Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Alice, Shazam And More

The PopCulteer
March 5, 2010

“Alice” A Winner

Tim Burton’s “Alice In Wonderland” is the closest yet that anyone has come to capturing the magic of Lewis Carroll on the big screen. This is darker, by far, but it seems truer to the spirit of the original works than other movie attempts.

Part of the reason for this is the nature of Carroll’s two “Alice” books. The surrealism takes precedent over the plot and the experience of the stories is dependent upon the imagination of the reader. It’s an example of the art of description.

Once interpreted visually, a little bit of the magic is depleted, and the weaknesses of the story become more apparent. The innocence of Carroll’s work doesn’t hold up to a strict intepretation.
Screenwriter Linda Woolverton gets around this by telling a different story than Carroll did. In this telling, Alice is a nineteen year old woman about to be married, who is drawn back to Wonderland (or “Underland”) in its time of crisis. There are slight echoes of King Arthur returning to Britain in its time of greatest need, only in this case, Alice is not a king, but merely a stabilizing force of near-sanity in a pre-Dadaistic world of Victorian surrealism.There is a reason for Wonderland in this telling.

Armed with a coherent script and a gigantic Disney-sized budget, and all the CGI effects that a boy could want, director Burton has created a work that straddles the line between live action and animation better than anything he’s done yet. Burton, who began his career as an animator, may have finally found the perfect happy medium between the real world and his imagination. The 3D effects in this film take the gimmick to new heights. Rather than use the 3D tricks to achieve ultra-realism, in “Alice” the 3D adds to the unreal nature of the film.

Focusing around Burton’s man-muse Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter, this take on “Alice In Wonderland” has the psychedelic bent of mercury poisoning layered on top of Carroll’s topsy-turvy landscape. Depp, of course, manages to crawl completely into the mind of The Mad Hatter and gives what may be his loudest performance ever.

As The Red Queen, Helena Bonham Carter finally seems well cast in one of her husband’s movies. With a CGI inflated head, Carter storms around Wonderland in a near constant state of irritation, barking orders and stomping her feet as if she were our mayor at a Charleston Area Alliance meeting.

Mia Wasikowska’s Alice is a study of personal growth, lending more personality to Alice than we have seen in previous screen versions. Anne Hathaway is effectively ditzy as The White Queen.

The movie is nearly stolen by “Little Britain”‘s Matt Lucas as Tweedledum and Tweedledee. With CGI bodies, these twin doofuses occupy the screen in a manner somewhere between Curly Howard and a Looney Tunes Lummox.

The musical score by Danny Elfman wraps the film up in stirring fashion, recalling the restrained madness of the final Oingo Boingo studio album, “Boingo.”

Tim Burton’s “Alice In Wonderland” is visually stunning, delightfully absurd, and confusing enough to stay special.

Meh, Comic Of The Week

It’s a bit of a departure this week, as our comic book is actually a two year old trade paperback collection and while it does indeed have many elements of coolness, it’s seriously lacking in many odd respects. The book is “Shazam! The Greatest Stories Ever Told” and it sort of pains me to write this because the original Captain Marvel (the one who says “Shazam!”) is my absolute favorite superhero. This collection, sporting a terrific Alex Ross cover, is filled with great stories, but the selection of those stories doesn’t really live up to the title.

The original Captain Marvel ran from 1941 to 1953, published by Fawcett Comics. Outselling “Superman” at its peak, that run of stories included some of the finest writing and art of the Golden Age of comic books. In 1953, after years of battling a copyright infringment suit from Superman’s publisher, Fawcett dropped their comic book line and agreed not to publish their flagship character again without getting permission from DC Comics.

DC Comics cut a deal to publish Captain Marvel (revived in the “Shazam!” comic book due to trademark concerns) 1973 and despite the successful 1970’s TV show, the book never returned to its former glory. That’s why it’s surprising that this 210 page collection only devotes about a third of those pages to the Golden Age adventures of Captain Marvel and of the roughly 70 pages of Golden Age material in this collection, only one story had not been previously reprinted.

There are several famous and acclaimed 1940’s Captain Marvel stories that didn’t make the cut and there’s the curious omission of any stories drawn by the legendary Mac Raboy or Mark Swayze.

The book gets a bit strange when it gets to the 70’s. They sensibly reprint the contents of “Shazam!” Number One, as it re-established Captain Marvel and the Marvel family in the modern era. However, the next story isn’t even a Captain Marvel story. It’s an homage from the “Superman” series called “Make Way For Captain Thunder.” It’s an interesting novelty, but it’s a shame to eat up nearly a tenth of this anthology of the greatest “Shazam!” stories ever told, with a story that doesn’t really feature Captain Marvel.

And yet, later in the book, 40 pages are given over to a 1983 team-up between Superman and Captain Marvel that sports lovely artwork by Gil Kane, but which also focuses on Superman and is hardly one of the greatest “Shazam!” stories of all time. Jerry Ordway’s excellent 1990’s revival, “The Power of Shazam,” is represented by a single story in this volume.

While this is still a decent collection of comic book stories, it’s not really a representative sample of the greatest “Shazam!” stories of all time. In the introduction, Jeff Smith (“Bone,” “RASL,” “Shazam vs. The Monster Society”) writes, “None of the versions that followed the Golden Age adventures of Captain Marvel ever caught the lightening quite the same way.” Smith is right. You could easily fill a greatest “Shazam!” stories ever told volume with material exclusively from the 1940’s and 50’s and nobody would complain.

This compilation has the air of laziness about it. It seems as though the editors chose the stories based on how easy it would be to get their hands on the artwork. It’s still worth a read, but it’s very disappointing.


The big live music story this weekend is the reunion of Byzantine. You can see the band at the height of their glory in the latest episode of Radio Free Charleston and then you can head out to The Sound Factory in Charleston on Friday, the V-Club in Huntington on Saturday, and 123 Pleasant Street in Morgantown on Sunday.

No Pants? No Problem!

Saturday night, at the La Belle Theatre, you can catch the return of The No Pants Players. This non-pantalooned troupe of improvisorial knaves will entertain and amuse at 8:00 PM for a mere $6.00.

Rollergirls Rolling

Tonight’s Meet and Greet for The Chemical Valley Rollergirls at The Salvage Yard in Charleston Town Center will start at 6:30 PM. You can see a promotional announcement in the aforementioned latest episode of Radio Free Charleston.

Next Week In PopCult.

Look for the usual PopCult crunchy goodness, plus episode 95 of Radio Free Charleston, featuring Eva Elution and Mother Nang.

1 Comment

  1. Elvis Capone

    ALICE is the first movie featuring Helena Bonham Carter in which her head didn’t need to be digitally shrunk.

    She looks like a giant two-year-old!

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