March 26, 2010

BATMAN (1966-1968) - TV still not on DVD

(1966-1968, TV, USA)

120 TV Episodes? Wholly absent, Batman!

At a time when almost every TV show is now on DVD, it's amazing that Batman isn't. One of the funniest, most imaginative and influential shows of the 1960s. This is priceless, must-have TV, with outrageous plots, impossible detective work, Bat-villains, Bat-gadgets, Bat-bloody-everything and knockdown Bat-fights guaranteed in every episode.

I love all aspects of Batman - the newer darker, brooding visions of Batman, the animated adventures, the under-rated Batman Beyond of the future... but that doesn't diminish my love for this much less serious incarnation. The three Batman seasons are top of my DVD wishlist, TV or film. This classic series was more carefully made than many movies of the time, with wittier scripts, more way-out design and better cast lists! Many movies have unsuccessfully tried to copy it's tongue-in-cheek style, when spoofing comic characters, but I don't even think Flash Gordon (1980) is nearly as good, despite using the same scriptwriter, Lorenzo Semple Jr.

Like the best Pixar movies, the series appealed to all ages. The straight-faced heroics and fast pace was exciting for children, the tongue-in-cheek humour and pop culture style amused the adults and all important teens. Thankfully, Batman avoided being laden with a laugh-track. As a child, I thought I was getting a serious comic-book adaptation! Batman's hardware and Batcave certainly looked good enough.

The Batmobile with flames firing out the back, together with the huge Batcave still look highly desirable. I've sat in both... well possibly it was a replica car. And all that's left of the Batcave is the outside entrance, filmed in Bronson Canyon, L.A. Inside the Batcave, every piece of equipment had a large sign, no matter how long-winded - a straight-faced gag that pre-empted the comedy likes of Airplane.

Adam West as Batman nailed the fine line between Bat-heroics and bellylaughs in the classic first story, when he battled The Riddler. Striding alone into a nightclub (Robin isn't allowed in, being underage), Batman discreetly orders a glass of milk at the bar, not wanting to "attract attention". The success of his character is the reason Adam West is now a regular character in Family Guy.

The accuracy of the expert casting extends to all the regular characters. Burt Ward as Robin is just a fantastic foil for West. With Madge Blake (Singing In The Rain) as Aunt Harriet installed in the Wayne Mansion to make the household look less suspiciously men-only, which paradoxically wasn't a problem in a boys comic. Neil Hamilton started off playing Commissioner Gordon
completely straight, despite all the hijinks. Stafford Repp is gracelessly slow as Chief O'Hara - one of the many Irish policemen in this very sunny Gotham City. Alan Napier (Isle of the Dead) sets a high standard as an intelligent, resourceful and impeccably-mannered Alfred the butler. Season three introduced Yvonne Craig (In Like Flint) as the perky Bat-girl, riding around on a purple frilly Bat-Bike. All three Bat-stars have subsequently written biographies.

The casting of Batman's guest villains defined many of their characterisations for decades to come - for instance Jim Carrey owes much to Frank Gorshin's original Riddler. Besides the weekly guest Bat-villains were many celebrity cameos like Sammy Davis Jr as well as from other TV shows. Special mentions to Burgess Meredith (Rocky) as The Penguin, David Wayne (The Andromeda Strain) as The Mad Hatter, George Sanders as the first Mr Freeze, Eartha Kitt as Catwoman (above), Liberace (!) in a convincing dual role as Chandell (an example of villainy created just for the TV show), and especially Victor Buono (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane) as King Tut.

I read a story recently that the series was inspired by Hugh Hefner re-running an old Batman serial at the Playboy Mansion where a Fox executive was sufficiently inspired by how well it went down. The cliffhanger format from the serials was then used to close the first episode in every two-part story. Robin dangling helplessly over a pit of tigers or crocodiles, Batman being squeezed by two walls of spikes, Bruce Wayne helplessly strapped to a gurney as it speeds down a hill road towards a cliff edge... These became famously and inventively ridiculous, built up by William Dozier's unique voice-overs - "Tune in next week, Bat-fans. Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel!"). For more about the 1940s Batman serials, look here.

This is all a world away from the modern presentation of Batman. Tim Burton's
1989 reboot had to work hard to distance itself from the show's long-running comedy reputation. But it was a logical approach in the 1960s. Comics were just for kids and heavily policed for violence, forcing Batman into space with the harmlessly weird Batmite, friendly pet Bathound and surreal (rather than scary) villains like Mr Mxyzptlk. Superheroes were taken less seriously in sixties mainstream, always presented as comedies or self-aware spoofs, rarely as successfully as Batman. Modesty Blaise was treated like pulp, Barbarella spoofed itself... Later The Hulk and Spiderman TV shows aimed for something more serious, but without a movie budget. Batman's production team tried to spin-off with The Green Hornet, but the heroics didn't work without the humour. However it produced a famous crossover story, where Green Hornet and Kato meet Batman and Robin. Sounds greater when you know that Bruce Lee played Kato.

Presumably there's been a problem preventing this series from ever hitting home video - it was absent from VHS and now DVD. The primary-coloured sets and costumes, carefully shot on 35mm, make it a fantasy wish of mine as a Blu-Ray set, even with 120 half-hour episodes. But surely there's a stack of money to be made if the problems are sorted out. This DC Comic character's TV debut was produced by 20th Century Fox Television, the current movie franchise is Warner Bros. Batman must be caught in legal limbo somewhere in the middle.

The show span off a movie, confusingly called Batman, made in 1966 during the show's first season. The film is proof of the popularity of Adam West's Batman and has always been available on every video format, up to and including Blu-Ray. No one's going to confuse West's tights with black kevlar, but the same name doesn't help it standout in listings or shelves.

In the movie, Batman faced off against Joker, Riddler, Penguin and Catwoman. It introduced the Batcopter, Batbike and Batboat, as well as Batman's legendary encounters with a shark and a bomb. But there's now a generation under the impression that this is all that Adam West's Batman ever did. If you like the movie, there's a lot more where that came from.

The series can now only be seen on TV, if you're lucky, at the mercy of modern scheduling, which now cuts down programmes of this vintage - ad breaks are much longer than they were in the 1960s. Besides running time cuts, there are sometimes jumpy film splices between scenes (TV stations used to broadcast off film, cutting the prints to suit their own ad breaks). Through the years some scenes can go missing because of seasonal references (like Santa Claus turning up) or censorship (Robin being eaten by a giant clam). Not to mention the end voiceover being butchered because the next episode is rarely coming up "next week" any more.

All in all, trying to enjoy a full-length, unblemished episode on TV has been difficult for decades. In the last three complete showings on British TV, each one has been cut around in different ways. I'd like to see it uncut again please. It should also look as good as Paramount's beautiful classic Star Trek Blu-Ray sets, made in the same era.

We want Bat-DVDs! 60 hours of the most fondly remembered, vividly colourful, tongue-in-cheekily written TV shows ever. In the meantime, it's the bootleggers that are making the money...

March 19, 2010

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971) - James Bond in Las Vegas

(1971, UK)

Sean Connery bows out of the Bond series

In the first ten years, the James Bond film series was unlike any other - more action-packed, more stylish, more violent, more sexy. They set the trend in the 1960s - countless other movies and TV shows tried to copy the format and the style. (Conversely, in the 1970s, the Bonds seemed to follow trends - blaxploitation, kung-fu, Star Wars...).

When I started movie-going at the end of the 1960s, it was a confusing time to start following Bond. The first three movies that I saw on first release had three different actors playing 007: the only George Lazenby (On Her Majesty's Secret Service), the 'last' Sean Connery (Diamonds Are Forever), and then the first Roger Moore (Live and Let Die). At the same time, it took me years to catch all the previous Connery Bonds on re-release.

before TV could afford to show them, all the Bond films kept being re-released, sometimes in double-bills - one ticket for two two-hour movies! They commanded multiple viewings years before home video arrived. But like the Planet of the Apes films, I couldn't possibly see them in the correct order, only as and when they appeared in local cinemas. I saw Diamonds are Forever in early 1972, at the impressionable age of ten, when I still took the stories at face value. When 007 is being cremated alive, I could see no way out. I thought he'd die for sure. The horrifying scene was later echoed in Scrooged.

The series had just taken a knock. On Her Majesty's Secret Service had been an unusual Bond movie - it stuck to the novel, avoided using gadgets, and had a uniquely dramatic story of Bond falling in love! It had been perceived as a failure, mainly due to the lack of Sean Connery. Diamonds Are Forever marked Connery's triumphant return and threw gadgets back in to the mix. Playing it safe, the script threw away most of Ian Fleming's novel and resorted to a retread of Thunderball.

Bond is called in to follow a series of murders connected to an international 'pipeline' of diamond smuggling. The trail leads him to Tiffany Case (Jill St John) in Amsterdam and together they fly to Las Vegas where the crimes change from grand larceny into global blackmail.

Another angle to keep audiences extra-happy is to inject an unusual amount of humour, paving the way for Roger Moore's style of Bond. Besides most of the main characters playing for laughs, there's even a comedy sheriff - a dry run for the Sheriff Culpepper in Live and Let Die. The script is certainly witty, carefully ensuring that even the scene changes are ironic.

The highlights of the film include the most complex car chase in the series so far, as Bond steers a red Ford Mustang in rings around (and over) the police along the old Vegas strip (in Fremont Street). There's a sillier chase, that I loved as a kid, that was obviously designed to make me buy a diecast copy of the unwieldy Moon Buggy (a must-have boy-toy bestseller that year). Both chases show up American cars as being overly heavy and unable to take corners without skidding or crashing.

There are some punishing and realistic fight scenes for Connery. One is filmed entirely in a small elevator, echoing the inventiveness and brutality of his showdown in a cramped train carriage in From Russia With Love. A later scene, where he tackles two female gymnasts, is cited as a main influence on Ridley Scott's filming of Pris' attack on Deckard in Blade Runner.

But by the end, the faked exploding helicopters and useless machine-guns start to look lazy. The use of an actual o
il rig as a location sounds like a good idea but turns out to be low on exciting possibilities. It felt like an anticlimax compared to Blofeld's hollow volcano in You Only Live Twice. An oil rig doesn't look like a Ken Adam design classic either. My instinct is that the second-unit action was below the usual standard.

The use of endless locations make the film. Las Vegas and the Nevada desert looked like another planet. Never ever thought I'd get to see it first hand. When I finally visited Vegas, I made a point of seeking out some 'Diamonds' locations. The casinos visible in the car chase scene. The alleyway off Fremont Street where Bond tips his car onto two wheels. Circus Circus casino where trapeze artists used to swing high above the slot machines and, happily, where a water balloon stall still stood, where Tiffany Case once squirted. We also visited the Hilton, used as Willard Whyte's 'home' (the extra tower was painted in on top, the glass exterior lifts were actually those outside the Landmark Hotel). Haven't yet found Whyte's spectacular country lodge, which looked like a Ken Adam set, but was in fact a real location nearby! Adam designed a most outrageous Vegas hotel suite, complete with a totally impractical glass bed, lined with a goldfish tank.

Starring opposite Connery is my favourite incarnation of his arch-enemy Blofeld. Played by Charles Gray, he's perfect as an evil supercriminal who actually could win. Gray and his superb voice gained another kind of immortality as the stony-faced Narrator in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and he'd previously personified satanic evil as Mocata in Hammer's superb The Devil Rides Out.

While Diana Rigg had been a formidable partner for Bond, the producers threw subtlety to the wind and shamelessly amped up the jiggle factor here. Jill St John is good at comedy, but gets to sport a parade of ultra-jiggly costumes. In a fight, she's one of the most useless Bond girls - I mean, who throws a trifle? Natalie's younger sister Lana Wood also seems to have been cast for her formidable assets.

Blofeld gets two killer sidekicks this time around, Mr Wynt and Mr Kidd, who are lovers like their characters in the novel. Crispin's dad, Bruce Glover, does well not to make his gay hitman too swishy, unlike much TV comedy of the time. It's not often you get to see gay men holding hands in a mainstream movie either.

Despite mostly being shot in the US, there's only one black actor who gets a speaking part - a fact not compensated for until the next film, Live and Let Die. Adding insult to injury, there's also a scene where a young black woman transforms into a gorilla. What were they thinking?

There's a belting theme tune from Shirley Bassey and the John Barry soundtrack confirms this an authentic Bond film from start to finish, helping soothe over the cracks in the story. A wonderful remastered and expanded CD soundtrack was recently released.

Diamonds Are Forever is available as a two-disc DVD special edition, with plenty o'extras, including some rare deleted scenes that explain some of the plot holes and continuity errors, and reveals Sammy Davis Jr's cameo. Presumably, once it's given the frame-by-frame restoration treatment, it will presumably get the Blu-Ray treatment too.

An original theatrical trailer is here on YouTube, with moderate spoilers...

A few of the movie locations for Diamonds Are Forever.

March 12, 2010

Taking the Kool-Aid: three horrifying visions of Jonestown

You want horror? Maybe this is too much...

Real horror, actual horror, is deeply upsetting. It would be wrong if it wasn't. But it's misleading that we describe ourselves as 'horror fans'. Perhaps this is why strangers treat us more cautiously. Perhaps they are worried that we might enjoy the horror of actual tragedies. Of course, what we mean is supernatural horror, fictional slashers, impossible monsters... rather than the extremes of actual suffering. I just want to warn you that this story shouldn't be treated lightly.

I've seen many documentaries and recreations of tragic events, but this one proved to be powerfully depressing. It wasn't simply that hundreds of people died, it was that they'd taken their own lives, all at the same time, because they were told to. One Sunday morning, late in 1978, I saw photographs of dead bodies, possibly for the first time. In a news magazine there were pages of colour photographs of the aftermath of Jonestown. If I'd seen photos like that before, they hadn't been in colour. Hundreds of people face down in mud. I still remember the brightly coloured
t-shirts, the fact that there were children as well as adults, and I mistakenly assumed that the victims were South American.

I recently decided to learn more about the Jonestown 'massacre', prompted by the showing of a recent documentary on TV.
I'd not considered the movie versions, assuming they were exploitation flicks. Curiosity now compelled me to see how the events were depicted and exploited. This is the type of incident that gets described as 'something out of a horror movie' and inevitably leads to one being made. But these dramatisations beg the question - is this really the way it happened? Were they actually made into horror films?

The first to be released was Guyana: Crime of the Century (also called Cult of the Damned) and was sold as horror.
The events then appeared as a TV mini-series in 1980, Guyana Tragedy. From the cover art, I thought this was also exploitation, but the cast and the writing credentials are quite impressive. More recently in 2006, was a new documentary titled Jonestown. Interviews with survivors, relatives and eye-witnesses to the life and works of Jim Jones. I've watched all three.

a.k.a. Cult of the Damned
(1979, Spain/Panama/Mexico)

Dull recreation that eventually packs a punch

There's a fine line between exploitation, and drama based on real events. The timing of this film and the TV movie both seemed far too soon to be at all respectful. In terms of accuracy
they both appear realistic, but the exaggerated accent on torture and gunplay places Cult of the Damned firmly in the category of exploitation.

The fateful events at Jonestown climaxed in November 1978. As the news reports began, the scriptwriters must have started taking notes. The first finished version of this film, 110 minutes long, premiered
only 10 months after the event! Their knowledge of the facts would have been limited, while investigations was still in progress. To cover themselves, they resorted to fictitious character names, even calling the Guyana encampment 'Johnsontown'! 

This was directed by Rene Cardona Jr. Unsurprisingly, he was the scriptwriter on another true-life dramatisation - b
ased on the story of the Andes air crash that resulted in cannibalism, Survive was also sold as horror. The result here is mostly lacking in drama or tension, even when you know what's going to happen. The first 90 minutes are very dull - the director only seems to take an interest whenever there's violence, like the opening scene with the splashiest onscreen pistol suicide I've seen.

It follows the events from Jones' church in San Francisco onwards. Stuart Whitman plays Jim Jones as an unconvincing bible-basher, no more enthusiastic than the average TV evangelist. Given such a meaty role, Whitman does very little with it. Yvonne De Carlo (The Munsters) and Bradford Dillman (Bug!) take their roles more seriously as Jones' colleagues. Gene Barry (The War of the Worlds) plays the congressman who visits 'Johnsontown', unwittingly triggering the fateful final events. Not a bad supporting cast, considering.

I can't say what's inaccurate about this version, but it's very noticeably a community of white people who travel down to Guyana, when in reality there was a majority of African-Americans. The jungle scenes are convincing to look at, right down to the look of the buildings and the chilling sign set up behind Jones' throne. It read '
Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it' (see the screengrab at top). The film relishes in showing a few torture scenes and makes the most of any shootings, filmed with a handheld camera, as if the victims were being chased at close quarters. 

The climax is simply staged but horrific,
the most extended depiction of the events in the three versions I watched. But it succeeded at being the most powerful, possibly because I watched this first. It ends leaving many loose ends, with even the demise of many central characters not mentioned at all. Cult of the Damned also describes incidents not mentioned in the TV movie or the documentary. Is this because they never happened? One scene has the congressman's delegation demanding entry into a large warehouse, only to discover it's an overcrowded, under-equipped hospital. A turning point as they realise that 'Johnsontown' has serious problems...

VCI have released the film on DVD from a soft-looking transfer, letterboxed widescreen, with a muffled English-language audio
track. This is the longest version of the film that was made. I think it's the original length cut that was released in Mexico. It was then re-edited and shortened for a US release.

(1980, TV, USA)

An impressive and accurate dramatisation

Three months after the US release of Cult of the Damned, came an impressive mini-series (shown as two back-to-back TV movies, I believe). The script was by Ernest Tidyman (The French Connection, Shaft), using the real names of characters and locations.

The research was partly based on a book and the
news reports from The Washington Post. Many of the dramatised incidents are also described in the 2006 documentary, Jonestown - a testament to the accuracy of the research. Unlike the linear narrative of Cult of the Damned, Guyana Tragedy starts with Jim Jones in Jonestown, on his throne, haunted by memories of his lifetime.

With a three hour total running time, this story goes all the way back to his childhood.
As Jones successfully built up a congregation in a rundown Indianapolis neighbourhood, he faced open and violent racial prejudice when he refused to restrict who was welcome in his church. His enormous success lead to a string of grateful property donations which built up his funds for a series of idealistic projects, centred around and communal living. He first set up an alternate society in the redwood forests of California, before moving to San Francisco. 

Jones starts off as an inspirational figure, an outspoken socialist, and a challenger of racism.
But ends up as a paranoid, power-mad dictator, over-reliant on drugs, punishing and sexually abusing members of his congregation. Whenever a scandal breaks publicly, he runs away, ending up in the South American jungle in a specially built community. When Jones believes the authorities are closing in, he simply talks his followers into the abyss. His ranting is based on an actual recording made at the time.

The climax is more dramatically staged
than Cult of the Damned, with an impassioned eleventh hour challenge to Jones' decision. Powers Boothe (Southern Comfort, Frailty, Sin City, 24) rightfully won an Emmy for his performance as Jim Jones, though at the time he wondered if he'd ever work again.

Levar Burton (Roots, Star Trek: The Next Generation) plays one of the congregation, as does Irene Cara (the same year as the movie Fame). Angela Cartwright (in the same year as Alien) plays Jones' wife
. Brad Dourif (Alien Resurrection, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) plays his attendant doctor, Diana Scarwid (Psycho III) plays the doctor's wife. There's also Ned Beatty, Randy Quaid, Meg Foster (early Cagney and Lacey), and a very brief appearance from James Earl Jones.

I was glad to see R
osalind Cash - she was one of the highlights in The Omega Man, who I'd always hoped would get far more work after playing such a strong and impressive role. It's good to see her in another high-profile role.

The quality of the cast demonstrates what a major TV event this was, but the DVD makes it look like grindhouse that's not worth restoring.
Hopefully such a major drama as this exists in better shape than this DVD from VCI. The soft image is the least of its problems. There are constant jumps and film faults. Missing frames, film damage, video faults and poor audio. This would look bad on VHS.


(2006, USA)

Eyewitness accounts of Jim Jones' life and death

I thought this documentary would contradict the old dramatisations, but it told many of the same stories as the TV movie.
At least here there are interviews with many of the people who knew Jones at every stage of his life, even when he was a child. I was surprised that there were survivors of Jonestown. 

There are still insights and surprises about Jones' life, not least his abuses of both his power and his parishioners. It details each of his projects, all of which he ends up running away from until there was nowhere else to run. The final mass suicide being described by eyewitnesses losing their entire families is of course both shocking and moving.

With a tragedy of this scale, I'm still struggling to understand how it could happen. The documentary gives valuable clues. For instance, Jones kept his followers sleep-deprived, and successfully isolated them from each other, even their own family. This infers he'd discovered (or, I'm guessing, borrowed) some efficient methods for keeping his followers faithful. Failing that, there were armed guards who patrolled the compound, supposedly to keep danger out...

The documentary is of course the most reliable and accessible way into the story, but I felt that both the dramatisations
made more of an impact in the final scenes. I had to see it all to believe it could happen. However he convinced them, the fact remains that the majority of victims willingly drank poison, which was mixed in with a fruit drink. Today, the reference to "taking the Kool-Aid" are Jim Jones' only legacy. A rather flippant catchphrase derived from a truly horrendous event.

the documentary is widely available (there's a trailer here on the UK site for Artefact Films) but I was surprised at how poorly treated the Emmy award-winning TV series looked on DVD. It's a powerful film with an excellent cast that still deserves an audience. There are several different DVDs out there. I hope that they are all better than the one (from VCI) that I saw (pictured above).

I previously compared documentaries to dramatisations of the Charles Manson murders and the 1972 Andes plane crash that inspired Survive! and Alive

(Update April 2012: while the "taking the Kool-Aid" phrase was still being used on TV and in the political arena at the time of writing this, I've only just learned that the victims were actually drinking Flavor-Aid on that fateful day, a product similar to Kool-Aid.)

March 05, 2010

ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND (1972) - who's your favourite Alice?

(1972, UK)

The first version of a story that you enjoy, often becomes your favourite. This was my first screen version of Alice's adventures, though I later found the Disney version far more consistent. But why choose, when you can enjoy both? I can't give up on the 1972 film, mainly because of John Barry's soundtrack. This time around, watching in widescreen for the first time, I was struck by the beautiful sets as well as the uncanny make-up designs by the man about to apply himself to some world-famous characters of Star Wars...

The story and dialogue are faithful to the book, but not at all in
sightful, mostly coming over as dry repetition of old nonsense verse. This is respectful for fans of the book, but episodically hit-and-miss as a movie. Though it was written for children, I can't see this holding their attention nowadays.

Fiona Fullerton is perfect for Alice, and I still think of her as the Alice (despite a subsequent hot-tub scene with James Bond). The characters she meets provide viewers a tricky game of 'spot the actor'. The cast are a snapshot of comedians and character actors of the time. Top of the bill is Michael Crawford (singing several songs as the White Rabbit), who is one of a few that can cope with both the unique material and the heavy make-up. Peter Sellers (the March Hare), Spike Milligan (the Griffin, below) and Michael Hordern (the Mock Turtle) are all excellent at working through the masks and complex costumes, while still bringing the verse to life. All of them only really recognisable from their voices.

The make-ups were a colossal task involving many different animal designs. The full face masks, whole heads in fact, of a monkey, owl, frog, bird etc are beautiful and naturalistic, though a little creepy. The lizard is supposed to be a comedic character but looks frightening, especially the eyes. The biggest challenge would have been the courtroom scene, when every character in the story appears together. I
wish I could illustrate this spectacular work with better photos.

No surprise that the make-up designer responsible was soon to create some of the classic characters for Star Wars, also shot in England, five years later.
Stuart Freeborn deserves a special mention, as he'd also made the full-body make-ups for the ape-men prologue of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which notably premiered the same year as the first Planet of the Apes film. Freeborn later created the startling prosthetic effects for The Omen, including some animatronic dogs for the graveyard attack (which I'd never noticed) and the famous detached head...

But Freeborn's most overlooked achievements are the successful designs and make-up creations of characters like Chewbacca, the Wampa and who knows how many background aliens in the first three Star Wars films. He designed Yoda! I'd love to see a book on all his work, maybe the Star Wars community (religion?) can come through. There's already an interview with him in this Star Wars Insider magazine. Online there's this illustrated overview of his career.

The huge storybook sets, some saturated in colour, involve some tricky large scale effects for Alice's changing in stature. These are really successful for being shot 'in camera' because they certainly outshine any of the clunky optical work (the picture noticeably degrades for a matte shot of her giant arm hanging out of a tiny window). The publicity photo above clearly shows how one effect was done - how the wrong lighting and wrong angle (intended for the film camera, not the stills camera) highlight the foreground platform and the background set, no longer blending together as they do in the film.

But all the impressive technical achievements don't compensate for some fairly clumsy directing, and the hit-and-miss nature of Alice's various 'adventures'. There's also some lame attempts at comedy though the use of 'jump cuts' and speeding up the footage, both techniques looking like a desperate last-minute fix.
There's more comedy value in Alice saying "queer" an awful lot.

Like I said, I'm carried through it all by John Barry's beautiful soundtrack, which adapts some of Lewis Carroll's verses into 'songs'. The score was released recently on CD, but there are many more instrumental cues that I'd love to hear in an expanded release.

It's very hard to enjoy this on DVD at present. It's a 2.35 widescreen movie that keeps being released from a non-anamorphic analogue transfer which would look bad even on VHS. The visual detail is lost, the busy video artifacts constantly distract. The audio even distorts when the music swells. It's a terrible transfer that won't go away - it looks no better on TV either. Again, this is the version that's just been re-released, so beware.