsensical and playful: this one dispenses with play and tries to impose order on the nonsense, but appears to have no other reason to exist beyond showing off how supposedly clever it is. It has nothing to say, and hopes you will be too distracted by all the pretty pictures it’s giving you to notice.
Cute: Andrew-Lee Potts (Primeval) as the Mad Hatter:
Cuter: Philip Winchester as Jack Chase:
Weird: Matt Frewer (Watchmen) as the White Knight:
Weirder: the android — or lupinoid — Mad March:
Weirdest: Kathy Bates’ (The Day the Earth Stood Still) Queen of Hearts is a Time Lord, and has a TARDIS:
It’s the same problem that plagued the then Sci Fi Channel’s Tin Man two years ago… which is unsurprising, perhaps, since this is from the same production team, including director Nick Willing (who also adapted Carroll’s book here). I’d say I dread to see what classic of fantasy they’ll attack next in order to pretend they’re all postmodern and bleak, but it hardly matters. With nothing at all to say, Alice will be as quickly forgotten as Tin Man was.