March 8th, 2010
11:30 AM ET

Dear President Obama #413: Alas in Blunderland

Reporter's Note: The president has to put up with a lot of absurdities in DC. Not unlike taking a trip through the looking glass. No doubt, he’s glad he has my daily letters as a guide!

Alice (Mia Wasikowska) finds herself back in a mixed-up world in 'Alice in Wonderland.'
Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

So here I am just a day after telling you that I don’t find movies as interesting as I once did, and lo and behold I was lured off to the cinema this very evening by my wife and younger daughter! The attraction was the long-awaited and much ballyhooed “Alice in Wonderland” in 3D by Tim Burton, and of course it was visually marvelous. Call me crazy, but keep an eye on this Johnny Depp fellow. He’s going places!

That said, the story of Alice, for my taste, is a bit like the story of someone else’s dream. You know what I mean: A friend sees you and launches into a breathless recounting of his or her fascinating nightmare about a mountain of seals and a Viking. At first it seems interesting enough, but ten minutes later they’re still droning on, and you just feel sleepy. I imagine all your meetings with Harry Reid are kind of like that. Ha! (Actually, the only Alice in Wonderland movie that has ever really popped my cork, is a 1988 version by the Czech surrealist, Jan Svankmajer. Freakier than family dinner at the Kardashian house.)

In any event, one of the key problems with this new version, for me, is that my expectations were really high. Consequently, I was almost destined to be a wee bit disappointed.

I should have known of course. Back when I was a film critic I learned the “inverse promotion” rule of movies: If a movie is hyped too hard before it comes out, sometimes that means it is really not very good and the movie company feels like it must recoup all of its investment by a strong showing on the first weekend before everyone figures out how bad it is. So the worst films actually, at times, get much more help from the studios in terms of ads and promotions, than better films do.

I know that sounds ridiculous, but trust me, it happens. And not just in movies. It happens in politics too. Sometimes the worst ideas are the ones that a political party will most vigorously defend; precisely because those ideas are so bad that they won’t fly unless they are artificially kept aloft.

My advice: Don’t back down just because you face political opposition from the other party. That is to be expected. And don’t just shrink from snap public opinion polls that might run against your plans. But when public sentiment turns hard against an idea, and it stays that way over time, a smart leader re-examines his or her premise to see if it is missing something…if maybe the situation or framework has changed in a way that requires a change in the screenplay too. That is hard, no doubt, but pounding ahead with a show that no one wants to watch is even harder in the long run.

Btw, really not meaning to slam the new Alice in all this. Like I said, it was generally good fun. I didn’t feel like I wasted my money; just would have enjoyed a little more bang for the buck.

So as you can tell I was out for the evening. Hope I did not miss you call. (He said…with a Cheshire Cat grin…)

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Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (One Response)
  1. Tim Gibson

    The mysticism of Johnny Depp, the tweed jacket and Alice, each interprets the world through a different lens than is present in ordinary experience and often full of subtle meanings. Just ask the White Rabbit.

    My own confession can be summed up best by Steve Martin smacking a sleeping Alec Baldwin. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is by far one of the most characteristic examples of "literary nonsense." Playing with conventions of language and the rules of logic and reason woven into the fabric, the piece sold out quickly in its first print.

    The White Rabbit and Mad Hatter remain locked in time, switching places, still lost in the confused speech and distorted vision. 3D glass's are not required to recognize the symptoms of the trade. In an ordinary way of course.

    March 8, 2010 at 11:05 am |