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Tim Burton talks about taking on ‘Alice in Wonderland’

johnny depp alice in wonderland
Given the weird and wonderful worlds that director Tim Burton regularly builds within his films, one might expect that Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, one of the books upon which Burton’s new film is based, would have been a favorite text for years. But the director told reporters that he was actually largely unfamiliar with the source material before he launched his upcoming adaptation.

“I’m from Burbank so we never heard about Alice in Wonderland except for the Disney cartoon, the Tom Petty video, Jefferson Airplane,” Burton said in a press conference on February 20. “It was interesting because that’s what made me realize the power of it is that I got my introduction to it much more from other illustrators and music and culture and writers. The imagery would come up in work. Then when you start to delve into it and realize just how powerful that is, it’s why it sort of remains that way.”

Burton’s previous film was a big-screen update of the iconic stage musical Sweeney Todd. When asked what piqued his interest in a 3-D adaptation of Alice, he said that the idea itself was enough. “Well, it was that,” Burton said. “It was Alice in Wonderland in 3-D. It just seemed like the world that Lewis Carroll created, just the kind of trippiness, and the size [and] spatial element. Then I started thinking about the world of Lewis Carroll, thinking not so much about the films and things but I knew more about it from listening to music and bands and other illustrators and artists that would incorporate that imagery in their work.”

“It just made me realize just how powerful the material was,” Burton continued. “Like [if] it were written today, it would be mind blowing today. So the combination of the medium and the material just seemed really right.”

Despite the wealth of interpretations that were previously brought to the screen, Burton indicated he didn’t feel obligated to live up to anyone’s expectations but his own. “There’s been so many versions and for me, I’d never seen a version that I really liked so I didn’t feel like there was a definitive version to me that we were fighting against,” he said. “And also, I liked what Linda [Woolverton] did with the script. She almost treated this story like how the Alice material has affected us, at least for me. It’s a story about somebody using this kind of imagery and this kind of world to figure out problems in their own life and what’s fantasy and reality, and dreams and reality – how they are not separate things, that they’re one thing. It’s how we use those things to deal with our issues in life.”

Despite Disney’s eagerness to see the film rendered in three dimensions, one of Burton’s most controversial decisions when undertaking the project was to shoot it simply and in 2-D and then use digital technology to blow it out to three. The director explained it really made little difference since the decision was made during pre-production, which mean that the crew could accommodate the technology’s eventual demands. “Just because all the techniques we were using, there’s no point shooting in 3-D when there’s nothing to shoot,” Burton said. “So we’re using so many different techniques. We didn’t go motion capture, we had live action, we had animation, we had virtual sets, a little bit of sets. So I looked from when we did the conversion from Nightmare, Ken Ralston and I looked at things that were shot in 3-D and shot in 2-D conversion and it’s like anything. All of these tools, you can see good 3-D, bad 3-D, good conversions, bad conversions.”

“We always knew it was 3-D so we did all the proper planning so when we got to that stage, when we got the elements finally together, it was just another piece of the technology. In fact, that was probably more some of the easier technology than the other elements that we were dealing with.”

Burton said that ultimately the key to marrying form and technique was using technology to augment and realize a real vision rather than letting that technology become its own end result. “We were just using all the different technology,” he said simply. “They’re all out there and people go purely motion capture, purely animation, different forms of animation. Everything’s a new tool. You always have limitations. You can do more. It’s all great but I never try to focus too much on the technology. The fun of it for us is the artistic thing of it and feeling like making a movie and stuff and not get overly too involved, in love with technology.”

Alice in Wonderland opens nationwide on March 5, 2010.

About Todd Gilchrist

Todd Gilchrist is a Los Angeles-based film critic and entertainment journalist. Over the past decade he worked at a variety of online and print publications, including the Miami New Times, Filmstew.com, SCI FI Wire, and IGN.com, where he wrote reviews, conducted interviews with actors and filmmakers, and edited Movies, DVD and Music content. He currently works for Cinematical.com among other outlets, and has been a member of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association since 2005.

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  • March 2, 2010 | Permalink |

    I cannot wait for this movie to come out this Friday. Johnny Depp looks amazing as usual….and Tim Burton is just a genius

  • March 2, 2010 | Permalink |

    This movie is sure to be a success….I know it will not disappoint

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