SyFy’s new version of ALICE really was such a radical reinterpretation that it shares nothing more than some character names with the works of Lewis Carroll. Okay, and a similarly wonky worldview.
The-powers-that-be really did just use the names and vague characteristics as a jumping-off point for something completely different. One could look at it as exploiting the name recognition to sell an unrelated product. Unlike the already-classic reimagining of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA — which was another interpretation of the same material — Alice is a completely new and unrelated story that just happens to have co-opted some familiar trappings.
However, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. While great swathes of it were too derivative to be interesting, and aped other, better work. Something about how it all clung together was charming. Okay, so the army of the Suits looked way too much like Agents from the Matrix flicks (and shared a similar distinct lack of personality). But they were just inconsequential canon fodder. And the new story had aspirations. It wanted to be a comment on the cult of instant gratification we all live in nowadays. But the message was buried under a bit too much artifice — one might say it was almost distorted in a funhouse mirror. The miniseries itself packed four episodes into two nights; can one image a show about instant gratification expecting viewers to return over the course of four weeks to receive its wisdom?
Of course, the hokey cliches were impossible to dodge. Another world with an underground “resistance” battling despotic, corporate rulers? ALICE might have tried to be bold and tell an allegory about terrorism (like BSG so bravely did with its “New Caprica” storyline), but that probably would have run counter to the idea of instant gratification, as it would have required lots of thinking to properly enjoy.
The best aspect of the miniseries was the production design, which imagined Wonderland as a series of high buildings with terrifyingly sudden and steep drops. However, these quality seemed to be a quirk of the local architects, since on the city consisted of precipices. Out in the wilderness, a lake was just a lake, and a pine forest just like any other woodland. This gave the impression that Wonderland featured more bizarre zoning ordinances than actual wonder. It was funny how the vaunted Looking Glass restarted with all the grandeur of…well, a refrigerator. (A stargate, this ain’t!)
The acting also went a long way toward salvaging the production. Relative newcomer Caterina Scorsone and Andrew Lee Potts (of PRIMEVAL fame) did fantastic work sketching in a blossoming relationship between Alice and Hatter — even if it was painfully obvious from the moment they met that they would pair up. I would have preferred to see Alice kick a little more ass; it seemed pointless to design her as a martial-arts instructor only to have Hatter repeatedly pull her fat out of the fire most of the time. Scorsone demonstrated some backbone and was likably vulnerable, even if her Alice essentially just wandered around, vaguely searching for her lover Jack and then her absent father. I could not believe they hired Tim Curry for that tiny cameo! The money would have been better spent hiring a few extras for the casino, and trying to make Wonderland look less like a ghost town.
“Does this look like a kids’ story?” an impatient Hatter demanded of Alice. No, it certainly did not. And while it was enjoyable enough, the ALICE miniseries also does not look like a classic.
ETA: ALICE is now available on DVD.