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My Favorite Directors: Tim Burton
Stain Boy Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas Frankenweenie the reanimated Bull Terrier Frankenweenie: Bride of Frankenweenie Frankenweenie: Sparky's headstone PeeWee's Big Adventure Beetlejuice Batman logo Edward Scissorhands Batman Returns: Catwoman Ed Wood Mars Attacks Mars Attacks Sleepy Hollow: Lisa Marie Sleepy Hollow: Tree of the Dead Sleepy Hollow Planet of the Apes Big Fish Big Fish Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Charlie and the Chocolate Factory My Favorite Directors
There's a good chance that Tim Burton can't make a movie I don't like, and I've seen nearly all of them!

And although it can't technically be included on this page since he didn't direct it (Henry Selick did), I have to give honorable mention to The Nightmare Before Christmas, which was based upon a poem by Tim Burton, and his art of course. Leave it to me to have just discovered that the voice of Jack Skellington is none other than Chris Sarandon, of Fright Night and The Princess Bride, among others.  I really loved him in Fright Night... <sigh>

Films:

Frankenweenie (1984)

Screen Caps from Frankenweenie
Cock N Bull's Solid State I like dogs. And I like Bull Terriers in particular (so please do not confuse them with Pit Bull Terriers or American Stafforshire Terriers, like my own Joxer).  There was a better than even chance I was going to see this movie sooner or later regardless of its director. In fact, I'm pretty sure I first saw it before I gave a fig about Tim Burton.

Frankenweenie is a story of a boy and his dog, an homage to the classic Frankenstein movie with a Burton twist.  When young Victor Frankenstein loses his best friend to a collision with a car, what else would he do but attempt to reanimate him?   Even this early in his career, Burton shows his affection for the oddballs among us, his mistrust of the 'normals' and his fascination with outlandish gadgetry.  There are signs of things to come in the look of the Sleepy Hollow-like windmill and the mini golf course that resembles the Penguin's lair seen years later in Batman Returns.

And besides, how many other people could make a story about a dead dog sing?

Pee Wee's Big Adventure (1985)

I was something of a Paul Rubens fan (still am) so I saw this one long before Tim Burton was a familiar name to me as well.  There's something about this guy that will always catch me sideways - I wish I could imitate him better.  I can do a fair version of the Tequila dance, though.

Beetlejuice (1988)
OK... who hasn't seen this one?  It's a classic.  Fab casting for starters: Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis make a pretty solid lead couple (who knew he was that tall?), Jeffrey Jones as the ditzy Mr. Deitz (a winner remembered from Ferris Bueller's Day Off - I can't think of this guy without hearing Yello's version of "Oh Yeah" and that girl with the gummi bears that are warm from being in her pocket all day!)

There's Catherine O'Hara, of course, over-the-top as the self-involved Delia Deitz, and likely my (and your) first look at the weirdly dark (so therefore most sympathetic character), Winona Ryder as Lydia Deitz.  And pre-Batman funny guy Michael Keaton, showing pure genius.

Beetljuice has everything I've come to expect from Mr. Burton: the afore-mentioned gothic oddball with a heart, the bizarre made mundane (Lydia coaching the Maitlands in haunting) and the mundane made bizarre (anything to do with the Deitz's.)  I especially loved the concept that suicides are civil servants in the afterlife.

Batman (1989)
Firstly, I need to come clean.  Yes, I was a scoffer.  I honestly didn't think Michael Keaton could pull off The Dark Knight.  And I wondered what idiot had cast him in the part.  But the trailers looked promising, so I saw it.  Who was this genius that had not only captured Batman completely, but had known that Michael Keaton had the duality to do it?

And for a first good look at Tim Burton's unique vision, you can't do much better than Gotham City or the original Batmobile.

Truth be told, however, I hardly ever watch this one because of the inclusion of that fluff-bunny Kim Basinger as Vicky Vale. Yech. How wretched and sad. I've only recently learned that she replaced Sean Young who was originally cast but broke her collar-bone filming a riding scene that was subsequently written out.  Life is so unfair. Ah... what might have been. So I guess Sean can be forgiven whatever antics she performed attempting to land the role of Catwoman three years later in Batman Returns.  However sympathetic I might be, while Sean blasts Basinger out of the water, let's be clear: she ain't playing in Michele Pfeiffer's league.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Edward Scissorhands is a masterful modern fairytale whose melancholic title character always makes me weep.   Tim Burton outdid himself with this one.  Johnny Depp is beautiful and sad, Anthony Michael Hall pulls off a performance as a character diametrically opposed to the nerds he became known for, and Dianne Wiest delights as the world's kindest and most generous suburban mom.

The worst part about this movie as far as I am concerned is that I can't watch it nearly as often as I would like to because it breaks my heart.  The outcast really can't join society, and love doesn't cure everything after all.

Batman Returns (1992)
The Bat, the Cat, the Penguin.
That's the tagline for Batman Returns, Tim Burton's final go-round with DC Comics' Dark Knight. The casting kicks ass: Danny DeVito as the grotesque Penguin, Christopher Walken as the perfectly nasty Max Shreck, the stunning Michelle Pfeiffer as The Catwoman and Michael Keaton returning as The Bat.

This is the Batman I've watched over and over. I can't take my eyes off The Penguin - he's riveting, like an accident in slow motion.   The romance between Bruce and Selina is complex, compelling and doomed; every time I watch, I hope things can turn out differently for them.   Pfeiffer, as usual, appears to be from another world where everything is more beautiful and fragile.  Perhaps one day Burton will decide to set a story there.

Ed Wood (1994)
Ed Wood is Tim Burton's telling of the outrageous (and somewhat tragic) life and career of the director of such film classics as "Plan 9 From Outer Space" and "Glen or Glenda".  The poor man had an unnatural affinity for tacky stock footage, angora sweaters, and dreamt of being a great director.   "Plan 9... " has been immortalized as "The Worst Film of All Time", but one wonders if Wood, himself, would appreciate the honor.

"Plan 9... " was also Bela Lugosi's final film appearance, and in Burton's version Martin Landau portrays the sad, morphine-addicted figure with great sensitivity - a performance which earned him an Oscar.   Depp, of course, lights up the screen and really sells the bizarre humanity of his subject.

This one may not be everyone's cup of tea.  I have a weakness for cross-dressers, satire and Johnny Depp, so it's no surprise that I fell for it.

Mars Attacks (1996)
Screen Caps from Mars Attacks
Mars Attacks rocks!  Like Ed Wood, this film is most likely to appeal to those with a soft spot for satire and the bizarre.  Also expect the oddballs and the misfits to not only save, but inherit, the planet when the time comes.  When asked which parts Jack Nicholson wanted to play, he answered "All of them", and so he was given two.  Annette Benning is endearing as one of those characters' spaced-out, but well-meaning wife.

Pierce Brosnan plays the ivory-tower scientist who just can't wrap his mind around a technologically advanced race of adolescent troublemakers but manages to keep a straight face even as his new love interest (Sarah Jessica Parker) undergoes Martian-style cosmetic surgery.  Look for Pam Grier as the fiesty bus-driving mom.

Nothing tops the fabulous one-liner the translater continually repeats even as the Martians murder and attack crowds of gullible Earthlings: "Don't run; we're your friends!"

Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Screen Caps from Sleepy Hollow
I've devoted an entire page to Sleepy Hollow, another dark, beautiful film from Tim Burton, starring Johnny Depp; it hardly matters whether there's a story at all...

But there is!

When Sleepy Hollow first came out there was no shortage of web sites devoted to it; I guess it captures the imaginations of a lot of people.  As usual, Burton paints a beautiful picture with his lush costumes and a custom-built village where the sun never shines. His Horseman (Christopher Walken) is single-minded and savage, yet strangely tender to one being, his loyal steed.

Young Masbeth (newcomer Marc Pickering) carries his weight as Ichabod Crane's side-kick who's trusted to lighten the mood now and then with suitably wry observations.  Burton's then-companion, Lisa Marie appears as Ichabod's mother, but the price she pays for finally being cast as a lovely human being is a horrific screen death.

The only complaint I have about this movie is that Christina Ricci plays boringly against type as the nearly-saccharin Katrina Van Tassel.  The only arguments I can manage for why she was cast at all are that

  1. She looks good in whiteface
  2. She maintains (sort of) the plausibility of the the possibility that she might turn out to be the villain

You'll have to decide for yourself whether she's been wasted here.

Planet of the Apes (2001)
Featuring Mark Wahlberg, Helena Bonham Carter and Kris Kristofferson, this modern remake of the 1968 classic struck me as being not a little peculiarly cast, but I've doubted Burton's choices before (see Michael Keaton, above) and learned to trust him.  Besides, David Warner also appears in it and if you've read my Gilliam page, you probably already have some idea how I feel about him!

Rick Baker's ape makeup alone, as expected, was worth the price of admission.  It is utterly seamless and, for the most part, completely disguises the actor beneath - which can be frustrating when you're trying to place a familiar voice or gesture!

This movie would be improved if it had a more self-mocking tone, like the Die Hard series, or TV's Hercules or Xena shows, and here's why: we humans are accustomed to laughing at monkeys.  A pant-hoot or rolling stride at a dramatic moment disconcertingly drops the audience right out of the mood, if their nervous laughs are any indication. POTA succeeeds best when Limbo (Paul Giamatti) is wisecracking onscreen.

For more info, have a look at the this site devoted to Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes - lots o' Ape Links, no waiting.

Big Fish (2003)
Big Fish is the story of a son's attempt, at the end of his father's life, to bridge the emotional distance between them by sorting the truth from the lies of his father's elaborate, autobiographical tall tales. Ewan McGregor plays the younger Ed Bloom as he meets a giant, joins the circus, woos his wife, rescues singing Siamese twins during war-time service and saves an entire town.

The adventures are visually imaginative, the characters fascinating and well-acted, but despite the critical acclaim, I find Big Fish somewhat unsatisfying. The father is portrayed as a dreamer whose magical vision has glorified the drearier details in his extra-ordinary life. The son's resentment of those apparent lies is portrayed as the son's failure, and by the end of the movie, a lifetime of feeling rejected is erased as he's learned to see the magic, too. I cry foul. The father's treatment of his son as an outsider, as a mere audience to his oft-repeated tales and failure to address him directly, was cold and mean and shouldn't be airbrushed away with wishful thinking.

A less narcissistic man might have found a way to share himself, as well as his imagination, with his son.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Screen Caps from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The trick to remaking a classic is preserving beloved characters and situations without becoming predictable. I would have thought that in this regard the bar set by Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory in 1971 was impossibly high, but Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have come through for us again.

It's years since I've read Roald Dahl's books, but I understand the departures from the well-known movie storyline are more faithful to the original source material; certainly the author's subversive tone survives.

Depp's Wonka is as wacky and funny as Wilder's, if less warm. David Kelly's Grandpa Joe and Fraddie Highmore's Charlie are as likeable as Jack Albertson's and Peter Ostrum's. Julia Winter's Veruca Salt is on a par with Julie Dawn Cole's, but I sure missed her song ("I Want it Now!"). Now that the DVD is out, I've had a chance to get really familiar with Danny Elfman's soundtrack and I pronounce it, too, a must-have.

All in all, I heartily enjoyed this one. Oh—if you visit the official site, play the Fudge Frenzie game; it's brilliant!

That's all the Burton films I've seen to date. Sooner or later I guess I'll have to make a page praising his book...