There's a girl in a blue dress, a Queen of Hearts, and a a magical looking glass that whisks the heroine into a surreal Wonderland.
But beyond that, don't expect this SyFy miniseries to have much in common with Lewis Carroll's classic novel, "Alice in Wonderland." Instead, "Alice" is a whole different animal -- a deliciously gritty sci-fi adventure filled with action, romance, monsters psychedelic horrors, and a revolution against a drug-peddling queen. It's a little silly, but still immensely entertaining.
Alice's (Caterina Scorsone) dinner date with her boyfriend Jack (Philip Winchester) falls apart when he offers her an heirloom ring. When she chases after him, she sees him being dragged off by some suit-wearing thugs -- and promptly trips THROUGH a looking glass. Of course she ends up in Wonderland, a world of grimy urban ruins and art deco casinos. And it's ruled by the Queen of Hearts (Kathy Bates), a ruthless tyrant who keeps her populace drugged with emotions from kidnapped "oysters" (ordinary humans).
Alice ends up following the eccentric Hatter (Andrew-Lee Potts), who offers to take her to the Resistance -- but when they get there, they discover that Jack's ring is actually the Stone of Wonderland (which powers the transdimensional Looking Glass). Since everybody in Wonderland wants the Stone, Hatter and Alice end up on the run from both the Resistance and the Queen's assassin Mad March. Alice is still determined to rescue Jack and return home, but she soon finds that her boyfriend isn't quite what she thought -- and that one of her loved ones is the Queen's brainwashed slave.
The whole idea behind "Alice" is that Carroll's story was real, and that Wonderland has become a very different place in the last 150 years -- crumbling smoky cities, insectile airships, bunny-headed cyborg assassins, and a pair of sadistic interrogators called Dr. Dum and Dr. Dee. It's a far darker, more complex affair than Carroll's books, and that's what makes it so brilliant.
There's plenty of sci-fi action and chaotic battle scenes, including aerial chases, bombing runs and the occasional attack from the grotesque Jabberwock; and the writers keep the complex plot flowing along nicely. But they also keep the story grounded with a love triangle between Alice, Jack and Hatter, as well as Alice's quest to free the oysters and a long-lost family member. And there's just enough humor to keep it from being excessively grim ("We don't have to use a user manual, do we? I HATE user manuals").
Problems? A few of the homages (the grinning cat, the "drink me" bottle) are pretty superfluous, and the siege of skeletal soldiers is kind of silly (especially the "Hit them with everything we've got").
Scorsone makes an excellent modern Alice -- intelligent, capable and capable of butt-kicking her way out, but still vulnerable and young ("You don't remember me!"). Potts makes a deliciously quirky, sexily disheveled Hatter, and Frewer rounds out the main trio as a mildly insane White Knight. Winchester and Colm Meaney are also excellent, Tim Curry is brilliant but underused, and Kathy Bates absolutely rules as the casually cruel, petulant Queen. And yes, she does say "off with his head!"
I don't know what beloved children's story will get reworked next, but "Alice" does a great job with Lewis Carroll's classic novel -- lots of action, a touch of romance, and just enough surreality.