Anne-Marie Mallik, Peter Cook, John Gielgud, Peter Sellers
Miller's 1966 BBC television adaptation of Alice in Wonderland is
probably the least typical film version of Carroll's tale, but at the same
time it more faithfully replicates the tone of the source material than
any other. Most adaptations play up the whimsical and fantastical elements
of the story, perhaps forgetting that it is, after all, "a curious
dream". Miller's masterly vision takes Carroll's words from the page
largely unmodified, transplanting them to an ethereal land populated by
"mad people". It's not an adaptation that's terribly faithful to
Carroll's piecemeal narrative, but it has a wonderful languid pacing of
its own. Miller's decision to do away with actors wearing oversize animal
masks or elaborate prosthetics also sets it apart from most other
adaptations, and allows the performances of his wonderful ensemble cast to
shine through. Masks and prosthetics are usually employed to imitate John
Tenniel's beautiful woodcut illustrations. It's telling that Miller uses
Carroll's own original illustrations to decorate his end credits.
BFI's DVD version is simply outstanding. The film was beautifully shot (by
cinematographer Dick Bush, who also shot Miller's adaptation of
Whistle And I'll Come To You).
Sourced from the original 35mm black and white film elements, the picture
quality is stunning, and comparable to any contemporary feature film.
There are some scenes that don't have true black levels, and a few spits
of dirt and other film flaws here and there, but otherwise it's
practically perfect, revealing plenty of detail which simply hasn't been
available before (the last time the play was shown on television was in
1986). There are no signs of excessive compression. The film is presented
in its original 4:3 ratio. The average bitrate is 6.21Mb/s. The audio is
film is accompanied by a commentary track that's well worth listening to.
It covers many aspects of the production, from the initial idea, right
through to the decision to schedule it in an post-watershed time-slot
(which led to the mistaken belief among the press that it would be vaguely
pornographic!) His talk is rarely scene-specific, but he does explain many
of his artistic choices, elaborates on how he tackled the adaptation, and
discusses some of the changes he would have made, with the benefit of
nearly forty years of hindsight.
disc also contains a complete, eight-minute version of Alice In
Wonderland made by British cinema pioneer Cecil M. Hepworth in 1903.
It's believed to be the earliest cinema adaptation of Carroll's work. It's
accompanied by a breathless commentary track by BFI film expert Simon
Brown. It seems like little more than a slightly elaborate home movie, but
it's a wonderful companion piece to Miller's version. The film is in
terrible shape (it was made on nitrate stock, which has deteriorated), but
it's quite watchable. The disc also contains a five-page text biography
for Miller, a short animated gallery of production photo's (which
nevertheless manages to spell actress Anne-Marie Mallik's name
incorrectly. The disc also has DVD-ROM content, but since it involves
installing the invasive PCFriendly software, I can't tell you any more
about it. The sleeve carries a sleeve essay by Philip Kemp, comparing
Miller's version to other film adaptations. Someone should remind the BFI
that this is their Archive Television imprint, because it fails to mention
any of the other TV adaptations.