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"Made in Wonderland, the most magical musical of all!"
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - 1972

  Of all the cinematic incarnations of Alice in Wonderland, this 1972 live-action musical from Josef Shaftel is the most decidedly and proudly British. Created to mark the centenary of Carroll's completion of Through the Looking Glass (and thereby all of Alice's adventures), the production was heralded at the time as the definitive screen adaptation of the book, and is still widely considered to be the most faithful to the original text.

  However, for all the film-makers' loyalties and efforts towards accuracy, capturing the elusive essence of the stories on film proved difficult, if not Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - 1972 impossible, and the ambitious project did not achieve the resounding success they had hoped for. The response was by no means entirely negative; the film received two BAFTA awards for Best Cinematography and Costume Design and was showcased in a special episode of BBC2's Film Night, which featured interviews with the cast and behind-the-scenes footage. Still, the picture was not incredibly popular and over the years has faded into obscurity, apparently even falling into the public domain. Consequently, this respectable but luckless film has been released countless times on home video in dreadful condition and would benefit greatly from a thorough restoration.Fiona Fullerton as Alice

 Under the direction of Will Sterling, the residents of Shaftel's Wonderland are portrayed by an all-star cast of actors and comedians, featuring Michael Crawford as the White Rabbit, Peter Sellers as the March Hare, Flora Robson as the Queen of Hearts and Spike Milligan as the Gryphon. Starring as Alice is Fiona Fullerton, a relative unknown at the age of fifteen, but on her way to stardom as a future Bond girl. Originally considered for the role because of her facial resemblance to Tenniel's Alice, Fullerton plays the part with sincerity and natural expressiveness. However, twice the age of her character at the time of filming, her maturity and formal dance training give her an air of tallness, which no amount of Drink Me bottles can diminish. Still, her performance is strong and substantial, if not completely convincing.

  The songs and score are supplied by lyricist Don Black and composer John Barry (providing another 007 connection), and transformed into musical numbers Alice and the White Rabbitwith choreography assisted by the Mad Hatter himself, Sir Robert Helpmann. Perhaps due to cumbersome costumes, these routines are not particularly graceful and seem to contain more prancing than dancing, but I'm no expert. (On a cautionary note, one of these sequences in the Duchess's kitchen includes some quite brutal treatment of a real baby, which is uncomfortable to watch and, at the risk of sounding dramatic, may spoil some viewers' enjoyment of the film as a whole.) The music itself is orchestral, with an ethereal tone that works extremely well in places, but can become tiresome. The orchestration remains much the same throughout, with a rather unfortunate abundance of incredibly shrill strings. Despite this, the songs' melodies are woven pleasantly into the score, and the film ends on a figurative high note with a wistful ballad sung by Fullerton, The Me I Never Knew. This song was later recorded by popular vocalist, Matt Monro, along with Alice's other number, Curiouser and Curiouser.

  Visually, the film is a mixed bag. The style primarily reflects Tenniel's illustrations, devotedly, but not slavishly; this translation from traditional engraved drawings to motion picture was clearly performed with great consideration and is extremely effective. However, when the design deviates from that source of inspiration, a more modern, 1970s influence seems to creep in and the result can be somewhat unsightly, particularly in supposed outdoor scenes; skyscapes in muted yellow tones do nothing to disguise a stuffy sound stage at Shepperton Studios. Nonetheless, Geoffrey Unsworth was a worthy BAFTA winner for his camera-work; every shot is composed to perfection. Special effectsLikewise, Anthony Mendleson earned his accolade for the highly detailed costumes; perhaps some of the creatures are slightly substandard, but the White Rabbit in particular is excellent and very similar to Tenniel's rendering, while Alice's costume is one of the best I've seen in any representation.

  One of the most interesting aspects of this film is its use of pre-digital era special effects. Having produced films for four decades by this time, Shepperton Studios possessed both a distinguished history and a tremendously experienced and skilled effects department. Therefore, in contrast to today's visual/CGI effects, applied virtually in post-production, most of the spectacular elements of Alice's adventures could be achieved here "in-camera", physically performed in the studio like magic tricks. In order to realise a fall down the rabbit hole, a flying pack of cards and perpetual changes of size, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Premierean assortment of time-honoured optical and mechanical techniques are employed, including projection, reverse motion, miniatures (including certain sets built to a variety of scales), time-lapse photography and stop motion animation, to name a few. The results are convincing and in many cases, very impressive. I would recommend the film for these sequences alone.

  The film's premiere took place in London on 2nd December at the Odeon Marble Arch, in aid of the Gurkha Welfare Appeal and was attended by Ringo Starr (who would portray the Mock Turtle thirteen years later in Irwin Allen's production) and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who greeted the cast and guests. Fullerton then embarked on a promotional tour around Europe and America.

  While this might not be the classic film adaptation the producers intended it to be, it is certainly a decent attempt and a worthwhile watch for any Alice enthusiast.