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Alice (Svankmajer) DVD+Blu-ray

Jan Svankmajer, 1988

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Film Details

Directed by Jan Svankmajer

Produced in 1988

Main Language - English

Countries & Regions - European Film, Eastern European Film

MovieMail's Review

Czech animator Jan Švankmajer's dark version of Alice invests the material with plenty of original ideas while remaining absolutely true to Carroll's askew vision, says Michael Brooke.

Lewis Carroll's 1866 novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland ranks with the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch and Giuseppe Arcimboldo and the stories of Edgar Allan Poe in the fascination that they held for card-carrying Surrealists, whether in 1920s Paris or Prague sixty years later. So it comes as no surprise that the film that most captures the book's grasp of the uncanny should be made by a longstanding member of the Czechoslovak Surrealist Group. 

Even before he made his first feature, Jan Švankmajer had become firmly established as one of the cinema's great dreamers: when Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland came out last year, Švankmajer's adaptation was most frequently cited by critics as setting an unsurpassed benchmark. Is it a children's film? 'Perhaps,' suggests Alice at the start, though parents are just as likely to be traumatised by the White Rabbit's skeletal associates (made from actual animal, bird and fish remains, unnervingly reanimated by stop-motion virtuoso Bedřich Glaser) or the Frog Footman with an alarmingly real-looking tongue that could swat an army of flies with one blow. 

Alice herself is far from the feisty blonde of yore: much younger than usual, shy and withdrawn, her eyes suggest a thorough apprenticeship in a world where children are seen and not heard, and her sister's peremptory rap across her knuckles at the start suggests that her place in the hierarchy is near the bottom. Small wonder that she retreats into a world of the imagination, albeit a decidedly unfettered one in this instance, where pigs cry like newborn infants, socks turn into caterpillars, tempting bread rolls sprout rusty nails and juicy steaks still have plenty of life left in them. 

Like all great artist-adapters, Švankmajer invests the material with plenty of original ideas while remaining absolutely true to Carroll's askew vision - and this new Dual Format edition is a vast improvement on its VHS and even 35mm predecessors, offering the original Czech soundtrack for the first time (nostalgists can still opt for the English dub) and a brand new high-definition transfer that makes the most of Švankmajer's obsessively tactile approach to his material.

Michael Brooke on 20th April 2011
Author of 145 reviews

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Film Description

In Alice, a little girl follows a white rabbit into a world where nothing is quite what it seems. So far, so familiar - but where Czech surrealist Jan Svankmajer's Alice differs from other adaptations of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland is that it explores the book's darker side as well. By so doing, it remains faithful to the original work.

Combining a live-action Alice (Kristyna Kohoutova) with a Wonderland filled with threatening stop-motion characters, Svankmajer's style lends the film a pervading sense of unease and a menacing dream-logic which marries a sly visual wit with piercing psychological insight. Strange and wholly unforgettable.

Presented here fully uncut and in its original Czech-language version for the very first time, this comprehensive release also gathers together a selection of rare and fascinating Alice-related short films including Alice in Wonderland (1903), the first screen adaptation of Lewis Carroll's classic and Elsie and the Brown Bunny (1921), an early advertising film for Cadbury Bros.

DVD+Blu-ray Details

Certificate: PG

Publisher: BFI

Length: 86 mins

Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Format: DVD+Blu-ray Colour

Region: 0

Released: 23rd May 2011

Cat No: BFIB1095

DVD+Blu-ray Extras

  • 2 discs
  • Alternative English language version of the feature
  • Alice in Wonderland (1903, 10 mins)
  • Alice in Label Land (1974, 12 mins): animated COI film by Richard Taylor
  • Elsie and the Brown Bunny (1921, an 8-minute Cadbury's advertising film)
  • Stille Nacht II: Are We Still Married? & Stille Nacht IV: Can't Go Wrong Without You (1992-93) two Alice-inspired short music films from the Quay Brothers
  • Fully illustrated booklet.

Film Stills

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