In case you haven't heard, this weekend Syfy is following up Tin Man, the network's highly successful reimagining of The Wizard of Oz, with a four-hour miniseries retelling of Alice in Wonderland. (Check out the trailer clip above for a first look!)
We were positively enchanted by Tin Man, which gave familiar characters new attitudes and backstories and reset the familiar tale into a new epic framework, so we had to find out: Is Alice as good? Does Syfy's second contemporary remodel of classic children's lit live up to the first?
We've gotten an early look at Alice, and here's what we can tell you:
Sad to say, Alice is just isn't as magical as Tin Man.
The series comes up short, because, in the end, you don't walk away from Alice desperate to know more about the characters and their futures. There's a certain bizarre coldness to the tale, and after some initial intrigue, you may find yourself wanting to join Alice in seeking the most expeditious possible route out of Wonderland.
So what will you see in this rendition of Wonderland? Expect a cross between a 1960s anticonsumerist psychedelic fantasy and a 1960s mod-influenced caper film. Wonderland has been updated from the archaic universe of Lewis Carroll's time (the story entirely ignores the influential Disney version) into a reasonably modern and recognizable world. For example, flamingos are now flying motorcycles instead of croquet mallets. The Queen of Hearts seems to be the CEO of a quasi-corporate pharmaceutical empire devoted to isolating human emotion in easily consumed liquid form so that customers can experience immediate positive gratification at all times. Wanderers-in from our world, such as Alice, are dubbed "oysters" and are harvested of their beneficial feelings (innocence and wonder are highly prized, for example). It's all rather baffling and odd, although that's not so terribly different than the source material!
Still, stranger TV tales than this have been saved by magic of good casting. Sadly, this is largely not the case in Alice. Kathy Bates is totally perfect as the Queen of Hearts, Brit Andrew Lee Potts has a breakout performance as the rakish schemer Hatter (he's not mad here), and Philip Winchester makes an impression as Jack, but these three are the exception rather than the rule.
Again, perhaps it's a matter of source material. The four (or five including the villainess) leads of The Wizard of Oz are, each in their own way, easy to love, and the story takes time to fully introduce them all, whereas Alice in Wonderland's dizzying phantasmagoria is fractured into a series of more episodic encounters.
As such, Alice careens so wildly from iconic character to iconic character (Dodo! Walrus! Caterpillar!), that it's difficult to absorb who's who, much less warm to them, especially when formerly innocuous buffoons like Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee are mutated into Dr. Mengele-esque freaks fascinated by human-subjects testing.
As for Alice herself, perhaps it was a bad idea to cast a relative unknown. Caterina Scorsone is certainly a capable-enough actress, but it's hard to really fall in love with her largely bewildered and overwhelmed reluctant hero. When this Alice is first introduced, we learn that she's a black belt in karate, but it's not until hours later that she really displays any of the true fight we've come to expect from our lady heroines these days. Watchers might find themselves wishing that Nicki Aycox or Amanda Seyfried had landed this part instead.
Overall, Alice contains many of the necessary ingredients for whipping up an exciting TV adventure. A hero embarks upon a journey, epic destinies of the "Luke, I am your father" variety are revealed, autocratic dystopias are deciphered and subsequently liberated, and art designers kill themselves creating never-before-seen dreamlands (the Queen's fantastic army of "suits" and the casino are eye-catching indeed), but in the end, we're sorry to say, the sum of the parts don't add up to a rewarding whole. This Alice just isn't all there.
Alice premieres Sunday, Dec. 6 at 9 p.m. on Syfy.
Are we breaking your hearts here? Have you been dreaming and wishing for Alice since you first heard it was happening? Do you expect it to be a hit on the scale of Tin Man? Hit the comments!
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