C'mon Hollywood: Has Tim Burton lost his touch or have we lost touch with Tim Burton?
This past weekend I caught Tim Burton’s FRANKENWEENIE and while sitting there, soaking the film in, I felt an air of familiarity, as if there would be no surprises and a bittersweet, oddly happy ending. Yet, as the film came to a close, I sat there, nearly in tears before the credits rolled, and I thought that maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Perhaps, I wasn’t giving Burton enough credit and had been influenced by the Burton hate-a-thon like so many other movie geeks out there. Ultimately, though, I felt like there was a disconnect somewhere, either with us or with Burton. But, which was it?
Tim Burton’s name has become synonymous with gothic-themed films with a penchant for embracing the odd outcast. EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, BATMAN, ED WOOD, BEETLEJUICE, Pee Wee Herman, Ichobad Crane, Jack Skellington, Willy Wonka, Alice, Barnabas Collins, and now Victor Frankenstein are all characters that defy the norm and swim in their idiosyncrasies, much like Burton himself. It’s a theme that’s run through all of his films with the exception of PLANET OF THE APES, his most non-Burtonesque film to date, which features a strong, seemingly normal male lead in Mark Wahlberg. In fact, there’s very little to imply that Burton even directed that film.
Throughout the years, fans have embraced Burton’s style; the twisted trees, the swirly landscapes, the scary décor, and the old-school horror homage’s. All of the things that define Burton as an artist were welcomed with open arms. He was an original, a visionary, a true talent that showered us with eerie visuals and darkly comedic characters that poked fun at societal norms. His fanbase thrived and even helped to create role models for those who identified with the characters in his films. But, somewhere along the way, Burton began to wear on people. Or we began to wean off of him.
We could argue all day about when or how it happened, but it doesn’t matter, really. There simply came a time when the things that made Burton special started working against him. Slowly, his work began to be scoffed at by those who used to vehemently defend it. Another Burton-Depp collaboration, more twisty trees, more swirly hills, more weird people as protagonists, more Burton-looking creatures, etc., etc.; it’s all come down to a man who was once respected for what he did now being loathed for it.
Many people say that Burton needs to get back to the “old” Burton, but I’m not quite sure what that is. Even as similar as some of his earlier works are, they’re not that similar. PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, BATMAN, BEETLEJUICE, and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS have strong aspects of Burton’s signature style, but each are very different films. Those are all “phase one” Burton films, and usually the ones folks claim to love the most, notwithstanding A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (which he didn’t direct). So, were the films that followed just not as entertaining or not as similar to his “phase one” flicks? What was it that drove fans to look upon his films with dismay? I’ve always been a casual Burton fan, having loved or enjoyed the majority of his films, but never worshipping at his feet. I actually enjoyed ALICE IN WONDERLAND for what it was (a gothic fairy tale for the TWILIGHT crowd) as it took Burton’s style and added some color and charm. Many film geeks despise it, but I think they fail to see that they were never the intended audience. It was never going to be a dark and macabre film.
Burton stretched his wings with films like BIG FISH and PLANET OF THE APES, going “mainstream” to an extent with each, leaving an 8-year gap between SLEEPY HOLLOW and SWEENEY TODD, both of which relied heavily on the director’s more grotesque style (although CORPSE BRIDE snuck in there). Five years after SWEENEY TODD he brought us DARK SHADOWS, which wasn’t unwatchable, but a complete mess in the story department (I would actually label it his laziest film to date). But, FRANKENWEENIE more than makes up for it as a personal story with a restrained gothic charm.
Looking back over his resume of films, there were only a few that I really didn’t care for, with the majority being entertaining jaunts at the least. I think Burton just had a rough year and it’s created a hate-machine of epic proportions that has placed him in movie jail for many fans, who tick off his few missteps as cornerstones of a decline, when really he’s stayed fairly consistent throughout the years, both stylistically and financially. Or perhaps old-school fans have moved on, while the next generation moved in. It’s not the most unheard of situation.
I don’t think Burton has delivered his last great film and I look forward to what he brings to us in the future. Certainly, I have my own preferences, but with a strong line-up of films to his credit, I have faith he’ll deliver some worthwhile pics down the road. At the same time, I think he’s reached a tipping point where some fans will simply never return to his court. Perhaps it’s simply the price of never being able to please everyone all the time.
From Burton on his legacy: “The thing that I care about most — that you did something that really had an impact on them. People come up on the street, and they have a “Nightmare” tattoo, or little girls saying they love “Sweeney Todd,” and you’re like, “How were you able to see it?” Or you see people, especially around Halloween, dressed up in costume, as Corpse Bride or the Mad Hatter or Sally. It’s not critics, it’s not box office. Things that you know are connecting with real people.”
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