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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful release of a beautiful film, 23 May 2011
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This review is from: Alice (DVD + Blu-ray) [1988] (Blu-ray)
Strangely, in a past review of the BFI's Jan Svankmajer - The Complete Short Films [DVD], I wondered whether the BFI would go to the trouble of releasing any of Svankmajer's feature-length films on DVD. Low and behold, the powers that be got their act together. Lord knows I've been through enough trouble already, trying to get hold of a second-hand VHS copy, only for it to get chewed up in my video player! This release is, then, very welcomed indeed.

As an avid fan of both Alice books, Svankmajer's version, along with Jonathan Miller's sadly out of print 1966 film, is in my eyes the most faithful and original adaptation there is. (Having said that, the episodes of the Duchess, the Cheshire Cat and the Mock Turtle are missing, so it isn't totally complete.) It is inevitable to compare it to that OTHER animated Alice, the 1956 Disney version, but in terms of technical prowess and visual eye-feasts Svankmajer's version is far superior. It is idiosyncratically Svankmajer (as is only to be expected as it was his first feature) in the tactile quality of the objects and characters that populate his Wonderland; this new spotless transfer enhances this in a way that previous releases have not, as it allows you to soak up every bit of crumbling plaster and every dry leaf in great detail. The BFI have done well, in their blurb, to call this film "creepy and disturbing"...it is far removed from (nearly all) other adaptations that prefer to portray Alice as a chirpy, jolly and spunky young lady: the only similarity she shares with other Alices is the colour of her hair. This Alice is more or less mute, save for the close-up of her lips as she narrates all the dialogue. Svankmajer has here crafted an eerie, disquieting atmosphere that stays with the viewer for a long time afterwards (and that I can testify to), manifested in the caterpillar-socks, the troupe of creatures that are like living Max Ernst collages of bones and taxidermy, the Mouse making a fire on top of Alice's head and the Frog-Footman with his long, grotesque tongue.

As is typical of the BFI it is all very well presented, with a hefty booklet containing background information. The discs themselves (for this is, even more fortunately, a dual-format edition) are both easily navigable. The extras are ample considering the obscure nature of the film (though none of the short films included are related to it), including a rather esoteric short from the Ministry of Food which shows a cartoon Alice in a world filled with different packaging labels. There is also the oldest ever film adaptation of Alice, now in sparkling HD, which is an interesting inclusion to any DVD of an Alice adaptation.

When compared to the other dingy, grimy and grainy transfers of the film circulating the world this BFI remaster inevitably comes out top, and the reasons for it are clear from the outset. As previously mentioned it is clean as a whistle, but it is the vibrant colours (particularly the greens and reds) and the surprisingly bright quality of the original film that really stands out for me. And one of the features that makes this release definitive and well worth buying is that it includes THE ORIGINAL CZECH AUDIO. I am sure anyone who has seen this film before is acquainted with the English dub that was universal until now, and the slightly jarring (and oftentimes annoying) voiceover. At long last the Czech language original is presented for the first time, with subtitles. (However, the English dub is included on the discs for anyone who finds it hard to let the voice work of Camilla Power go.)

If anyone has even a passing interest in Svankmajer's work or adaptations of Lewis Carroll's book, watch this version. And anyone who has even a fleeting desire to own it, don't hold back! This is a superb release, and I can only hope that the BFI will set about releasing other Svankmajer features such as Faust and Little Otik! (Who knows, the last time I wished that it came true.)
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 26 May 2011 12:07:09 BDT
Last edited by the author on 3 Jun 2011 18:46:54 BDT
I'm sure you're aware that most (if not all) of Svankmajer's full-length films were available on region free import DVD's. I have copies of 'Faust', 'Alice' (with the english dub of course-these are American after all), 'Conspirators of Pleasure' etc. The quality is presumably not up to the BFI'S Blu-ray, but will stand you in good stead until something better comes along. Incidentally, 'Little Otik' was released in this country by 'Film 4 Video' a few years ago. A no-frills 4x3 edition, but an excellent print as I recall. You can probably pick these up for a song through the internet. Lets hope the BFI goes the Blu-ray route with other titles. I don't suppose you have any idea what happened to 'Lunacy' on the home video market in this country?

In reply to an earlier post on 26 May 2011 15:49:34 BDT
Although you're right about previous DVD releases existing in the first place, 'Faust' and 'Conspirators of Pleasure' have been out of print for some time, and currently fetch silly prices.

Aside from a brief run at BFI Southbank in mid-2007, 'Lunacy' never achieved commercial distribution in Britain, though it's out on DVD in the US and the Czech Republic (with English subtitles in both cases). His new film 'Surviving Life' has also just been released on DVD in the Czech Republic with multiple subtitles including English.

In reply to an earlier post on 26 May 2011 19:14:43 BDT
Last edited by the author on 26 May 2011 19:31:52 BDT
Thanks very much for the information. I've just checked and you're right about the silly prices. I'm very surprised. Guess I'll have to dig out my old copies and hang on to them! Strangely enough I've just realised I've an old VHS copy of 'Alice' around somewhere. God only knows what that's worth!

Posted on 1 Jun 2011 19:03:52 BDT
Late Reader says:
You can get Jonathan Millers version, on DVD. It is distributed by BFI and it is on amazon.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Jun 2011 15:49:53 BDT
It WAS distributed by the BFI, but they lost the rights years ago.

But it's out in the US - ironically, distributed by the BBC, which for some reason hasn't reissued it in its native country. A glance at the specs suggests that this is essentially identical to the old BFI version, right down to the director's commentary and the 1903 'Alice in Wonderland' (albeit presumably in the old pre-restoration version).

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Jun 2011 14:01:07 BDT
Rossettian says:
Exactly so, which is why I said "sadly out of print". But I had no idea that that's the reason why it's out of print, that they'd lost the rights. Such a shame when something like that happens, I don't know if they'll ever be able to get the rights again so they could release a new version. Miller states in his commentary that his original cut of the film was about 20 or even 30 minutes longer...I know it's very wishful thinking, but I'd love to see those lost minutes. Sadly, it's likely such a thing will never happen.
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