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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Tim Burton believes author Lewis Carroll's 19th century story, "Alice's Adventures In Wonderland," screamed out for a 3-D film because of its surreal elements, or what the director calls its "trippyness."
Burton's movie "Alice in Wonderland" opens on March 5 as the next film in a line of highly anticipated 3-D movies that has Hollywood watching closely. The most recent 3-D film, sci-fi adventure "Avatar," has shattered box office records on its way to nearly $2.5 billion in global ticket sales.
In recent years, Hollywood has seen a boom in 3-D movies as the major studios create new entertainment for a new generation of audiences, and "Avatar" has shown that fans will pay more for 3-D movies when the special effects are eye-popping.
Burton's "Alice" is the latest industry test. It takes viewers into a world of lush mushroom forests and ravaged wastelands -- a landscape that in 3-D seems to extend beyond the movie screen. At other times, a spear or a talking animal may seem to jab out from the screen.
Alice, played by Australian Mia Wasikowska, 20, goes from giant to thimble-sized depending on what she eats, and actor Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter gazes wildly at everyone through eyes enlarged ever so slightly with special effects.
Burton, 51, said his early exposure to Carroll's work came less from the book and more from pop culture, including drug-themed 1967 song "White Rabbit" from Jefferson Airplane.
Yet, he was quick to add that he found Carroll's story "mind blowing," which seems fitting given the somewhat psychedelic adventure Burton has put on film.
"It just seemed the world that Lewis Carroll created, just the kind of trippyness and the size and spatial elements ... the combination of the medium and the material just seemed really right," Burton told reporters recently.
Burton's "Alice" is based on Carroll's book, but as in most movie adaptations details changed. Burton added elements of Carroll's sequel "Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There" into his movie. And Alice is 19 years-old, not a young girl, when she falls into the topsy-turvy wonderland.
Once there, a motley crew of characters expects her to end the tyranny of the Red Queen, who has a huge head and tiny body. While Alice feels ill-equipped for the job.
If the story has changed somewhat, movie fans can only imagine what Burton has in store with his use of special effects, animation, and three-dimensional storytelling.
The director's "Corpse Bride" (2005) was nominated for an Oscar in animation, and in work as diverse as comic book flick "Batman," musical "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," and fantasy "Edward Scissorhands," the director has shown a flair for creating never-before-seen worlds on film.
In fact, Burton said he was not overly awed by any earlier screen adaptation of "Alice," including the very one his studio, Disney, released in 1951.
"I didn't feel like there was a definitive version to me that we were fighting against," he said.
Hollywood is waiting to see if audiences think like Burton and if his 3-D movie delights fans as much as "Avatar." It has seen more than 80 percent of its $691 million U.S. and Canadian box office from 3-D screens, according to Boxofficemojo.com.
After "Alice" come 3-D versions of Dreamworks Animations' "How To Train Your Dragon" and Warner Bros' "Clash of the Titans," and this week the major studios and theaters neared a $650 million financing package to upgrade thousands of U.S. movie screens to digital projection, which is necessary for screening modern 3-D films.
"'Alice In Wonderland' is the next big 3-D release...so there will be a lot of attention on how (it) performs," said Brandon Gray, president of BoxOfficeMojo.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Jill Serjeant