I’m not really quite sure how I feel about Tim Burton. I think he’s made some great movies, and he certainly has a unique style, but in recent years it seems as though his style has become almost a parody of itself. Instead of focusing on his characters and the nuances of his stories, Burton has opted instead to focus almost entirely on style, making his recent films more faux-goth and Tim Burton-y than ever before. That’s the impression I’ve gotten, at least.
That said, Burton’s a pretty damn good filmmaker. Even his clunkers (looking at you, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) aren’t nearly as bad as half the crap that passes for entertainment these days. Overall, I’m a fan of Tim Burton, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to slow down anytime soon.
I thought it would be interesting to take a look back (and forward, in the case of Alice in Wonderland) at all the feature films Tim Burton has directed to see how his style has changed (or devolved?) over the years. It’s weird – some movies you can pin as a Burton flick immediately, while for others, it isn’t quite so apparent. You can see for yourself after the jump.
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
I really can’t imagine how I’d react if I didn’t know who Pee-wee Herman was before seeing this preview. I could be wrong, but I don’t think a lot of people know that Burton directed Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. It’s pretty far from what he’s done with the rest of his career, but I personally think it’s a hilarious movie that’s aged quite well. I’m not sure it’s a cult classic, but I’ll be damned if I find someone who doesn’t know who Large Marge is.
Beetle Juice (1988)
Michael Keaton’s best role? I think so. Beetle Juice is when Burton really started showing his unique sense of style. Having parts of the film take place in the afterlife allowed Burton to let his imagination run wild, and his fingerprints are all over this movie. Even the clothes and the giant house look like Tim Burton had a hand in their design. The dinner table scene is by far my favorite, which I guess is kind of odd considering how much I love Keaton in this movie.
It’s amazing to think that after just two feature films to his credit, Warner Bros. placed the Batman franchise in the hands of Tim Burton. I like Nolan’s more grounded interpretation of the Batman character better, but Burton did an awesome job in his own right. The Batmobile and new Batman logo became instantly classic, and I wonder how much influence Burton had on their design. My earliest memory of a movie being hyped beyond belief is Burton’s Batman, and I definitely was not disappointed when I finally saw it in the theater.
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
And the love affair with Johnny Depp begins. Personally, I think Edward Scissorhands is Burton’s best film. It’s got that incredible sense of style that has become Burton’s trademark, from the bright, colorful suburban neighborhoods to the dark, haunting atmosphere of Edward’s home, to the zany haircuts sported by the suburban housewives. But Edward Scissorhands has got a lot of heart, too, an even as an outlandish fable, it’s tough not to get wrapped up in the love story presented. Yeah, I really dig this movie.
Batman Returns (1992)
Most people thought this movie was pretty disappointing. I didn’t think it was so bad, but it isn’t the type of movie I’ll watch when it comes on television. The Batman movies starting getting really silly starting with Batman returns (penguins with rockets on their backs?) and became downright atrocious until Nolan’s reboot. Part of me thinks that Burton wasn’t nearly as into this one as he was for the original.
Ed Wood (1994)
This is actually the only Tim Burton movie I haven’t seen. But if it’s Burton and Depp, it can’t be that bad, right? Has anyone seen it? It looks like it could be terrific or awful, with no much room for in-between.
Mars Attacks! (1996)
I don’t know how someone could watch this trailer and not want to see Mars Attacks! A silly movie about a Martian invasion featuring a star-studded cast and Sarah Jessica Parker’s head on a dog?(Would a horse have been more appropriate?) There’s nothing really special about Mars Attacks!, but if Burton’s goal was to make a fun popcorn movie, he definitely succeeded. I still love the way the Martians talk, and even today I’ll still chuckle upon hearing their ridiculous voices.
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Sleepy Hollow must have been a wet dream for Burton, what with all the gothic images prevalent throughout the film. It’s certainly a unique and interesting take on the Sleepy Hollow legend, and Burton’s use (or neglect?) of color really makes for some stark, memorable images. I’m not real sure about the consensus on this one, but I personally like it a lot. I also have a thing for Christina Ricci, so that may be part of it.
Planet of the Apes (2001)
Alright, look: I know a lot of people hate this movie, but I’m not one of them. In fact, I like it. A lot. Now, it doesn’t really feel like a Tim Burton movie (aside from a Helena Bonham Carter role), and it really doesn’t compare to the original Planet of the Apes. But Burton took cues from the original and made revisions to fit his version of the film – like, for example, an ape telling a human to keep his filthy hands off of him and an ape-faced Lincoln Memorial replacing the Statue of Liberty for the film’s quasi-twist ending. Plus, Tim Roth is just awesome as Thade. You can hate this movie and say it sucks – and maybe you’re right – but Roth is the shit in this one.
Big Fish (2003)
Some consider Big Fish to be Burton’s magnum opus. I don’t – I think that would be Edward Scissorhands – but that sort of praise for a film directed by a man with an extensive list of films to his credit gives an idea of how highly Big Fish is regarded. All in all, it is a really good movie, and the sort of surreal storytelling involved makes it a perfect vehicle for Tim Burton. Burton’s style is present, but it’s somewhat restrained so as not to take too much away from his characters.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
This was another remake for Burton, and I think that he failed miserably. Granted, the original is a classic, and Gene Wilder is so great as Wonka that even an actor as talented as Depp would have a hard time filling his shoes. All the characters – including Wonka – fell flat, and I think a lot of that is due to the fact that Burton concentrated almost entirely on creating a bizarre, quirky, twisted chocolate factory. The movie itself lends itself to a unique style, but in this case, I think Burton went overboard.
Corpse Bride (2005)
And now we’re at the part of Tim Burton’s career where his movies have become, well…underwhelming. There’s nothing wrong with Corpse Bride, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the movie with which it is always compared, The Nightmare Before Christmas. So automatically, it’s somewhat disappointing, but I actually think this movie would have been way cooler if it was live action. And Tim Burton wouldn’t have been a great director for something like that?
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Again, the word “underwhelming” comes to mind. By no means do I think Burton mailed it in for this movie, but aside from Sacha Baron Cohen’s performance, Sweeney Todd is quite forgettable. I mean, sure, Depp can sing a bit, as can Carter, but the movie itself just seemed slow and bland. That said, I wouldn’t mind seeing Tim Burton take a stab at another musical.
Alice in Wonderland (2010)
We’re gonna have to wait until March to see if this movie’s any good, but I’m somewhat skeptical. Like I said before, I think Burton’s films have trended downward in quality as he”s gotten older. Alice looks to be visually amazing – as any psychedelic movie should – but that doesn’t always translate to a good movie. In any event, I’m sure I’ll see this one and I’ll go in with an open mind. External stimulants may be required…