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Alice in Burtonland

Scream 2008 Awards honoree Tim Burton intends to remake the classic with an edge.

October 18, 2008|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

I got Tim Burton on the phone the other day while he was on the set of his new movie "Alice in Wonderland," and I had to admit right off the bat that I was surprised that, with the filming just underway, he was taking the time to chat. "Yeah, well, me too," he said in his droll deadpan, and I wasn't sure whether to laugh or apologize and hang up. Then he let me off the hook. "Actually," he said in a sunnier voice, "we're just about to get going, so we'll see how things go. Good, I hope."

I'm guessing things will go quite well for the 50-year-old filmmaker, who seems the ideal auteur to bring Lewis Carroll's surreal 1865 classic "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" to the screen for a 21st century audience. Aussie actress Mia Wasikowska will be Burton's Alice in the 2010 release, while Johnny Depp is the inspired choice to play the Mad Hatter.

I told Burton that it seems as if Depp (who has an upcoming role as Tonto in "The Lone Ranger" and a return to the Jack Sparrow role in yet another "Pirates of the Caribbean") approaches his acting choices the same way a gleeful kid rummages through a trunk of dress-up clothes. The filmmaker laughed. "It's true. Yeah, we have a big dress-up clothes trunk here. We take it with us wherever we go."

Tonight, Burton will be at Spike TV's Scream 2008 Awards at the Greek Theatre, a ceremony that in just its third year has become a high-profile event in sci-fi, comics, fantasy and, yes, horror, which was is its original mandate but is now just part of its genre cocktail. Burton is getting Scream's Immortal Award, with officials boldly saying that Burton has contributed more to those genres "than any other filmmaker of his generation." They may be right, considering a resume that includes "Batman," "Beetlejuice," "Edward Scissorhands," "Ed Wood," "Sleepy Hollow" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas."

More than that, Burton's cemetery-cabaret visuals put him on a short list (Hitchcock, Tarantino and Woody Allen spring to mind) of filmmakers who have on-screen traits so distinctive they become brand names. Tonight's event airs Tuesday, and Burton is looking forward to it.

"It looks like a nice, big Halloween party, which is always good," he said. "It seems like all the type of people that nobody liked in school, all getting together for a nice, big party. A prom for the kids that didn't go to prom. We're all the people on the yearbook pages devoted to 'the most likely to disappear before the semester ends . . . .' "

Burton was directing "Batman" when capes were still viewed as a campy ghetto, so it's interesting for him to watch the fringe move so squarely to the center of mainstream film and do so with respectable reviews. "It wasn't fashionable then. It didn't seem viable and vibrant and accepted at the time."

With "Alice," the defining version for American audiences is the bland 1951 Disney adaptation with Alice in her blue dress and white pinafore. That film was met with acidic reviews by the literary world, and Burton is not a fan either. As with "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," his mission is to reclaim a children's classic and resharpen its edges.

"The story is obviously a classic with iconic images and ideas and thoughts," he explained. "But with all the movie versions, well, I've just never seen one that really had any impact to me. It's always just a series of weird events. Every character is strange and she's just kind of wandering through all of the encounters as just a sort of observer."

I was curious what Burton thought of "The Dark Knight," but it turns out he didn't return to the Batcave. "I haven't seen it yet . . . mostly everybody that I know that has seen it has said that it's very good and I take their word for it."


Man of Steel should get real

This December marks the 30th anniversary of Richard Donner's "Superman," and the success of "The Dark Knight" has raised the question of whether the next Man of Steel movie should be darker. Donner, who got a star this week on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, said it may indeed be time for more grit in Metropolis.

"I think maybe it's ready to break the mold slightly and bring a little greater sense of reality into it . . . making the heavies -- and the situation that is the tension piece -- a little more broken away from the comic-book character."

Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns" in 2006 was a valentine to the Donner "Superman," and the 78-year-old director received it with fondness. "I totally enjoyed it," he said. Among moviegoers, though, Singer's take seemed to be more respected than liked. What would Donner like to see for the next one? He said he'd like to see the story done by Geoff Johns, the acclaimed comic-book writer. "I think he would be startling. Did you read his comics? There it is. It's there on paper."


These items and others are on the Hero Complex blog at

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