8 May 2000 | mike_sean
Through the Looking Glass, Darkly
Animation legend Jan Svankmajer applies his distinctive style to Lewis Carroll's most famous creation, crafting one of the most original and unforgettable takes on Alice's adventures ever put to film. Having previously adapted Carroll in his 1971 short film, "Jabberwocky," Svankmajer returns to the author's work with this amazing feature-length film. Employing a magnificent blend of live action and stop-motion animation, he uses many of Carroll's ideas as jumping-off points. Many of the characters are reconstructed as nightmarish abstracts of the way they have usually been depicted in previous adaptions. The white rabbit is a stuffed real rabbit who keeps his watch tucked in a sawdust-leaking gap in his chest. The Dormouse has been reduced to a creepy crawling foxlike hide, and the Caterpillar is a sock with eyeballs and teeth that sews its eyes shut when it sleeps. Although familiar characters such as the Mock Turtle and the Cheshire Cat are left out, Svankmajer's film is incredibly faithful to the book's sense of fantasy and absurdity. The minimal dialogue and pronounced sound effects also add to the overall unsettling mood. The key to truly appreciating this version is to forget the common associated imagery from other adaptions, and treat this as its own entity. Just as a dream makes a totally different impression on you than a person you describe it to (regardless of how well you describe it), this film is one man's surreal interpretation of another man's surreal description. The skull-headed birds, walking dolls, and broken-down furniture of Svankmajer's world make this a pretty disturbing telling of Alice's journey, but a masterful, enthralling, and undeniably unique one as well.