Alice's Wonderland 150 years later: cyborgs and flying cars!

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Dec 14, 2012, 4:09 PM EST

Syfy's upcoming limited series Alice updates the classic Lewis Carroll tales by showing what Wonderland might look like today if an adult Alice went through the looking glass. In the show, which debuts this Sunday, Alice (Caterina Scorsone) has to rescue her fiance (Philip Winchester) from the Queen of Hearts (Kathy Bates). In the Wonderland of this film, Carroll's whimsical creatures get a techno-twist remake.

For example, in the books, Alice plays croquet while riding a flamingo. In the show, a Flamingo is Wonderland's chosen brand of jet-propelled vehicle.

"I translated that into a flying-machine flamingo that she has to sit on and manipulate its pink neck to make it fly," the film's director, Nick Willing, said in a conference call last week. "It sort of looks like a Vespa, a cross between a jet ski or Vespa, but that flies. That was very delicious."

Not exactly a killer cyborg, but definitely a sci-fi twist on the classic story.

In the landscape of the new Wonderland, you'll see towering skyscrapers and buildings actually built out of cards. "The look of the film, we've got this kind of exciting, funky twist to the look, but retro modern," Willing continued. "The first thing that tickled my fancy was the idea of imagining Wonderland as it is today, 150 years on from the original. [Alice's Adventures] in Wonderland was written 150 years ago, and I thought, 'Wouldn't it be delicious to imagine that world, in the way that we have evolved, also changed? How would it be today? Perhaps we'd have similar characters, but wouldn't they be different? And wouldn't they have similar quests?'"

Alice discovers that the Queen is taking people from our world and removing their memories. These wiped people are called Oysters, and they gamble away their emotions. The Queen bottles their feelings of joy, delight and excitement for the Wonderland residents.

"What I was interested in was [the idea of] being able to manufacture your emotions," Willing said. "One of the things I fear may happen to us is that we swap genuine emotions for something that is given to us. We cry at the television commercial and think that those tears are genuine. I was fascinated with, not so much in how these things could be addictive, but how we are slowly constructing a world where we swap genuine emotions or something which is manufactured cheaply. Wonderland seemed to be a good place to set that in because the Queen of Hearts has that kind of personality in the book."

Some of the traditional creatures of Carroll's world get a modern polish, too. Willing got to create a realistic Jabberwocky with modern visual-effects technology. "I've never seen a jabberwock done before," Willing said. "There was a film by Terry Gilliam, but that was years ago and it only had fleeting glimpses of the actual jabberwock in that film. Now technology has caught up with me and we were able to produce this amazing creature with a long neck and a goofy face, that was both funny and terrifying at the same time, which I think is what the jabberwock is all about. [It] looked astonishingly like the [John] Tenniel drawings from the original."

Characters who have been harmless in other interpretations of Alice in Wonderland have become a bit more malevolent in this version. In the book Through the Looking Glass, Tweedledee and Tweedledum just talk about fighting, but never actually do anything harmful.

"I always thought Tweedledee and Tweedledum as torturous of her," Willing said. "I felt that they were like nasty little schoolboys who want to pull the wings off flies and torture little girls. That's the opportunity they got for Alice. So in the film I actually made them the Queen's torturers and torture poor old Alice. So the book was kind of a trigger, an inspiration, and then from there it spawned many things."

Alice premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Syfy and concludes the following Monday at 9.

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