Connect with us

Disc Reviews

Alice | Blu-ray Review

Alice Jan Švankmajer Blu-rayHave you ever seen a poorly stuffed animal? Like, one where the taxidermist flat out fucked up, letting faux tissue rest imbalanced on the skeleture or placing glass eyeballs protruding too far out of the eye sockets, leaving the poor passed-on animal but a mangled shell of its former self. Looking on such a disfigured beast generally conjures instantaneous disgust, a repugnancy solely caused by the unnatural look of creatures we know to look a specific way. This discomforting unnaturalness is the stuff surrealist Czech director Jan Švankmajer lives for. His lengthy oeuvre is packed with animated creatures that look as though they were purposefully aborted taxidermy projects. In the late 1980s, Švankmajer took on the task of adapting Lewis Carroll’s beloved Adventure’s in Wonderland with Alice, employing a mix of stop motion and live action to lense his white rabbit as a demented teeth chattering creature of childhood nightmares.

Actually originating as a taxidermied rabbit stowed in young Alice’s playroom, the perpetually late hare awakens, pulls its watch from its ripped open abdomen, licks the hemorrhaging sawdust stuffing from its face (with an unsettlingly realistic looking tongue) and redeposits it within, running off to what can only be guessed as the murderous queen. Kristýna Kohoutová plays the eponymous title character, strangely unafraid of the terrifying goings on around her. Instead of recoiling in fear, she follows the creature, eventually encountering a variety of familiar Carroll scenarios such as the enlarging cookies, shrinking potions, the Mad Hatter’s dinner party and the royal decapitations. Along her warped journey, she happens upon an increasing cast of creatures that look as though they were the taxidermied experiments of Sid from Toy Story, mashed up bits of old bones and discarded goodies from a child’s room that take chase and attack. It’s here that the seeds of sedation are planted. We slowly begin to feel as though Alice is not physically in this nightmare, but dreaming it all up. The fact that every line of dialogue said by other characters are punctuated by Alice repetitively stating something like, in tight close up on her mouth, “Said the White Rabbit”, help this notion along. No conscious child in their right mind would act as Alice does in these situations.

Švankmajer’s version of wonderland has been aptly described as a Disney envisioned by Luis Buñuel, but the Czech’s vision is surely a unique take that sincerely translates all the dark themeology of Carroll’s original tale. Surely by making nearly all of the animals that inhabit Alice’s Wonderland creatures that quite possibly have already died in real life, the idea of death and the loss of childhood innocence is framed front and center. At one point our young protagonist is even literally kidnapped by death, encased in a doll-like cast and locked away with jars of what appears to be formaldehyde submerged unknowns. Subtle is not Švankmajer’s bag, but what he brings to Alice is a surrealistic horror that bares no obvious cinematic brethren.

Disc Review:

Though it’s much appreciated that we get to see Alice in HD for the first time, unfortunately the disc contains a few issues. Restored by the BFI, generally the image looks fine, the gritty color scheme of the film coming through with great detail in all the stop motion work, but unfortunately there are several occasions throughout the film where a few frames disintegrate into a matrix of pixelated noise. These only happen for a brief second, but it’s worth noting. Audiowise, First Run Features has committed a cardinal sin. The original Czech-language track is totally absent, replaced by an English-only version, making all dialogue appear even more surreal because of it’s mouth movement mis-matching. Releasing a foreign language film without it’s original language is a tragedy. Shame. The bare bones disc comes in a standard Blu case.

Final Thoughts:

This is not the Alice in Wonderland you thought you knew, full of cute bunnies and hookah smoking caterpillars. If you were to show this to a child, they would be scarred for life. Švankmajer has created a terrifying stop-motion vision that sadly begins to grate with every repetition of “Said the White Rabbit”. Surely the intention was to cause discomfort with this repeated phrase, but it begins to degradate the film about halfway through. Alice probably hasn’t ever looked this good, but if you want to see it in its original state with its original language, look only to the BFI region B release instead.

Film: ★★½/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc:    ★½/☆☆☆☆☆

1 Comment

More in Disc Reviews

To Top