Two stories in particular caught my attention this week and, not surprisingly for a movie lover living in a city steeped in Lewis Carroll mythology and history, one of them involves Alice in Wonderland. It’s difficult to go for more than a few paces in Oxford without being reminded of time spent in the city by Carroll (Charles Dodgson) back in the very middle of the 19th century. Tea shops, souvenirs, even original notebook pages from Carroll encased in museum boxes, reminding tourists and locals alike of the origin of Alice in Wonderland in Oxford’s Christ Church.
Until a day or two ago there was a very big chance that Oxford would not get to see Tim Burton’s 3D visualisation of Alice in Wonderland. It might be a very British affair but this film was Disney-owned and the studio’s decision to shrink the time to DVD release to 12 weeks, instead of the usual 17, almost resulted in the Odeon and the Vue chains boycotting the release. Few other cinemas would have the capability to show a 3D extravaganza – the Picture Houses would show it, but much later and in 2D.
I have to admit to a childhood that was spent in terror of Alice in Wonderland. The idea of the young girl, shrinking, growing, and being tormented by evil queens (‘Off with his head!’), grinning cats and crazy birthday tea guests, not to mention that white rabbit squeezing itself down the burrow, literally gave me nightmares. I couldn’t even look at a pack of cards until I discovered Spider Solitaire. This is because I grew up in an Oxford family obsessed with this story. I remember my own copy of this from when I was very small, a tiny white book with images on every page that took me deeper into a horrifying technicolour world at the other end of that rabbit hole.
So, for a while, I thought I was saved from the horrow of an Alice in Wonderland vision increased in horror many times over by being directed by Tim Burton. And in 3D too. But my reprieve came to naught on the rainy day of the royal premiere in London. Both Vue and Odeon reached an agreement with Disney which means I will be seduced into that cinema by Anne Hathaway’s White Queen and I will leave it haunted by Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen. I will have to see it and my senses must be prepared for what’s thrown at them.
As to the other aspect of this story – whether the Vue and Odeon were right to plan to boycott the film – my gut feeling is that the movie-going public, you and me, would not have been well served by a ban. Would the ban have been to our benefit? The Odeon argued that their boycott would help the smaller cinema that needed this extra 5 weeks to show the film. Ironically, the smaller cinemas where I live would have been showing the film while the Odeon boycotted. I don’t want the Odeon to make choices for me about what I should or shouldn’t see, based on its forecast profits. The Odeon says that it has invested a lot of money into providing 3D screens and so on – where I live I’d be grateful if it just invested money in clean theatres, in working toilets, in heating, in attendants. If it did, I might actually start seeing films there again. Or maybe I’ll continue to boycott it.
The other movie news to catch my eye this week was the announcement that Roland Emmerich was turning his attention next to the story of Shakespeare – or, as this is Emmerich here, a Shakespeare Biopic! After a history of entertaining and enthusiastic end of the world romps, such as The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day and 2012, it seems somewhat curious that Roland wants to transport us back to the world of doublet and hose, neck ruffs, Spanish galleons in the Channel and the First Potato. But yes he does. The story is that well-known rumour that Shakespeare’s plays were actually written by the Earl of Oxford (it’s an Oxford evening). Emmerich says: ‘We have Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth; David Thewlis as William Cecil, old and young; and Rhys Ifans as The Earl Of Oxford. It’s a true English cast and I’m really proud of it. There’s 12 main characters and 20 or 30 other characters, and each of the characters is really good.’
Unfortunately for Roland’s description, this ‘true English cast’ has at its heart the truly Welsh Rhys Ifans. I’m not filled with confidence for the historical accuracy of this reassessment of the Gloriana Age. Perhaps Emmerich should stick with tidal waves and sunspots. Nevertheless, I’ll probably still see it – just not at the Odeon.