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A Misleadingly Titled Movie

March 15, 2010

johnny.jpegOne of the problems with Tim Burton's new Alice in Wonderland film is its title. Critics have been deriding the film for all kinds of reasons such as its shock tactics and the lack of charisma of its leading lady. And yes, much of the criticism is deserved, for the film isn't up to Burton's usual snuff.

But I think one of the most basic issues is the movie's title. By calling his film, "Alice in Wonderland," Burton sets up obvious expectations, namely that the film will be an adaptation for the screen of Lewis Carroll's famous work of literature.

Taking place 15 years after the original story and featuring such non-Carrollian plot points as an engagement party and a business trip to China, Burton's film veers even further away from the original than Derek Jarman did with his version of Shakespeare's The Tempest, whose memorable ending included a performance of the song "Stormy Weather" complete with chorus line.

By using the same title for the film as Carroll does for his book, Burton sets up viewers' expectations: many of us expect a degree of fidelity to the source material which isn't there. Burton's Alice is, in many ways, a gorgeous fantasia on the theme of Alice. But it's ultimately got little to do with the story that Carroll wrote. Unlike Jarman's The Tempest, Burton's Alice isn't an art house movie, where a certain amount of creative leeway in this regard is generally acceptable. The movie is mainstream entertainment for mass audiences. As such, the title should reflect this to avoid confusion.

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