After slipping through a mirror, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) finds herself back in Underland with the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Her friends tell her that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is depressed over the death of his family. Hoping to save his loved ones, Alice steals the Chronosphere from Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) to travel into the past. While there, she encounters the younger Hatter and the evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter).
Every year we see a few potential blockbusters that bomb in theaters. 2016 has been extremely unforgiving, leaving behind many casualties. ‘Warcraft’ cost $160 million but only made $47 million domestically, and was only saved by its international box office. ‘Independence Day Resurgence’ made $103 million and cost $165 million, and we also have ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Out of the Shadows’ which made $82 million but cost $135 million to make. Then we have ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass,’ which made $77 million domestically and cost a staggering $170 million, making this film one of the most spectacular failures of the summer. To put this into perspective, Tim Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ made $334 million and cost $200 million to produce. In fact, there wasn't even a whole lot of promotional material for this film. Very few franchises fall so far and so fast, which begs the question, what went wrong?
To me, a big reason this movie doesn't quite work can be boiled down to the fact that Tim Burton isn't at the helm here. I didn't necessarily like the 2010 remake, but Burton did have a vision. With this movie we have James Bobin (The Muppets (2011), Muppets Most Wanted) and it is apparent that he is ill-equipped to give a proper sequel that is the same in tone and mood.
Right from frame one we get a huge juxtaposition that feels tonally off. We start out with Alice (Mia Wasikowska) as a captain of a boat in a huge storm on her way back from an exploring expedition. Alice has taken control of her father’s ship after his death and the investors of her expeditions all pull her funding, and threaten to seize control of her mother’s house if she doesn’t hand over the deed for the boat. This is the worst part about the film and once we get into Wonderland the childishness continues, but it is at least visually striking.
Wonderland is just as bright, vibrant, and full of life as you would remember. In fact, I would make the argument that there is more character in Wonderland than any of the actual actors and actresses on screen. Wasikowska doesn’t seem to fit in the role that has been given to her, and Anne Hathaway as Mirana is terribly one note and expressionless. Johnny Depp, on the other hand, has the opposite effect. Depp reprises his role as the Mad Hatter, and if his shtick grated on you like it grated on me the last time around, then look out, because he is even more bombastic and garish than last time. That may be because a big part of ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ centers around reuniting the Hatter with his recently deceased family. Now, Depp has rightfully been accused of being a caricature and not a character for a long time and that is in full effect here, and unfortunately, it is detrimental to the film.
Since Alice was last here, everyone in Wonderland seems to be crushing over the Hatter for some reason and it seems like Wonderland can’t function without him. So Alice must travel to the Time Castle and steal the “Chronosphere” from a character simply known as Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) to travel back in time and save Hatter’s family before their demise. I love and admire every visual in the Time Castle and all of the character it brings. Cohen's quirks and liveliness fit wonderfully within this universe and he instantly became my favorite character in the film. The Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) also has a subplot as she tries to coerce Time to give her the Chronosphere for nefarious reasons. We then also get an interesting, but rather unnecessary, look at her past and why she is so evil.
Why did ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ perform so poorly at the box office? It’s not because this film has little to nothing to do with its source material. This is an obvious Disnification of this property, which was evident even from the small amount of press material that was released. This is a totally kidified version of what we got in Burton’s vision. You are asked to swallow such pandering messages, Stereotypical characters, and uninspired plotting that it becomes too much to bear. Visuals do count for a lot here, and carry the movie most of the way to the finish line. But it is glaringly apparent that this concept was left in development for way too long with too many cooks spoiling the broth; and like a steak left in the oven too long, it is full of leather and too chewy to swallow.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats:
‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ comes to Blu-ray with a Disney/Buena Vista standard glossy slip cover to hard cover package that encloses a BD-50 disc, DVD, and Digital HD code. Once you hit play, we get the usual skippable trailers that let you go straight to the film, or go to the main menu that has clips from the film playing in the background
Buena Vista transports you into its wonderful world of Wonderland with a 1080P MPEG -4 AVC encode that is the absolute best thing presented here. ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ was filmed digitally on the Arri Alexa XT and sourced at a 3.4K resolution, then mastered at 2K, and boy does it show in every frame of its 1.85:1 aspect ratio. This is one of the brightest, most distinct, and detailed transfers in my collection today. One thing this film accomplishes is making Wonderland feel more vast and immersive. From Wonderland itself, to the rocky waters of the sea, to my personal favorite, the Time Castle, all of these locations are represented flawlessly with amazing clarity and detail. Just the Time Castle alone, with all of its moving cogs and mechanics, is absolutely mesmerizing and is one of those scenes you can go back to time and time again and find a new moving part. Even the way the Mad Hatter looks, you can see every lock of manic hair on his head, and every strand of his garish suit.
Black and white levels are spot on and clarity is top notch. But what is most impressive here is how consistent this transfer is with all the points I have mentioned so far. Depth of field feels vast and expansive, like if it had any more definition, you would be seeing it in 3D. This transfer never shows any weakness. I think the best way to drive home my point is to say that the presentation on this disc was a huge part of why I enjoyed this film and the true star, and that is why this is a reference quality disc in my mind.
Despite Disney’s lack of confidence in ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ it was given a Dolby Atmos mix for its theatrical release. Unfortunately, like most of Disney/Buena Vista films, that more robust mix is presented with a DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix that feels more on the better end of this studio’s efforts as of late. I won't lie, even the track on ‘The Jungle Book’ left me a little cold. Fronts and surrounds work together in perfect harmony from the word go, as Alice's ship fights the elements to get her home from her expedition as waves are crashing into your surrounds. Dynamic range is particularly strong whether you are in the Time Castle, where the mechanical cogs are spinning around your field of sound, or the wall shaking bass quality when Alice steals the Chronosphere and enters the realm where she controls time. It is all deeply expansive and dynamic.
As you get closer to the final climax, and distraction happens in creative ways, the LFE track shows deep, weighty bass levels that gave my system a good work out. Vocals are crisp, clear, and have generous levels. This could have been demo worthy if they would have included the Atmos track that it had in its theatrical run. But as it stands, this is still a fine mix that should really be used as a template for Disney/Buena Vista to get some of their other efforts back on track with beefier mixes.
Audio Commentary with James Bobin – Despite some minor technical issues, Bobin does a decent job conducting this commentary solo, as he has a lot of insight into his visuals here, and it gives you a sense of where his priorities lay. Bobin speaks a lot about camera composition, set design, and a whole lot about the character of Time, all things I appreciated quite a bit. But the actual volume of the film as it plays behind Bobin’s commentary is way too turned down and it makes it hard to follow dialogue and the commentary at the same time.
Behind the Looking Glass (8:39 HD) – A typical introduction to the characters in the movie and the decision behind digging deeper into the Hatter and the Red Queen.
A Stitch in Time: Costuming Wonderland (4:24 HD) – Wondering how they came up with some of the beautiful costumes in the movie? Here is a nice brief look at the costume choices created for this world. For example, Alice's new colorful dress represents her journey from China that she was returning from as the film starts.
Time On… (1:46 HD) – An amusing short where Cohen riffs on being in the movie while in his character as Time.
Characters of Underland (4:27 HD) – A short look at all the characters and what makes them tick. One thing they point out that I didn't realize (since I read ‘Through the Looking Glass’ when I was a small child), was that Tweedledee and Tweedledum weren't in the original ‘Alice in Wonderland’ novel. It was Burton’s idea to bring them into the previous film.
Alice Goes Through the Looking Glass: A Scene Peeler (2:27 HD) – A split screen look at how the scene where Alice goes into the looking glass was filmed. One side is the blue screen version, and one side is the theatrical. Apparently, this scene was immensely detailed, and took weeks to film and a year and a half to finish.
Alice Goes Through Time’s Castle: A Scene Peeler (1:33 HD) – A inside look at the scene where Alice arrives at Time Castle, only this time the focus is on the stunt work Wasikowska was required to do, only cutting to the blue screen shots during the action.
Deleted Scenes with Audio Commentary (8:56 HD) – A group of scenes that add very little to the film, and is a little long itself at almost two hours. We get a scene where Alice reminisces about her first trip to Wonderland, a zany scene at the party she goes to before entering the looking glass, and an extended scene clarifying Time and the Red Queens relationship.
Music Video “Just Like Fire” By Pink (3:58 HD)
Behind The Music Video (3:02 HD)
Seeing ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ made me appreciate Tim Burton a lot more than I have for the past decade. Say what you want about the man, but he has a vision, and it isn't always the most studio friendly film on the block either. Still, he holds his ground and makes the movie he feels should be made, for better or for worse. This movie is the exact opposite of that. Every choice feels like the obvious one, every plot development feels like it is where sequels usually go, and some of the changes they made with Alice feel pandering. It's not that I don't like strong female characters, it's just that Wasikowska clearly feels uncomfortable with the role and can't seem to pull it off. So what I am left with? A movie that has an absolutely stunning visual style, and great CG characters that carry me through the film when the human element lets me down, and make the movie worthwhile. If anyone is marginally interested in seeing ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ and is looking for a good tech demo for their new set up, you might want to pick this one up to just take a look at the excellent video presentation.