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Monday, April 28, 2014

DVD/Blu-ray Review: Alice

Alice is Jan Svankmajer’s incredible version and vision of Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, mixing live action and stop motion animation. It was originally released in 1988. It opens with Alice (Kristyna Kohoutova) tossing rocks into a stream. She then looks at a book that’s on the lap of the woman next to her. We assume it’s her mother, but we don’t see her face. The woman slaps her to stop her from touching the book. During the opening credits there are close-up shots of a mouth that tell us to close our eyes, or we won’t see anything.

And then we’re inside a cluttered, somewhat dark room. Alice is now tossing small rocks into a tea cup. Though first we only hear the sound of the stones hitting the cup, as we’re treated to the details of the room. The details include a doll with a book open on its lap next to a smaller doll, making us question the reality of the opening shot. It’s wonderful that this film has us questioning reality almost immediately; that’s perfect for this story.

From there, things begin to get deliciously strange, when a rabbit that is on display in a glass case removes the nails that keep it in place. Alice then watches as the rabbit dons white gloves and a coat and hat, and smashes through its glass cage with a pair of scissors. She follows the rabbit, climbing into a desk drawer. That shot looks fantastic, by the way.

This film is so delightfully odd and deliciously dark from the beginning. You immediately are immersed in this strange reality, and so view it with the same wonder that Alice does (something Tim Burton completely failed at in his disastrous and dull version of this story). Her initial descent takes a frightfully long time that you get the feeling that she’ll never return to any sort of normalcy, whatever that might mean to her.

When she shrinks, she becomes the shorter of the two dolls that we saw in the room. Then at one point when she grows, she doesn’t return immediately to herself but is trapped within the shell of the doll and is forced to break out of her own shell. It’s a wonderful image.

Every image in this film is captivating. The bit where the rat builds a fire pit on Alice’s head is bloody wonderful. Alice says, “That’s going too far.” And the mouth adds, “Said Alice to herself.” There are close-up shots of the mouth throughout the film, making it all seem like a story that she’s telling herself. I love when she revives the socks. The caterpillar is a sock with a set of false teeth, which looks wild and humorous. And then Alice’s own socks try to escape.

There are many images of death and decay, such as the animated skeletons of animals. Also, sawdust keeps falling out of the poor rabbit, so he closes his body up with a safety pin. But Alice is never terrified. When you’re young, there is no fear of death. Also, when she needs to find a way out of a place, she does. Keys are found in the oddest places, but they are found, which again gives us the feel that this is a story that she herself is telling.

Bonus Feature

The disc contains Darkness Light Darkness, an incredible short film directed by Jan Svankmajer.

Alice was directed by Jan Svankmajer, who also directed Lunacy, another film I love. It was released on Blu-ray and DVD on April 15, 2014 through First Run Features.

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