The arrival of Tim Burton’s 3-D CGI spectacular Alice in Wonderland is an excuse for other studios to release their various Alice in Wonderland films on DVD. The biggest coup for fans of the Lewis Carroll story has emerged from the BBC’s vault. Alice in Wonderland is a black and white film that aired as part of The Wednesday Play series. The TV special has an all star movie cast with Michael Redgrave, Leo McKern, Peter Cook, Malcolm Muggeridge, John Gielgud and Peter Sellers. While it was filmed in 1966, the movie isn’t a complete Mod Britannia production. The soundtrack reflects the time with Ravi Shanker’s sitar. Instead of dating the piece, it highlights the dream state. The movie was shot in black and white so there’s no colors popping all over the place.We are not overwhelmed with actors hidden beneath animal suits and masks. This Alice In Wonderland is a version of the story that is geared more towards an adult rather than dazzling children with visuals.
The story sticks to the book in action and tone. But the effects aren’t overwhelming. The locations are various old mansions with large gardens. The usage of various lens help create an unreality to the movie. It also helps that the lead actress doesn’t overplay her hand. Anne-Marie Mallik doesn’t play Alice as a cheerful cherub like a Disney character. She’s a serious girl in a nonsensical alternate reality. The famous actors have fun in the role. Leo McKern (Rumpole of the Bailey) drags it up to be the ugly queen. He even as a moment with Angelo Muscat, who would play his butler on The Prisoner. Peter Sellers gets to camp it up with his mustache and hearing aid horn as the King of Hearts.
The BBC version of Alice in Wonderland is not meant to be put on the mini-van’s DVD player to keep the children entertained. This is an adult exploration of the child’s tale. It helps if you know the story so you can identify the characters out of costume. Director Jonathan Miller creates a fantasy world that reflects elements of the real world instead of playing off cartoon figures. Alice in Wonderland allows us to reflect on the work instead of being sucked into it.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The black and white transfers are practically immaculate. The details of the background let you enjoy the various locations.
Audio Commentary featuring director Jonathan Miller. He is talkative about what inspired his creative influences on the production. He wasn’t being Freudian in his approach. He cast Anne-Marie Malik based on a photograph her parents sent after a casting classified. He discusses why he didn’t use character costumes on his actors.
Behind the Scenes Gallery (2:11) is a montage of production stills from the movie. Oddly enough there’s no music from the soundtrack even though the menu does.
Alice – The Wednesday Play (70:59) is a BBC production about Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodson, the man who wrote under Lewis Carroll. Screenwriter Dennis Potter (The Singing Detective) explores the writer and his masterwork. We meet the real Alice and how Dodson wrote the book. Potter focuses on the creepy elements of Dodson including his photography hobby. He liked to take the little girls into the darkroom. Scenes from the book feature actors in costumes and masks. This is should be treated as a double feature with Alice In Wonderland.
1903 Film (8:32) was the longest film made in England at the time. They used various visual effects to take us into the story. The print has a lot of damage since this is the only surviving copy, Historian Simon Brown gives a very concise commentary that gives context to the production and nitrate film.
Ravi Shankar Plays for Alice (9:29) takes us into the studio to watch the sitar master develop the soundtrack. It’s a groovy recording session with a mix of Indian and Orchestra instruments. Ravi is the father of Norah Jones.
Alice in Wonderland is a treasure chest with three presentations that will please adults more than children. Jonathan Miller’s Alice in Wonderland is star studded affair that doesn’t go Disney on the characters. Dennis Potter’s Alice gives a creepy portrait of the author’s relationship with the little Alice. Finally the 1903 version is of great historical interest. This is essential for Alice fans that have grown up.
Warner Home Video and BBC present Alice in Wonderland. Starring: Michael Redgrave, Leo McKern, Peter Cook, Malcolm Muggeridge, John Gielgud and Peter Sellers. Running Time: 71 minutes. Released on DVD: March 2, 2010. Available at Amazon.com.
Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.