Comic-Con 2009: Tim Burton talks Wonderland 6

SAN DIEGO — “Edward Scissorhands” director Tim Burton made his first-ever visit to Comic-Con International today and was welcomed with huge cheers from Hall H’s 6000-strong audience. Burton was there to discuss “Alice in Wonderland,” his highly anticipated re-imagining of the classic novel.

The film stars Johnny Depp (who made a brief surprise visit during the panel — Burton later claimed that “Johnny decided to drop by” after having been in the neighborhood “walking around dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow,” though Burton’s grin proved this fan dream false), Mia Wasikowska, Anne Hathaway, and Helena Bonham Carter.

During the presentation Burton and panel host Patton Oswalt showed — three times — a trailer for the March 2010 film. Narrated by Depp’s Mad Hatter, the trailer gave glimpses of the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry), the Queen of Hearts, and a variety of scenes that appeared to be wholly original to this version, including a romp through a forest of mushrooms and a seemingly beefier role for the Mad Hatter, a character that only appears in a few Alice tales.

Certainly the question of how exactly Burton’s “Alice” compares to the source material, that is “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and the sequel “Through the Looking Glass” is on everyone’s mind.

When asked about his motivation to do the film as well as his connection to the source material, Burton said, “Seeing other movie versions of it, I never felt an emotional connection to it. It was always a girl wandering around from one crazy character to another, and I never really felt any real emotional connection. So it’s an attempt to really try to give (“Alice in Wonderland”) some framework of emotional grounding that has never been in any version before. So that’s the challenge to me. You know every character’s weird, but it’s to try and give them their specific weirdness so that they’re all different. All his characters indicate some kind of mental weirdness that everybody goes through, but the real attempt was to try and make Alice feel more like a story as opposed to a series of events.”

A lot of the intrigue with Burton’s “Alice” also has to do with the rumored changes he has made to the original story.

“It’s not a sequel because there are so many stories in Alice in Wonderland,” Burton said. “The goal was to take the randomness of the books, taking elements of the book and making it its own stories. A lot of it is based on the Jabberwocky poem in one of the stories. And that’s not a big part of the story, but we’re just using elements of all the books because that’s the nature of them, and they don’t really follow a specific linear structure.”

There are also a few changes being made to the famous Mad Hatter, which Burton calls an “iconic character.” Some of these changes can also be attributed to Johnny Depp. “(Johnny) tried to find a grounding to the character, something that you feel, as opposed to just being mad. In a lot of versions it’s a very one-note kind of character and you know his goal was to try and bring out a human side to the strangeness of the character. Any time I work with him that’s something he tries to do so that’s no exception.”

Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” is also going to be presented in 3D, though it was originally filmed in 2D and will be converted to 3D.

“We didn’t do it with a 3D camera. We did it where we got all our information from different cameras,” Burton said. “There are maybe three or four reasons for that. One was the time element, where you know we didn’t really have five or six years to make it. Also I felt the techniques we were using — the pure animation, the live action (but manipulating and doing strange things to that), plus the other elements we’re adding into it — it just gave us more freedom to get the depths and layers we wanted in the time we were dealing with. Plus for me I couldn’t really see the difference. This seemed the right technique and the right approach to do it.”

He went on to discuss his personal view of the growing trend of incorporating 3D technology into film.

“I’m personally not out to make it a gimmick. I think it puts you in this world more, plus with the Alice material, the growing and shrinking and the weird kind of spaces and places you’re in, it just kind of helps with the experience. The gimmick elements are kind of falling by the wayside. Now it’s just more about an experience. (We had) “Nightmare” (“The Nightmare Before Christmas”) converted to 3D and I mean, I felt it was almost the way it should have been. You felt the texture of the puppets more, you felt things that you actually felt when you were on the set. I think that that just enhances the experience and makes things — in a lot of cases with the textures and things — the way you wanted it to be.”

In closing, there is also a bit of news about Burton’s future projects. He’s been rumored to be going on to do “Dark Shadows” once “Alice in Wonderland” is complete, and he said once asked that “Dark Shadows is the plan, if I ever finish this one.”

There is also some potential for more original projects like Burton’s acclaimed “Edward Scissorhands.” When asked if he planned on beginning an original project, he said, “Oh yeah, I mean — you know those are always kind of inside. Yeah I’ve got a few lying around and I try to sneak them in somewhere. Yeah, um — yes. Yes. But nothing right at this moment.”

“Alice in Wonderland” hits theaters in March 2010.