Mad for the hatter

2010-03-05 15:31

TIM Burton is a director with a singular vision and he brings it to Alice in Wonderland in 3D. The film is a two-hour fantasy adventure full of wonder and nonsense orchestrated by one of film’s most gifted wizards.

It takes the story of Alice further, creating a feisty, satisfyingly strong-willed female protagonist and champion who navigates the mad world she finds herself in by imagining six impossible things before breakfast and finding her muchness.

But the wonder in Wonderland is created by Burton who embraces the technology available to him but uses it judiciously, never allowing whizz- bang effects to take the place of narrative and characterisation.

A fan of Dr Seuss as a child, ­Burton’s first feature was 1985’s ­Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but it was with such iconic films as Beetlejuice, Batman and Edward Scissorhands that he became a household name.

His other films include Big Fish, Planet of the Apes, Sleepy Hollow, Sweeney Todd, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Corpse Bride.
He most often works with Johnny Depp and always casts his wife, ­Helena Bonham Carter, in his films. In Alice in Wonderland, Depp is the Mad Hatter and Carter the Red Queen. Expect this one to be a big contender at next year’s Academy Awards.

This interview with the magician of the screen is courtesy of Disney:


Why do you think Alice in Wonderland is still popular, more than 140 years after its publication?

That’s why all those great stories stay around because they tap into the things people probably aren’t even aware of on a conscious level. The attempt with this was to take the idea of those stories and shape them into something not from the book but retaining its spirit.

When you were first approached to direct it what was your reaction?

They gave me a script and they said 3D. And even before I read it, I thought, that’s intriguing.
What I liked about Linda Woolverton’s script was that she made it a story, and gave it a shape for a movie that’s not ­necessarily the book.
What I liked about this take on the story is that Alice at 19 is at an age where you’re between a kid and an adult, when you’re crossing over as a person.

Which characters appealed to you?

I think this material suffered in the past because all of the characters are just weird. Okay, Hatter’s weird. Cat’s weird. Rabbit’s weird. We tried to give each one their own particular quirks, so that they each have their own character.

What was your approach to the film?

I was much more fascinated by the iconic images – I think people are always surprised when they go back and read the stories, because they don’t have that Lord of the Rings sweeping narrative. They’re absurdist, surreal.

Why couldn’t you do a re-telling of the books?

The thing that fascinates me about ­Alice is that its iconic images have been absorbed by our culture.
It was never the plot points of the story, because they were absurdist tales – they didn’t really have a certain narrative ­dynamic.
I think that’s why those other versions, to me, were always lacking because there was this little girl observing things and saying, oh that’s weird.
So, we tried to ground each of the ­characters. We tried to give them a bit more depth and to give her a story.

What is Johnny Depp’s approach to playing such a vivid character as The Mad Hatter?

I think Johnny tried to find grounding with the character, something you can feel, as opposed to him just being mad. His goal was to bring out a human side to the strangeness of the character.
I’ve worked with him for many years, and he always tries to do something like that.

Do you consider Johnny Depp a muse?

Nah, he’s just a piece of meat [laughs]. All these actors were great, because they weren’t dealing with a lot of stuff – sets, props, other actors.
So, a lot of it had to be inside of each person’s mind. You need people to go out on a limb and just go for it, without a lot of material. So, yeah, Johnny’s good at that.
And, you know, for me too, I think, it was really hard because I’d never really done a movie like this.
And it’s quite eye-opening. It’s a whole different process. I would think for an ­actor it’s really challenging.

How close do you work with Johnny in creating his characters?

Well, I’ll do a little sketch, he’ll do a little sketch. We’ll talk.
With him, we use references, but they’re never specific references. But I’m always excited to see what’s gonna come out of it.

Can you talk about why you chose Mia Wasikowska for Alice?

She has both a young quality and an old quality.
And that’s what we felt was important for this Alice.
There’s a certain slight passiveness to Alice that’s always in the material.
So we wanted to give her more of a quiet strength, which Mia has.
Because you’re witnessing this whole thing through her eyes, it needed somebody who could subtly portray that.

Is it Underland or Wonderland? What does it look like in this film?

It is Underland, but according to the film version, when Alice visited as a child, she misheard the name and called it Wonderland. I think in people’s minds it’s always a very bright, cartoony place.
We thought if Alice had had this ­adventure as a little girl and now she’s going back, perhaps it’s been a little bit depressed since she’s left.
It’s got a slightly haunted quality to it.

Are you taking a unique approach to technology with this film?

Well, Ken Ralston’s (senior visual ­effects supervisor) done this.
I haven’t done this before. It’s a puzzle, and the movie doesn’t materialise until the end.
After production ends, you usually have a movie – you see the shots and then you spend six months to a year ­cutting it.
This doesn’t work that way. It’s a very Alice in Wonderland-like process. It’s a little backwards.

Does using 3D affect the story at all?

3D is here to stay. I’m personally not out to make a gimmick, so I believe that it enhances the film.
It puts you into that world.
And with the Alice material and the special spaces and places that you’re in, it just helps with the experience.
I think the gimmick element of 3D is falling by the wayside. Now it’s more about an experience that puts you into the film.
It gives you that kind of “out-there” ­feeling that was a very crucial element to the film.


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