SDCC: Tim Burton Talks ‘Alice in Wonderland’

tim-burton-sdcc09Director Tim Burton is without a doubt one of the most talented and visually distinctive filmmakers working today. His films, such as Edward Scissorhands, Batman, The Nightmare Before Christmas and the recent Sweeny Todd, all have his signature stylistic stamp and once you begin to watch them, you can certainly tell you’re watching a Tim Burton film.

As we’ve told you before, Burton is currently working on his version of the classic Lewis Carroll novel Alice in Wonderland. Of course, as can plainly be seen from the pics and the recent trailer, Burton is definitely putting his own spin on the novel and this film will, once gain, be unmistakably his.

I caught up with the auteur during Comic-Con in San Diego while he was doing press for Alice in Wonderland. Among the topics covered were his connection to the book itself, why he shot in 3D, if the film is a reboot or a re-imagining and if its a love story.

QUESTION: Lewis Carrol and Tim Burton seem to be the perfect marriage.  What is it about this particular book that you felt suited your unique sensibilities as filmmaker?

TIM BURTON: Well, it wasn’t only the books, it was growing up and you hear this kind of imagery in music and songs and I dunno it was just something about the kind of the imagery that he created. Throughout lots of different generations it still plays in peoples minds so I think any kind of thing that has strong dreamlike imagery that stays with you is important to your subconscious thinking and creative mind.

So I just felt like you try to do it a different way because I’ve never really seen a lot of any movie version that I really liked. The intent was to take that imagery and try to make it into a movie.

Q: I think we can all imagine how this story suits you visually, but what’s your emotional connection?

TB: Well, the emotional connection came from the fact that I’d seen other movie versions of it that I never felt an emotional connection to. It was always a silly girl wandering around from one crazy character to another and I never really felt any real emotional connection so it was an attempt to really want to try to give it some framework and emotional grounding that I felt we’d never seen in any version before.

So the challenge to me was to take it and, you know, every character’s weird but try to give them their own specific weirdness. But they’re all different and I think all those characters in his imagery sort of indicate some type of mental weirdness that everybody goes through. The real attempt was to try to make Alice feel more like a story as opposed to a series of events.

Q: What did Alice mean to you when you were growing up? You said it’s about someone on a weird journey trying to work out their problems in their own mind. In which way do you relate to that?

TB: Well, it’s a fairly universal concept of these kind of stories like Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland. It’s an internal journey. I mean these characters represent things inside the human psyche so I think that that’s you know that’s what every child does you try to work out your problems as you go on.

Same thing as an adult. Some people get therapy, some people get to make movies you know there’s different ways of getting this sort of thing worked out.

Q: A couple of weeks ago Johnny Depp mentioned that you guys compared sketches for the Mad Hatter and they were pretty much alike.

TB: He’s an iconic character and its been portrayed in animation, in live action. I think what Johnny tries to find the grounding to the character something that you feel as supposed to just being “mad” again. In a lot of versions, it’s a very one note kind of character and his goal was to bring out more of a human side to the strangeness of the character.

For many years anytime I’ve worked with him, that’s what he tries to do so this is no exception.

Q: At what age did you first read the book?

TB: When I was in school so maybe like 10, 8, 10 or whatever. But I have weird connections cause I don’t know if you know the illustrator Arthur Rackum, I live and work out of his studio. In 1905 he did some amazing versions of Alice in Wonderland, and Sleepy Hollow, and the things that I’ve been involved with. So I feel like there’s a real weird connection to me and the material and life and you know that always helps somehow.

Q: Is this more of a sequel or a re-imagining?

TB: It’s not a sequel because there’s so many stories in Alice and the books. The goal was to take the sort of randomness that’s in the books and take elements of the books and make a story. So a lot of it is sort of based on this Jabberwocky poem in one of the stories that’s not a big part of the book.

But you know we’re just using elements of all the books because that’s the nature of them, they don’t really follow a specific linear structure.

Q: Did you shot in 3D or did you decided to convert it after the fact? Also, what is it about the story that lends itself to 3D and what about your personal style?

TB: We didn’t do it with the 3D camera. We did it where we got all of our information with the other cameras so it’s a mixture of things because there’s two reasons for that or maybe three or four reasons. One was the time element where you know we didn’t really have 5 or 6 years to make it.

Also I felt with the techniques we’re using are kind of pure animation live action the manipulating doing strange things to that plus the other elements that we’re adding into it that gave me more freedom to sort of get the depth of layers everything we wanted to you know in that time that we were dealing with.

Also for me I couldn’t really see the difference so you know there are people that are probably saying “oh its more pure this way or that” but when I lined it up with what we were doing this seemed the right technique and the right approach to doing it.

Q: Can you talk abut the relationship between Alice and the Mad Hatter. Some reports have said this is almost like a love story a little bit.

TB: No I wouldn’t say that, she’s just a young girl. She’s older but she’s not that old.

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