• Alice In Wonderland

    Released by: BBC
    Released on: 3/2/2010
    Director: Jonathan Miller
    Cast: Peter Sellers, John Gielgud, Peter Cook, Michael Redgrave
    Year: 1966
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    The Movie:

    Being a huge Alice in Wonderland fan, I am always eager to see any and every new (or preferably old) film version of the story that I haven’t seen before. The first time I saw this 1966 version, an entry in the BBC television series “The Wednesday Play” which ran from 1964-1970, I didn’t quite get it. I enjoyed it, but a lot of it was lost on me. Rather than focusing on the magical, good-hearted lunacy we’ve become so used to in regards to Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece, this version chose to take a darker, more “realistic” approach at Alice while staying incredibly true to the book. The personalities we’ve come to know and love in animal form are instead human while still expressing the same characteristics and quirks so familiar to us making their identities unmistakable. A few years ago it didn’t make sense to me, but in that time, having experienced a little more both personally and cinematically I see the genius in it. I suppose, like Alice, I had to grow up a bit.

    As expected, we begin with Alice following the “white rabbit” down the rabbit hole but here the rabbit hole is instead woods and buildings rather than an actual hole. The beautiful yet simple cinematography of this scene is amazing. Running through what appears to be an empty building of some sort, the window after window of billowing white curtains achieves the feel of a fairy tale without getting too fanciful, and being in black and white really adds to the sincerity and innocence of it all. While the dialogue and characters are undeniably accurate… Wonderland somehow just isn’t Wonderland when it’s not in color. This lack of color creates an alternate Wonderland that is realistic in its portrayal, but just as strange because it’s so familiar yet so warped, which is in essence, what it always has been. Our Alice, uniquely played by Anne-Marie Malik (in her only role, sadly), is very different from what we’ve come to know of this character. This version shows us a disinterested and almost depressed little girl, very common in looks, nothing like the happy, blonde-haired, bright eyed little girl full of curiosity that Walt Disney has painted in our minds. Lewis Carroll’s vision was probably somewhere between the two.

    The rest of the cast of this Alice in Wonderland includes veteran British actors such as Sir Michael Redgrave as the smoke-free “Caterpillar”, Sir John Gielgud as the musical yet sorrowful “Mock Turtle”, Peter Sellers as the more important than usual “King of Hearts” and shining above all the rest, Peter Cook as the brilliantly disturbing “Mad Hatter.” The cast is impressive all around in their Victorian era garb and as Wonderland is seemingly more “right” with British accents, everyone fit. Look for a few non-speaking, uncredited appearances by Monty Python’s Eric Idle, in his first on screen role. In addition to the wonderful sets, acting and dialogue, music for the production was written by Ravi Shankar which may seem an out of place choice but was eerily appropriate. Special effects were minimal and creative, much better and more impressive than that of a certain current CGI blockbuster.


    This region one NTSC disc is presented in its original full-frame format. Often with old black and white films the quality tends to fade and look soft but the images in this are quite crisp. There are a lot of close ups, of Alice in particular, and such shots would be the first to look worn, but everything is very clear in its greyness. There seems to be no loss in picture quality at all as a previous DVD release of this boasted a “new digital transfer” and this would obviously be from the same source. Basically this is a forty five year old film that is virtually flawless.

    This release contains its original mono audio track available in English only. Subtitles are also in English only. Sound quality and levels are good throughout with no distortion.

    Included on this disc are the following extras…
    *Director’s Commentary with director/produced Jonathan Miller.
    *Cecil Hepworth’s 1903 silent film version of “Alice in Wonderland”… as the first Alice in Wonderland on film this is a must see for Alice fans and overall cinema fans. There is a forced commentary throughout from Simon Brown from the British Film Institute that I feel should be optional. This is easy to overlook though as the film is only about eight minutes long and the commentary is fairly interesting.
    *Dennis Potter’s 1965 biopic “Alice”, about the real-life Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Carroll’s creation
    *Ravi Shankar plays for Alice… a short behind the scenes documentary on what went into creating the music for this film; very interesting back and forth dialogue between Shankar and director, Jonathan Miller.
    *Photo gallery… stills from the film and production.
    *Unrelated trailers.

    The Final Word:

    As stated earlier, being a fan of Alice, I am always happy to see a production of the story keep loyal to the book. So often, “Alice in Wonderland” films contain characters and elements of “Through the Looking Glass” and while just as wonderful and although both are often combined in book form, they are certainly not concocted into one entity . It’s nice to see some of the lesser Wonderland characters, like the DoDo and Caucus Race participants, receiving some attention in this production rather than bringing in Looking Glass land characters out of context. Though intentionally drab and slow-moving at times, this is really a film that will appeal to true Alice fans, British film fans and any individuals who can appreciate the big picture. From start to finish, this is a fantastic presentation of Lewis Carroll’s classic. I believe he would agree.