So we meet again, Mr. Burton. It seems like only yesterday when your bloodless, soul-sucking vampire melodrama "Dark Shadows" provided the content for my first review on this very website. I didn't have many nice things to say back then, but considering you have "Frankenweenie" coming out this weekend, I'm thinking we start fresh.
As a sign of good will, here are five Tim Burton movies that I actually quite enjoy and give merit to the director's reputation of quality and creativity.
It's ironic that my favorite Tim Burton film is one that features so few of Burton's typical clichés. It's not bathed in perpetual blacks and whites. Color is used for something other than showing the gaudy horrors of suburban life. Johnny Depp is nowhere to be found (it's actually the last time Burton hasn't collaborated with his superstar muse).
Perhaps that's why 2003's "Big Fish" feels so refreshing, sweet and heartfelt, as opposed to wrung through his usual trite visuals and characters. It certainly still feels like a Burton film – from the off-kilter look at the world to a few dark sequences involving a local witch – but it plays like something Burton actually cared about and put feeling into making, instead of a Disney-financed remake.
For those who find its emotions a little schmaltzy – an understandable complaint – consider this: Steven Spielberg almost directed it. The sentimental goop could've been a whole lot thicker.
It's easy to hate on 1990's "Edward Scissorhands" since it's essentially a handbook for all of things Burton (save for the fact there's no Helena Bonham Carter). It's also easy to hate it for what it created, but in doing so, it's also easy to overlook that it's a really well-made and well-told story. Depp is very good in the almost mute title role, one of his first big performances that showed his potential as a serious actor. Burton's imagery – namely the mess of metal and humanity that is his lead character – is actually imaginative and often beautiful. Once again, it's the kind of Burton film that feels like the result of inspiration instead of branding.
"Ed Wood" is one of Tim Burton's least popular films. It's not because of quality, but due to the fact most people just don't think of it when the topic of Burton movies comes up. It's probably because it's easily the least like the rest of the director's work. Burton's style and aesthetic has never been based in reality, so the concept of him doing a biopic seems absurd.
However, the results are pretty impressive. Depp delivers a charming performance as the legendarily inept director, and Burton fills Wood's life story with several entertaining characters, including a profane Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau). It's a sweetly presented tale about the love of film, no matter how bad the movies may be.
Watching "Batman" now in a post-Christopher Nolan universe is admittedly difficult. "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight" are two of the best comic book movies ever made, and the third one, while deeply flawed, is perhaps one of the most ambitious entries in the genre. But if Nolan has almost perfected what an adult comic book film could be, Burton laid down the groundwork with his 1989 rendition of the Caped Crusader.
The director's dark inclinations fit surprisingly well with the hero, and the combo of Keaton and Nicholson make for good sparring partners. Burton is not much of an action director, but his gripping version of Batman led to the bold movies we have now, while standing up pretty well on its own. It's too bad the bridge between Burton and Nolan had to be built by Joel Schumacher.
"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"
Let's get this point out of the way right away: Yes, Depp and Bonham Carter are not great singers. Calling them good is even a bit of a stretch. It seems apparent that Burton wanted to hire actors for their acting abilities, rather than for vocal talents. It backfires in some regards, but it also works since Depp and Bonham Carter are very good in their exceptionally heavy roles.
"Sweeney Todd" is certainly a grim tale, and Burton doesn't hold back, showing a seemingly endless string of gushing bloody slit throats. The film almost plays like an endurance test, but it's made pleasing by Burton's usual visual panache, some sinister performances and Sondheim's hauntingly beautiful music – a rare Danny Elfman-free production. It may not be the most polished of musicals, but as a whole, it doesn't hit many wrong notes.
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