Review: Alice In Wonderland 3D Doesn't Need the 3D

Having read the original many times, watched multiple films and TV series, and collected every object imaginable, I must confess that I'm an Alice whore. Here's my review of Tim Burton's sequel: I love it. But not on 3D.

Spoilers ahead

In fact, I like everything about the movie except the 3D. I don't hate it, but it's obnoxious and distracting through most of the film. It just doesn't add anything to the experience beyond the post-movie dizziness. It's the antithesis of Avatar.

The movie itself—a simple, delightfully wacky, adventures movie set in Lewis Caroll's crazy world—is good. The story, the dialogs, the photography, the direction, and the acting are all spot on. The digital effects are perfect for the story, from the delicate details of the White Rabbit's embroidered vest to the intricate scenarios. The design—like all Tim Burton's movies—couldn't be better: The characters, the costumes, the settings... everything exudes the spirit of the original John Tenniel's book illustrations. And then there is the adult Alice—who returns after her first adventures in Wonderland. By the end of it, you will fall in love with Mia Wasikowska, especially when she gets into her shiny armor.

Focus!

The only problem with Alice in 3D is that the film doesn't seem to be directed with 3D in mind. And that's fucking great (if you watch the movie in a normal theater and avoid the 3D). Burton plays with camera moves, angle changes, depth of field, and different scene planes like he usually does, framing shots perfectly.

One example of this is the first action sequence in the movie, when the Knave of Hearts—eerily played by Crispin Glover—and his card soldiers chase Alice through the woods. As the camera frantically races with the action, Burton plays with the foreground—twisted plants and branches—to increase the anxiety levels of the audience. In 2D, this frames the action, making everything more exciting visually. In 3D, it becomes distracting. The same goes for every time the camera moves, and every time the depth of field changes: The illusion of 3D is broken by the distraction, because that's not how your brain processes the real world.

In the real world, nobody forces you to change the depth of field. When you are focusing on something, you just focus, it comes naturally to you. But when you shift this around in a 3D movie, your brain just gets confused, as if it's saying "hey, I want to keep looking at that thing."

In a normal film, a shift in focus is a device that is part of the story telling and the aesthetics of the film. In 3D, it just gets annoying.

Thinking Inside the Box

And that's precisely my problem with 3D: Whenever you move the camera, whenever you play with the traditional cinematic language, 3D can often get in the middle.

I realized it while watching the credits, which roll inside a box in which fantastic mushrooms and vegetation grow. I was truly amazed by it, as if a new world had opened in front of my eyes. I had a hard time distinguishing the weird plants from reality. And it wasn't only me: My wife was next to me and I could hear her exclaiming "Wow. Oh, wow."

So how can I love that 3D but hate the 3D during the movie? Because during the credits, the camera point of view is fixed. The illusion is complete. Nothing bothers you. Your brain completely buys the experience. It's like being in the theater watching a play: Everything is there.

What is the solution to this? Since the invention of cinema, humans have developed a language that has evolved into different paths. All of them revolve around the idea that everything is projected in a bidimensional plane. Directors frame their movies in their minds, then with their cameras, and it's all related to that single flat silver screen.

Perhaps directors need to invent a new language for 3D altogether, where everything is in focus, nothing overlaps the action, and the depth of field never changes. Maybe they should look into the rules of theater and fixed cameras. Or maybe they should watch Up! if they really want to film a movie in 3D.

But while we all wait for that to happen, you should go and see Alice in 2D. You will enjoy it a lot more.