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'Alice in Wonderland (B&W)'
(Michael Crawford, Dudley Moore, et al / DVD / NR / 2010 / Hollywood Select Video World)

Overview: Lewis Carroll's whimsical 1865 novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, was a cinematic favorite long before Johnny Depp 'went Mad' The first film (just eight minutes) was produced in 1903. With dozens of versions since for stage, film and TV, its beloved characters have been played by some of Hollywood s most legendary actors.

DVD: In Lewis Carroll's original work, Alice is a charming, witty and precocious 7-year old, engaging in sparkling point-counter-point exchanges with all manner of strange characters and situations as she wanders from one scene to another, not always predictably and not always to her liking or desire. This reviewer is unfamiliar with Victorian English society of the period, but surely these encounters are brilliantly realized satire, the animal characters selected to portray various characteristics of the nobility and commoners.

So it should be no surprise that this low-budget (32,000 and a 6-week shooting schedule) 72-minute BBC B&W production is done with all live actors, no animation, yet is faithful to the book. . Quoting from the enclosed folder, "...there was no script; Miller (the director) simply typed out the dialogue from Carroll's book each day and presented it to the cast on the set, and after a few rehearsals, they would do a take." Principal characters are portrayed in human form in Victorian period costume, making full utilization of the Tenniel illustrations where possible. For example, the white rabbit (Wilfred Brambell in an outstanding portrayal) is a fussily dressed, brisk-gaited English gentleman with pocket watch, top hat, braided uniform with tails, bow-tie, white gloves, and a white fan. Alice's dress and hair style is perfectly realized.

Some of the key scenes are shortened. For example, the pool of tears leading to the caucus race (to dry off) was created by a giant Alice crying in frustration, not shown, so the sudden appearance of water is confusing. The recitation of Father Williams to the Caterpillar (an excellent Michael Redgrave) was regrettably truncated to only a verse or so. And when the Duchess throws Alice the squalling brat, it is not completely clear that the brat became a piglet only after she received it. Only someone thoroughly familiar with the original work would be able to fill in the blanks in such cases.

Another aspect of this production is the use of voice-over whispered thoughts and recitations to convey various poems, conversations with the Cheshire Cat, or Alice speaking or musing in dream conversations where her lips don't move. One must strain very hard to pick up the gist of many of these whisperings (reviewing helps), which detracts from the viewing experience.

Perhaps the audio recording equipment of that day wasn't up to the job. Or more likely the diction of the persons doing the voice-overs wasn't up to the task. Yet this reviewer finally realized on subsequent viewings and after being initially annoyed, that these whisperings are an innovative way of conveying in an efficient manner elements of the book. [JJ] This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.