Wel­come back to Won­der­land... But where’s Tim Bur­ton? The t ime has come, Stephen Kelly says, to ta l k of many t hings...

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How do you fol­low up one of the big­gest fan­tasy films of all time? Like this…

If there’s one thing to take away from Alice In Won­der­land, the 2010 live- ac­tion adap­ta­tion by Tim Bur­ton, it’s that some films are just too big to fail. For Alice In Won­der­land was, by and large, a crit­i­cal dud, a movie that many re­view­ers saw as a sign of Bur­ton’s cre­ative fa­tigue. But it didn’t mat­ter. The project sounded too per­fect to fail. Tim Bur­ton, one of cin­ema’s great­est sur­re­al­ists, tak­ing on one of the most sur­real sto­ries ever told? Johnny Depp – in a role he was seem­ingly born to play – as the Mad Hat­ter? It made over a bil­lion dol­lars, and is cur­rently the 22nd high­est- gross­ing film ever. Nat­u­rally, this means a se­quel: Alice Through The Look­ing Glass, based on Lewis Carroll’s

sec­ond 1871 novel Through The Look­ing- Glass,

And What Alice Found There. Bur­ton, how­ever, will only be tak­ing on a pro­duc­ing role. Di­rec­to­rial du­ties now fall to James Bobin, no stranger to breath­ing life back into fran­chises. Af­ter all, he was the Brit who over­saw the re­turn of the Mup­pets in 2011, with a cowrit­ing credit for its se­quel The Mup­pets: Most Wanted. Be­fore then, he co- cre­ated Flight Of

The Con­chords, and worked with Sacha Baron Co­hen on every­thing from Ali G to Bo­rat. Still, one of the big­gest films of all time, di­rected by one of the most iconic di­rec­tors of all time – that’s quite an act to fol­low.

“It’s daunt­ing!” laughs Bobin. “But it’s also ex­cit­ing, as Tim’s still a pro­ducer. So you get to work with one of your heroes. I grew up watch­ing his films, I love his style, his feel. I was so ex­cited that I got to play in that sand pit.”

That sand pit, of course, is dis­tinc­tive and well known. Along­side his “squad” ( fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tors Depp and ex- part­ner He­lena Bon­ham Carter), Alice In Won­der­land ticked all the boxes of a Bur­ton flick; wry, gothic aes­thetic, larger- than- life char­ac­ters ( lit­er­ally, in Bon­ham Carter’s case) and wispy, dream­like di­a­logue. So surely, when it came to mak­ing sand cas­tles of his own, there were lim­its to what Bobin could do?

in­spect­ing lewis

“It’s not dis­sim­i­lar to the Mup­pets,” he says. “I never felt in­hib­ited with the Mup­pets hav­ing ex­isted be­fore. I love those char­ac­ters and I knew them, and I knew what they’d do in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions. It’s the same with this film. I knew that while I wanted to use a lot of the stylis­tic feel of Alice In Won­der­land, that – be­cause my back­ground is pri­mar­ily in com­edy – I wanted to bring a sort of light­ness to it, a brevity. In my own read­ing of Lewis Carroll, he is a comic per­son. A lot of his work is very much sur­re­al­ist satire. In a weird way he’s one of the orig­i­na­tors of English hu­mour; that weird, sur­real word­play that you can trace all the way to Monty Python.”

I imag­ine that Lewis Carroll was very in­ter­ested in the idea of time travel

Bur­ton’s Alice In Won­der­land was a pseudo- se­quel to Carroll’s orig­i­nal novel, with a 19- year- old Alice ( Mia Wasikowska) re­turn­ing to Won­der­land 13 years af­ter her pre­vi­ous visit, only to find the world plunged into dark­ness – with old friends like the Cheshire Cat ( Stephen Fry), the White Rab­bit ( Michael Sheen) and the Mad Hat­ter liv­ing un­der the tyranny of Bon­ham- Carter’s Red Queen. Alice Through The Look­ing Glass is sim­i­larly loose in its adap­ta­tion; tak­ing the key el­e­ments of Carroll’s un­filmable sec­ond book ( Alice re­turn­ing to Won­der­land via a mir­ror; find­ing her­self in a re­verse mir­ror world; lots of chess) and flesh­ing them out into a story that will work on the big screen.

“I love the idea of go­ing through the look­ing glass. Carroll kind of in­vented the idea of a por­tal, which is such a bril­liant idea. It’s clas­sic Carroll, think­ing about things in a way that peo­ple hadn’t ever thought about be­fore. I wanted to ex­plore that back­wards el­e­ment, to keep the drama of the world, but not to tie our­selves too closely to a book that is ba­si­cally Carroll hav­ing fun as a math­e­ma­ti­cian, of telling a non­sen­si­cal story about chess. It’s an odd book; non- lin­ear and a bit non- con­se­quen­tial.”

depp fo­cus

The film, how­ever, needs a fo­cus, and that comes in the form of Depp’s Mad Hat­ter, the zany high­light of the orig­i­nal who is now in dan­ger of los­ing much of his much­ness.

“Johnny Depp is such a bril­liant per­former,” says Bobin, “and I knew ex­actly what I wanted his char­ac­ter to be in this film – which is ba­si­cally its emo­tional en­gine. Johnny’s Hat­ter has a great vul­ner­a­bil­ity to him, and this is all about his tragedy – a be­lief that his fam­ily is still alive, a be­lief that is lit­er­ally killing him. And a threat to the Hat­ter is a threat to that whole world, as he is the em­bod­i­ment of it.”

In or­der to save her friend, Alice must turn to Time him­self, a new char­ac­ter ( although one men­tioned in the first novel) that is part hu­man, part clock, and played by Bobin’s long- time col­lab­o­ra­tor Sacha Baron Co­hen.

“There’s some­thing very Bri­tish about ask­ing some­one, ‘ Please may I travel through time?’ I knew Sacha would be per­fect for that. Time is a ridicu­lous, in­cred­i­bly pompous despot, but he also lives on his own, in this gi­gan­tic cas­tle,

sur­rounded only by th­ese me­chan­i­cal dudes who look af­ter his world. He’s an an­tag­o­nist, but an an­tag­o­nist you’d like, and pos­si­bly feel sorry for and be amused by. One of the things about Sacha is he’s very good at play­ing that sort of vul­ner­a­ble, sad char­ac­ter. Bo­rat was a guy you liked, but felt sorry for.”

The fu­ture is un­clear, but Alice’s time­trav­el­ling ad­ven­ture will most cer­tainly take her into Won­der­land’s past; not only in­tro­duc­ing us to new ad­di­tions like the Mad Hat­ter’s fa­ther, played by Rhys Ifans, but to younger ver­sions of char­ac­ters we al­ready know. Ba­si­cally, not only is Alice Through The

Look­ing Glass a se­quel, but a pre­quel too.

“Carroll was only about 30 years be­fore HG Wells but I imag­ine, as a math­e­ma­ti­cian, he was very in­ter­ested in the idea of time travel. And for us, it’s in­ter­est­ing to ex­plain how those char­ac­ters came to be, and why they in­ter­act like they do in the fu­ture. Take the Red Queen, and her ri­valry with the White Queen ( Anne Hath­away). I loved the idea of try­ing to ex­plain where that came from – and how some­times things are not as black and white as you think it might be. There are rea­sons why peo­ple are the way they are – even in Won­der­land.”

Alice Through The Look­ing Glass opens on 27 May.

He­lena Bon­ham Carter’s Red Queen doesn’t care that it’s rude to point.

Mia Wasikowska’s Alice dis­cov­ers the abysmal depths of chess.

Johnny Depp had only just re­alised what he looked like.

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