I read two reviews of Tim Burton’s adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. The official site describes it as a “magical and imaginative twist” on the original.
I have no inherent objection to a creative reinterpretation of a classic. There is, however, a reason why a classic is a classic in the first place.
Due to advances in CGI, we are now able to make accurate, cinematic adaptations of certain classics in the science fiction and fantasy genre. To put on the screen what the author saw in his head. Alice in Wonderland is a case in point.
Before we reinterpret a classic, it would be nice to first see a faithful adaptation of the original. An adaptation which closely follows the original.
After that, it’s fine if a gifted director wants to use the original as a launchpad to give the story his own creative twist.
But the temptation to modernize a classic reflects a lack of historical curiosity. A lack of basic curiosity in other people, times, and places. Instead, it becomes a transcript or allegory of the director’s own life and times. Of the people he knows, the places he likes. Alice in Hollywood.
I don’t mean to suggest that Burton’s adaptation is a bad film. It may be an excellent film in its own right. But I’m just struck by the lack of interest in the original.
One of the striking things about modern archeology and the age of exploration was the xenophilic fascination of British, American, and European adventurers in exotic or ancient cultures. The irony of outsiders who took more interest in vanished civilizations than the locals. Who made the effort to decipher ancient languages and excavate buried civilizations.
Why are Hollywood directors so insular?
The literary Alice is a preadolescent girl. Probably an amalgam of real girls that Dodgson knew.
The literary Alice is one of the great female characters in world literature. And Dodgson’s two classics allegorize the long-lost world of Victorian Oxford.
Why is that of no interest to Burton?
To turn her into a 19-year-old superheroine destroys the inimitable charm of the original character. That’s the stuff of formulaic teen dramas. High school in Wonderland.
Does this reflect the secularization of our own society–especially among the cultural elite? Put another way, I wonder if the previous interest in peoples and cultures other than our own doesn’t reflect a Christian outlook.
When you study the Bible you enter a vanished world. To be missionary you immerse yourself in a foreign culture.
Christianity is outward-looking. But with the loss of Christian vision, the social circle contracts. We retreat into our xenophobic cubicles.