Beetlejuice, sometime in 1988 had me hooked. And then came Batman a year later. A lifelong adoration of Tim Burton soon followed.
A Tim Burton film always feels unique, a pure creation from an artist. Every film is bathed in oblique references, surreal animation with a quirkiness you can't fail to love and admire.
His films centre on familial relationships, of Father/Son tales and a personal feeling of being alienated, different and alone. A loss of innocence masked in a surreal fantasy world, maybe?
and reintroduced real life characters such as Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi to the big screen with a love and affection rarely accorded with such reverence these days.
His collaborations with Johnny Depp and ex wife Helena Bonham Carter are legion, but less so is Danny Elfman and Colleen Atwood, both of whom have contributed so vitally in original music and costume design respectively, and so regularly throughout his career. Together with Depp and Helena Bonham Carter he has worked with an incredible array of modern day acting greats:
Danny De Vito
Samuel L Jackson
Concentrating solely on Directed films and with as few spoilers as is possible, I have also written these appraisals in a slightly different fashion on occasion, specifically concentrating on a single scene or Act or even the Actor's performance. As with all of my favourite cinematic Directors, I do not love or even on occasion like, every one of their creations. That's the prerogative of a film fan! But I've written this blog from a perspective of love for the film's created by one of the greatest Directors of the 20th and 21st Century. It is not intended as a fact track or full of trivia and more importantly, spoilers. It is intended as a personal catalogue of the genius of Tim Burton. I hope you enjoy.
- Edward Scissorhands (1990)
- Ed Wood (1994)
- Batman (1989)
- Corpse Bride (2005)
- Beetlejuice (1988)
- Big Fish (2003)
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
- Frankenweenie (2012)
- Big Eyes (2014)
- Sleepy Hollow (1999)
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
- Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
- Planet of the Apes (2001)
- Alice in Wonderland (2010)
- Dark Shadows (2012)
- Mars Attacks! (1996)
- Batman Returns (1992)
- Pee Wee's Big Adventure (1985)
Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (1985)
The premise is simple: Pee Wee Herman living in his contraption filled house and wonderland style garden lives a simple life with his pet dog Speck and his pride and joy, his bicycle. His bike stolen, Pee Wee embarks on a road trip by car, truck and train across the United States of America in search of his beloved bike.
A man child enjoying life and full of zest and colour, Paul Reubens brings his creation to life in league with his best friend and want to be girlfriend "Dottie" (Elizabeth Daily), his arch enemy "Francis" (Mark Holton), "Mickey" (Judd Omen) and "Simone" (Diane Salinger).
27 years since initial release, the film has only aged in relation to the CGI effects as the film itself still looks remarkably vibrant and colourful, mirroring it's main character perfectly. Backed by Danny Elfman's excellent, bubbly musical score the film moves through it's 90 minute running time and engages it's core demographic audience very well and with some surprisingly good set pieces. His trademark laugh/giggle grates after a while and some of the gags simply don't stand up, whereas some continue to be fun if a little dated. Watching this again as a 40 year old I wasn't anywhere near as engaged as the core demographic, but the budding Tim Burton fan who watched it with me gave me his approval, so we'll go with my son's thumbs up approval!
The scenes that do stand out and are a genuine joy are all submerged in early Tim Burton magic. Red is the dominant colour throughout (an early Burton theme) and a short scene just after his bicycle is stolen, with Pee Wee surrounded by fellow cyclists, tri-cyclists, uni-cyclists and children riding their bikes an early highlight. As is the quick change before a police checkpoint to save a new found friend. But the film's true stand outs are pure Tim Burton, a lost in the dark Pee Wee, his now cartoon eyes the only image illuminating the screen, the woman truck driver and her unusual eyes and Pee Wee sitting with Simone in the mouth of a Dinosaur which is shot from behind and saturated in red. The dream sequences too are a highlight, with another Dinosaur eating his beloved bike, then a team of Doctors dressed as clowns putting his bike back together! All thoroughly bizarre, all very Tim Burton! Not a favourite film of mine but an enjoyable enough 90 minutes.
"I've seen the Exorcist ABOUT A HUNDRED AND SIXTY SEVEN TIMES, AND IT KEEPS GETTING FUNNIER EVERY TIME I SEE IT"
(Michael Keaton) Not seen until well into the second act of the film and then for a minimal amount of screen time, but what a performance from Keaton. Balancing the persona of the deranged and obnoxious ghost exorcist perfectly, the only criticism is he doesn't figure more prominently in his own film! What screen time there is is pure gold. His brief introduction is thus:
Without wishing to give away huge chunks of spoiler I won't go into much further detail of the film itself, suffice to say that at times it is brilliantly funny, sometimes darkly so and even with a second or third viewing you will still see little nuances or pieces you missed on first viewing. It is very definitely a triumph for Director Tim Burton, as the surreal flashes and inserts throughout are a marvel and very definitely early Tim Burton at his very best. Yes the film has dated a little since it's release in 1988, but Keaton's albeit brief performance, allied to the marvellous musical score from Danny Elfman and the Director's genius, make this a must watch in his cannon of work. The supporting cast are excellent too, with Jeffrey Jones as "Charles Deetz", Annie McEnroe as "Jane Butterfield", a young Winona Ryder as "Lydia Deetz" and Catherine O'Hara as "Delia Deetz" particular stand outs. Just one tiny spoiler for you, because it makes me laugh every time and I'm sure it will you too. Just await the family gathering and their table dance to "Day-O". It's utterly brilliant, funny and encapsulates this film perfectly!
With a running time of just 92 minutes and writing credits for Michael McDowell, Larry Wilson and Warren Skaaren many others deserve credit in producing a wonderful film. Director of Photography Thomas Ackerman especially so for bringing an intensely surreal film to life with Director Burton and Danny Elfman's iconic score as previously noted. The soundtrack is a fun mix with "Day-O" an amusing stand out, alongside "Jump in the Line (Shake Senora)" and classical pieces from Chopin and Wagner. Nominated for one Oscar, Ve Neill, Steve LaPorte and Robert Short unsurprisingly won for Best Make Up.
With Danny Elfman's iconic theme in the background and the Batman motif slowly being unveiled, we cut to a wide shot of Gotham City and it's cartoon like feel and the hustle and bustle of a busy city below and we're immediately in a Tim Burton film. And Burton's very individual take on Batman. 23 years on the effects may look a little dated compared to today's standards, even the repertoire of "toys" so synonymous with Batman are a little dated too, but it remains a benchmark for others to follow and a triumph for the Director. On it's release 23 years ago I loved this film for it's closeness and homage in many ways to the TV series, for Michael Keaton as a superb and underrated Batman, for Tim Burton bringing Gotham City to life so brilliantly and for Jack Nicholson! His portrayal of The Joker still resonates all these years later. It's sublime, pitch perfect and as the character unravels, Nicholson balances the fine line between psychopathy and madness excellently. As you may have read in my other blogs (quick plug - they're all on here), Christopher Nolan's re-boot of the franchise and his own very individual take on Batman with his trilogy is a favourite with me, and with fan boys. I considered doing a retrospective take on both Jokers (Nicholson and Heath Ledger) however I've covered Ledger's incredible performance on my Christopher Nolan blog, so have decided instead to focus on this original film's three key players, "Batman" (Michael Keaton), "The Joker" (Jack Nicholson) and the Director himself, Tim Burton.
But first, a very short premise: After being disfigured in a chemical accident, Jack Napier returns as The Joker and quickly rises to become a homicidal, psychopathic underworld crime boss. Gotham City is in peril, and the call is made to The Dark Knight, Batman to save the city from his evil clutches.
The Director Influence
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
"Hold me? I can't"
Following black and white credits through heavily falling snow against a snow globe type backdrop and an imposing mansion house on the hill, we fade through a window and into full colour and onto an older lady telling a bedtime story to a very young girl. The story is about a man called Edward and the Inventor who created him. Quickly cutting to present day and a vibrant coloured, almost picture postcard type housing estate, immaculately clean and tidy with multi coloured individual houses. A picture of domestic serenity. Sometime later, mid way through the first Act comes "Edward Scissorhands" (Johnny Depp) first appearance:
Arriving at a large gate overgrown with weeds, "Peg" (Dianne Weist) enters to encounter a beautifully manicured and colourful inner grounds surrounding the house. Peg marvels at the colourful beauty, of the manicured shrubs in the shape of various animals and as the camera shoots her from below and up at the imposing gothic style house, we see a brief glimpse, a shadow of a figure crossing in front of the window. Another brief shot before Peg enters the house is through a manicured shrub in the shape of an archway. Entering the Mansion with an "Avon Calling" intentional tension breaker, the Mansion itself is a dusty, desaturated grey interior and with a short panning shot we see unused contraptions and machinery, all of which will become clearer later into the film. Throughout these early scenes is Danny Elfman's haunting, almost ethereal musical score. Reaching the top of the stairs and entering the loft, a huge gaping hole in the roof is immediately evident as we follow Peg to an unused fireplace which is full of paper cuttings of a "miracle boy" and images of Mary and Jesus, whereby she hears the faint sound of scissors grinding together. Seen now for the first time in the film, Edward emerges slowly from the shadows, startling Peg who turns to leave to which Edward responds "Don't Go". Fully out of the shadows Edward is now seen fully for the first time, dressed entirely in black except for the long scissors he has for hands hanging awkwardly by his side. Simple cuts between the two, depicting a frightened Peg and a wide eyed Edward who responds to why he's here with "I'm not finished" which relaxes Peg slightly to become more inquisitive, where are his parents, his father? "He didn't wake up". Very matter of fact, and following a subtle and darkly comedic moment, Peg smiles as she says "Edward, I think you should just come home with me!".
With a brilliant supporting and cameo cast, Alan Arkin is superbly dead pan as "Bill" husband of Peg and Winona Ryder excellent as "Kim". Kathy Baker is hilarious as sex crazed housewife "Joyce" and Anthony Michael Hall very good as "Jim". Vincent Price also cameo's as Edward's "Inventor".
This Tim Burton joy of a film is darkly comedic at times, filled with pure Burton imagery and the creation of Edward Scissorhands as a character is still superb twenty three years after release. With very little dialogue, Johnny Depp (in the first of a long line of collaborations with the director) is brilliant as the awkward and painfully shy Edward. His wide eyed stare now synonymous with the character, Depp is so engaging and embracing of the character, a future star is born, though it's very easy for me to say now, writing as I do retrospectively here. His joint scenes with Kim are heartbreaking, his rise and fall, freak outsider to everyone's friend, to everyone's enemy, is expertly portrayed, as is the story as a whole, as the above named supporting cast are excellent throughout. The film has dated just a little since release, however it's probably a further veiled compliment that the film has only dated a little considering it's 23 year life span. With regular collaborators Danny Elfman (there are also three Tom Jones tracks included and all add so much "Delilah", "It's Not Unusual" and "With These Hands"), Colleen Atwood's wonderful costume design and the great Stan Winston's make up and effects, combined with some of the finest actors of our generation and a story from a genius storyteller leaning again on his very personal themes of alienation, being the geeky outsider outside of societal norms and unable to fit in or communicate within defined society, this fairy tale story never ages, never fails to thrill and remains my personal favourite of Tim Burton's vast iconic collection of films. At just 105 minutes in total screen time this masterpiece of a film retains a real magic for me as you submerge yourself into two very distinctly different worlds. One a stereotypically 1980's prim and proper suburban world of manicured gardens and neighbours gossiping across the lawns juxtaposed against Edward's exterior world of joy and creation yet crumbling inwardly and desperate for acceptance. With a story by the Director himself alongside Caroline Thompson (who also wrote the fantastic screenplay) Edward Scissorhands was the second consecutive Tim Burton film to be nominated for an Oscar with Stan Winston and Ve Neill rightfully acclaimed for Best Make Up. This was also Burton's first collaboration with Director of Photography Stefan Czapsky, who would collaborate with the Director on his next two feature films.
Batman Returns (1992)
Early disclaimer: I have neither directed a film, nor have any pretensions to. I don't enjoy criticising a bad film, nor do I enjoy watching one. But this isn't a very good film!
Danny Elfman's triumphant Batman signature score opens over the opening credits and this film's defining enemy "The Penguin" (Danny De Vito) back story is quickly shown. Against a backdrop of a beautifully decorated and shot Mansion house and again beautifully shot outside scene, this is clearly a Tim Burton film from the very beginning. A continuing picturesque backdrop amidst continual heavy falling snow and The Penguin's character creation complete, it would seem the beginning of yet another successful and enthralling Batman film. However, the early acting disappoints and with almost a direct nod to the TV series on which the film(s) are based this begs the early question, was that clunky exposition intentional? Sadly it was not and a precedent is set for the remainder of the film.
"Gotham City 33 years later": Set at Christmas time, the Gotham City of Batman Returns seems far brighter and vibrant than that of Burton's original, perhaps intentionally so, thus providing a stark difference between settings and the much gloomier story provided and Burton's original which was criticised for being too dark. That is not a criticism (though the story isn't particularly good), more the story of the character's development and history is far gloomier than that of the effervescent Joker, for example. However, the Director deserves much praise for the settings, which, with cinematographer Stefan Czapsky and production designer Bo Welch are brilliantly shot and depicted. Gotham City itself is more standardised than the original but still brilliantly shot as are the settings from the opening scene, the Zoo, the Penguin's sewer and the graveyard. There are highlights although they are few and far between, but the two stand outs both involve "CatWoman" (Michelle Pfeiffer). The first is a destruction of her apartment in a fit of rage and her "Hello There" neon wall sign becomes "Hell Here". This is brilliantly framed with a long distance lens shot, the newly attired CatWoman now standing imperiously at her window with the neon sign just behind her. The second stand out scene involves all three main characters for the first major time together, with "Batman" (a returning Michael Keaton) and The Penguin standing in the middle of the street before being joined by an athletic and gymnastic CatWoman. Her "Meow" signals a huge explosion in the background. This very short scene takes place exactly an hour into the film and sadly very little of note has happened before it.
To sum up the negatives, this Batman film has two scenes, and two very short scenes at that where Batman features in the first 45 minutes. That would be ok whereby the back story is being developed to him and inferences made and an expectation of the film's hero is built up and awaited with excitement. But it's not. There are also three scenes of Bruce Wayne in the first 45 minutes, all of which are very standard, redundant and throwaway segments. Again, the argument could be made that all three villain stories need to be developed in lieu of the hero. These stories are told, albeit in a clunky, plodding manner that has very little, if no engagement at all. As below, some of the main actor's did perform admirably, some didn't, but re-watching this twenty year old film again for the first time recently it's clear that the script is badly written ("What a corn dog") and often very badly performed. Michael Gough as "Alfred" and Pat Hingle as "Commissioner Gordon" return from the original, and even Alfred's larger role in this film is badly written and not of a standard for an acting talent as Gough's. Similarly, Christopher Walken stars as "Max Shreck" but is again hampered by a poor script yet performs well and stands out despite the film's faults.
Batman Excellent in the original, underplayed here and dare I say it, Michael Keaton looks equal parts bored and bemused? Absent from the film for most of the first half of the film, re-watching this it struck me immediately that our hero was almost entirely absent. As his alter ego Bruce Wayne, Keaton again struggles in this film, with a poor script and in jokes that fall flat. A long way from his tussles with The Joker in the original.
The Penguin Danny De Vito as The Penguin does admirably well with very little, but as the character descends late in the film, so does the performance. Again, very little to work with script wise.
Catwoman As her alter ego Selina Kyle, a bumbling, unattractive and struggling secretary, Michelle Pfeiffer is poor, intentionally so for the character perhaps, but poor on the whole. Her transformation into CatWoman is a triumph for both actress and the film. One of the film's few stand out stars.
Nominated for two Oscars in 1993 for Best Visual Effects and Best Make Up, this is the third consecutive Tim Burton film to be acclaimed in such a way but not a favourite film of mine and a huge disappointment from his 1989 original.
Corn dog anyone?
Ed Wood (1994)
"Greetings, my friends! You are interested in the unknown. The mysterious. The unexplainable. That is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing you the full story of what happened. We are giving you all the evidence based only on the secret testimony of the miserable souls who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, places. My friends, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Can your heart stand the shocking facts of the true story of Edward D. Wood Jr.?"
Shot in Black and White and set in the early 1950's at the start of "Ed Wood"s (Johnny Depp) film making career, Tim Burton saturates this homage to Wood and 1950's cinema. Main Scenes and Acts dissolve into each other and the interplay and acting between actors is rooted in films of the period. It often feels as though you are watching a film about a film, about a film being made! And if you go with this premise you're in a for a fun, if often bizarre and surreal time. Ed Wood, a struggling writer and director is brilliantly brought to life by Depp. Perma smiled and idealistic, balancing so many original ideas for a movie yet seeking that "break", Depp's character performance is excellent. From the very first scene, standing backstage as his play is performed to a sparse crowd amid rain falling through holes in the roof into numerous buckets, Wood is totally oblivious to all of this as he mimes with perfection the lines he has written for his cast. This becomes a constant theme and Depp again excels. This opening scene also introduces the audience to two key players in the narrative and constant companions of Wood. "Bunny Breckinridge" assists Wood in his productions and Bill Murray is superb in a supporting role full of camp extremes! "Dolores Fuller" sees Sarah Jessica Parker on top form as Wood's idealistic leading lady and long suffering girlfriend.
Since acknowledged as "the worst director of all time" in many circles and gaining a cult following in doing so, we follow Wood as he creates films such as "Glen or Glenda", "Bride of the Atom" and "Plan 9 from Outer Space", meeting a burgeoning cast of characters as we go. Jeffrey Jones as "Criswell" a local psychic and entertainer (and who also opens the film), Lisa Marie is brilliantly bizarre as TV host "Vampira", Juliet Landau cameos as "Loretta King" and Patricia Arquette is excellent as "Kathy O'Hara", but special mention must be reserved for George 'The Animal' Steele as "Tor Johnson", a wrestler turned film star! However the film's true star with a stand out and sublime performance falls to Martin Landau as "Bela Lugosi". Rightly acclaimed with a deserved Oscar, it's a character performance as high as I've seen. Again adding to the "film within a film, within a film..." aspect, Landau's portrayal of Lugosi as a brash, arrogant loner figure soon melts into a loveable performance of endearment and of the joy of acting. Saved by Ed Wood on a number of occasions, the interplay between Depp and Landau is both excellent and affecting. The two also share many in jokes (some subtle) and some not so but still engagingly funny as when Lugosi, dressed as his iconic alter ego Dracula attempts to scare away children at Halloween! There's also a lovely scene, seconds only of screen time, whereby you see Ed Wood and Lugosi watching one of his film's on television, with a huge picture of Dracula hanging on the wall. Not subtle, but highly effective.
Be warned! It's strange and bizarre, but heart warming and charming too. It may leave you with a huge smile on your face at the end, which is apt considering the constant forced smile of Depp's Ed Wood. My second favourite Tim Burton film and an all time classic.
Mars Attacks! (1996)
A parody on 1950's B-Movies, there is a lot to like in Mars Attacks! However 16 years on and a rewatching later, there is also much to frown at too! From the very opening credits and a UFO flying behind the Warner Brothers logo, to the opening scene of burning cows running through a suburban town it's clear this isn't a film to be taken literally or seriously. The opening credits are both the first indication of Tim Burton's homage, and of Tim Burton himself and his constant theme of juxtaposing colours against each for effect. Here, a recognisable earth in full colour and the planet of Mars familiarly in red, against a grey invading army of UFO's. This juxtaposition is used repeatedly in the film as scene breaks and remains a common theme throughout.
However, a week passes on earth as the UFO's approach, whereby we visit suburban USA, Washington and Las Vegas and with the alien threat looming and confirmed, the President addresses the nation to expect an invasion. All main characters are introduced and developed very early during the awaited invasion and all are played well against a parody/black comedy backdrop. Jack Nicholson is the star (what else?) as "President James Dale" and also plays Las Vegas tycoon "Art Land". Pierce Brosnan is excellent as presidential adviser "Professor Donald Kessler", Martin Short plays presidential press secretary "Jerry Ross". Also in The White House are Glenn Close as First Lady "Marsha Dale" and a cameo role for Natalie Portman as daughter "Daffy Dale". Away from The White House, Sarah Jessica Parker is excellent as an airheaded TV host "Nathalie Lake" with boyfriend "Jason Stone" played by Michael J Fox. Numerous cameo roles abound, notably ex-boxer Jim Brown as "Byron Williams", Pam Grier plays his ex-wife "Louise Williams", Rod Steiger as "General Decker", Jack Black as "Billy Glenn Norris" and Lisa Marie as "Martian Girl". Oh, and Welsh crooner Tom Jones sings. Twice!
After a slow beginning, the film takes off (pun intended) after the Martian invasion, and the introduction of the bizarre Martians themselves. 16 years on, both the CGI Martians and the overall CGI itself look dated and out of touch, but with the touch of Tim Burton they remain fun, and very funny. It's here that Burton excels, as with the all star cast sending themselves up in the theme of the intended parody, so too do the CGI Aliens. Almost "growing" into the film, they are slowly shown to be far more intelligent (and again funny) but from the beginning of Act Two they are fully immersed in the film and the film noticeably benefits from this. The comedy grows too, more and more ridiculous, more and more of a parody and more Tim Burton(esque) as we go. From head transplants, to sucking up Nuclear bombs, to having their picture taken in front of a destroyed Taj Mahal, to sitting in space watching "The Dukes of Hazzard". Not a classic Tim Burton film by any means. The main criticism I have is that aside from the Black/White interludes and a small Batman nod, it just doesn't "feel" like a Tim Burton film. The CGI struggles in places too. But above all, the film's star is it's Martian creations and at times they are charmingly funny, surreal and bizarre.
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
New York City, 1799: "Ichabod Crane" (Johnny Depp) is desperately trying to advance his newly developing and outside of the norm detective skills. Scorned by many, he is given an assignment by "Burgomaster", a local Judge, (Christopher Lee in a minor cameo) to investigate the brutal slayings in a small village - Sleepy Hollow. These slayings are aptly portrayed in the film's opening short scene, with a killer decapitating the heads of his victims. In a saturated black and white and greyish overall tone, the scene is set for this gothic thriller immediately. Interesting to note that both the colour red, and distinctive colour changes to the film are fleeting, but important touches from the Director. As with many of his films, there is a duality with the choice of colours, be it here with the greyish overall tone to the film perfectly fitting with the neo gothic style and almost dreamlike world inhabited. Full colour is used only fleetingly and, importantly, when we flashback during Ichabod's dreams, to the first scene in Sleepy Hollow itself and at the beginning of the opening titles themselves. Burton introduces the opening titles in a style reminiscent of his film Corpse Bride, still six years away as we see Ichabod releasing a red cardinal bird through a small porthole window. As with the release of the butterfly in Corpse Bride, this is also the first time a first splash of real colour is used in the film.
The film is saturated throughout with that grey tinge and it's very much Tim Burton to the fore with the surroundings, villages and overall gothic feel. It's also arguable the film has a combined gothic/cartoon style and feel. A constant mist during the night scenes adds to both this and the pervading atmosphere, with the only light seemingly coming from the flashes of lightening in every night scene. Continuing the colour theme, it's used a second time as we're introduced to the main characters at a Sleepy Hollow party. From the greyish tones of the village, the party is more vibrantly coloured, both in theme and the characters themselves. There are numerous cameos and supporting roles: Michael Gambon as "Baltus Van Tassel", Jeffrey Jones as "Reverend Steenwyck", Richard Griffiths as "Magistrate Philipse", Ian McDiarmid as "Doctor Lancaster" and Michael Gough as "Notary Hardenbrook" among many others. During the above party, "The Headless Horseman" (Christopher Walken) myths and stories of old are detailed, and through Baltus Van Tassel as he narrates the story via flashbacks. However, the three key roles in this film are reserved for Christina Ricci as "Katrina Van Tassel", Miranda Richardson as "Lady Van Tassel" and Marc Pickering as "Young Masbath".
(Johnny Depp) The stand out performer, playing the unorthodox outsider well. Clumsy and erratic, despite carrying an appearance of being in control and of authority. Deliberately effeminate, his quizzical looks, glances and frowns sometime border over the top, but Depp's overall performance surpass this.
A minor criticism of both Burton and Depp would be that Crane often "narrates" the film with too much exposition, especially towards the end of Act Two.
Based on "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving and adapted by writers Andrew Kevin Walker and Kevin Yagher, Burton infuses his trademark dualities of character and colour to the accompaniment of a superb musical score from regular collaborator Danny Elfman. This soars mightily during numerous chase sequences before returning to a beautiful accompaniment to the film. The film itself just needed further character development to become a truly great film. Acts two and three make up for a slow first act and the final twenty minutes is superb and so typical Tim Burton, as are the uses of the pentagram, evil eye, tree of the dead and (especially) the wooded witch. Some minor grumbles! But a worthy addition to Burton's cannon of work and one in which the great Director of Photography Emanuel Lubezki collaborated with Tim Burton for the first time and secured a worthy Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography. As did regular Costume Designer Colleen Atwood who was criminally overlooked (again) for her achievements in Costume Design. However, Rick Heinrichs and Peter Young won a deserved Oscar for Best Art and Set Decoration.
Planet of the Apes (2001)
Slightly different appraisal for this, the second remake/re imaging in Tim Burton's catalogue. Firstly, I love the 1968 original of the same name. I grew up with this and distinctly remember how blown away I was by the ending of the original (late night/early morning watching on television when I was still a young boy). The 1968 original still sets the standard although the recent 2011 "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" by Rupert Wyatt is a fantastic film and highly recommended if you haven't seen it. Far more stylised and updated than either the original or here, the Tim Burton remake.
But I also like Tim Burton's 2001 re-imaging! There are many faults, the ending borders on farce and some of the apes are far too human like they become too disconcerting after a while. If that isn't a paradox in and of itself! It's also the least Tim Burton film of all of his vast cannon of work. While a huge fan of Burton (as you may have noticed), this film is all the better for being less, well, Burtonesque!
A Brief Premise: 2029 on the space station Oberon, "Captain Leo Davidson" (Mark Wahlberg) receives a video postcard from home during which a power failure alerts the crew of a huge vortex/electrical storm heading their way. After seeing his favourite chimpanzee sent to investigate and subsequently disappear, against orders, Captain Davidson sets off to investigate. Sucked into the vortex, the instrument panels state he's journeying into the future. But is he?
In addition to the all star cast mentioned throughout this brief appraisal are supporting and cameo performances from Michael Clarke Duncan as "Attar", Estella Warren as "Daena", Kris Kristofferson as "Karubi" and Lisa Marie as "Nova". A joint screenplay from Williams Broyles, Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal disappoints but a pleasing musical score from Danny Elfman and cinematography from Philippe Rousselot propel a weak film along. There are three stand out performances in an otherwise forgettable re-make and whilst I like this film from a fan's perspective it doesn't come anywhere near the eponymous 1968 original.
Nods to the 1968 original:
There are numerous nods throughout but this, as with my other film blogs is not intended as a fact track. The nod's I found particularly pleasing and affecting are:
- The opening title shot and slide of "Planet of the Apes" being the font and style as the original.
- Human hunting!
- "Take your hands off me, you damn dirty human" as opposed to Charlton Heston's immortal "Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!"
- Charlton Heston has an uncredited role as "Zaius", Father of "Thade" and reprises his "damn them all to hell" line from the 1968 original.
- The relationship between Captain Davidson and "Ari" (Helena Bonham Carter) reminiscent of the similar relationship between George and Zira in the original.
- Crane shot upward in this film of the buried spaceship is eerily similar to the iconic shot of the buried Statue of Liberty of the original.
(Helena Bonham Carter) The film's heart and moral centre. A great performance with little dialogue to work with and her relationship with Captain Davidson is a treat. Their relationship is also a great touch from the 1968 original.
"Believe me, the last thing you want is a human teenager running around your house".
Big Fish (2003)
Based on Daniel Wallace's novel "Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions", this was a Tim Burton film I avoided for too many years. From the trailers and the reviews it was clear I'd find it hard to watch as I lost my Father when I was young and unfortunately, watched his slow disintegration and passing. It was harrowing at times and seemingly replicated within this film. However, after avoiding the film for so long I can more happily report that I needn't have avoided for so long. It certainly resonates deeply with me, but it's such a heart warming and uplifting tale and more importantly, a truly stunning film. Narrated throughout, but primarily by the three main characters, after a gentle back story driven opening, we frequently cross timelines and generations and the flashbacks used are key to the film. Present day is approximately 25% of the film, whereas the remaining 75% is flashback driven, brilliantly and expertly so by Burton. The flashbacks themselves often dissolve from present day and the juxtaposition is also key. This is very much a story of storytellers and of people telling stories, and very tall tales. Are they real? Are they embellished to tell a story? Are they a fantasy from reality? This film is all this, and much much more.
The brilliant Albert Finney plays "Edward Bloom Senior", recounting his tall tales as we flashback to his younger days, and Ewan McGregor is excellent as the younger "Edward Bloom Junior". McGregor plays the younger self brilliantly, always smiling, ever hopeful and full of cheer and optimism despite whatever life throws at him. Billy Cudrup plays son "Will Bloom" with a detached charm, and his scenes together with his aged Father are superb. Both Finney and Cudrup excel here. Excellent supporting and cameo roles abound, notably Jessica Lange as "Sandra Bloom Senior", Marion Cotillard as "Josephine Bloom", Matthew McGrory as "Karl the Giant" and Helena Bonham Carter in her husband's film as "The Witch" (with a very interesting glass eye!). Steve Buscemi is also superbly funny in a small cameo as "Norther Winslow" and Danny De Vito similarly so as "Amos Calloway".
Due to the interweaving of narratives, generations and of characters playing more than one role, it is particularly difficult to appraise this film without providing large spoilers, so I'll specifically concentrate on the Director touches he added to this film. On the surface this doesn't appear to be an ideal Tim Burton film but he brings the flashbacks to life with a real zest, bright and full of colour against a more monochrome present day. A directorial theme of using a prominent colour (usually red) against a greyish/neutral backdrop is again well used, especially as Bloom junior (McGregor) enters a dreamlike, picture postcard town, his dominant red shirt against a completely neutral dressed population, and De Vito's red coated circus ringmaster. As the tall tales grow taller, a circus performer in love, a presumed dead soldier in World War 2 to successful businessman, so too does Burton's flourish with the absurd and surreal, often to brilliant effect. The opening circus scene is a joy, climbing the highs and lows of love against a surreal backdrop of freeze screen, slow motion and fast forward techniques all used in combination with the circus as another bizarre backdrop. One small chapter encompasses all that is great about Tim Burton. Bloom Junior running through a dark and dank overgrown forest, to emerge into a clean, other worldly dreamlike town and quickly back to a dark, gothic river scene. With a superb first cameo from Steve Buscemi surrounding the Tim Burton trademark of juxtaposing colours and settings, and more besides, but that would go into "spoiler" territory. Suffice to say that small segment of a single scene encapsulates the film and the Director's approach to the film perfectly.
With a sublime and quiet musical score from regular collaborator Danny Elfman for which he was Oscar nominated but sadly did not win, and inter cut with popular songs of the respective time periods including "Everyday" from Buddy Holly, "All Shook Up" by Elvis Presley and "Man of the Hour" from Eddie Vedder, these all accompany a complicated and compelling story that is well told and expertly tied all together. It's a vibrant feel good film that is clearly a deeply personal one for the Director following the recent death of both his parents, in 2000 and 2002.
With the astounding period costumes and attention to detail throughout from Colleen Atwood and superb Production Design from Dennis Gassner it is highly surprising to note as I write this retrospectively that neither was nominated for an Oscar for their overwhelming respective achievements. Dare I say that this also extends to the Director himself who produces a heart warming and deeply affecting film with a near constant smile on it's face. Be warned it may make you cry, but tears tinged with smiles and tears of real joy too.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Immediately you're drawn into Tim Burton's world, from the saturated grey colour of present day, to the full colour of the numerous flashbacks and especially when inside the chocolate factory itself. Both worlds are distinct from each other, the cold, grey dilapidated home Charlie shares with his family which extends into the outside world, to the zesty colours and opulence of living within the factory. Both worlds are equally as bizarre and surreal as each other, and the juxtaposition between the locations is key. A house riddled with holes and seemingly on the verge of collapse is set against a towering factory, of chocolate rivers, endless chocolate and a maze of delights and treats.
Similarly, the juxtaposition of the characters themselves are key, beginning with "Charlie" and a triumph of a performance from Freddie Highmore. Happy and blissfully content to spend time with his family this is juxtaposed to a reclusive and unhappy "Willy Wonka" brought to life with seeming ease by the masterful Johnny Depp. Whereas Charlie is eloquent, straightforward and at peace with life, Willy Wonka is uneasy, detached and speaks in a regimented riddle style, unable to fully engage. Their scenes particularly drive the film, and are it's heart and soul. In supporting roles, Charlie's family are brought to life expertly, especially David Kelly (and his mad dance!) as "Grandpa Joe", Noah Taylor is superb as ever, this time as Charlie's Dad "Mr Bucket" and Helena Bonham Carter returns to her husband's films, as "Mrs Bucket". Charlie's fellow golden ticket holders are under developed, but deliberately so, as this is a dominant tale of Charlie and Willy Wonka, but AnnaSophia Robb, Julia Winter, Jordan Fry and Philip Wiegratz bring their respective characters of "Violet", "Veruca", "Mike" and "Augustus" to life well. Cameos are vast, with standouts from James Fox as "Mr Salt" and Missi Pyle as "Mrs Beauregarde" but two key cameos follow.
The (in)famous "Oompa Loompas" are brought to life with just one actor, and brilliantly so by Deep Roy. However for me, this is the only part of the remake that doesn't resonate well. The portrayal is excellent, but the repeated use of just one character to cast across numerous Oompa Loompas may match the surreal nature of the film, but it just doesn't work. A minor criticism. However, Christopher Lee's albeit small cameo as "Dr Wonka" does resonate, is expertly played, and continues the theme of juxtaposing characters. A driven, detached Father to a reclusive, detached Son.
A true Tim Burton imagining of a film, it is a delight to the eyes and ears alike. Surreal and bizarre, even downright strange at times, but a joy nonetheless. Continuing themes of detachment, of isolation and of Father/Son relationships abound. But it's the heart of the story that appeals. And a glass elevator! What a joy!
Corpse Bride (2005)
This joy of a film and first time Oscar nomination for Director Tim Burton seeps into the consciousness. Only 77 minutes of sublime screen time but from the original music score of Danny Elfman which is a real joy and really engages you in the wonderful story, to the surreal otherworldly and bizarre aspects of the characters and the world they inhabit. Tim Burton at his most flamboyant? Probably! A Stop motion animated film, Burton creates his all of his characters with love and care despite their frailties and their often bizarre appearances. Each character is truly unique in appearance, elongated faces, tall spindly characters to obese, to small almost indistinct characters, all are created with definition and care. Voiced by a wealth of the finest actors and actresses our generation, each Burton creation is wonderfully brought to life. From regular collaborators Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Christopher Lee, through to Emily Watson, Paul Whitehouse, Tracey Ullman, Albert Finney, Joanna Lumley and Richard E Grant.
The premise: A proposed arranged marriage between "Victor" (Johnny Depp) and "Victoria"(Emily Watson) is interrupted as in the process of practising his wedding vows in a nearby forest, Victor marries a "Corpse Bride" (Helena Bonham Carter) and is spirited away into the Land of the Dead! And with that premise, Tim Burton comes into his own!
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
The brief premise is: Benjamin Barker aka "Sweeney Todd" (Johnny Depp) is returning to London after being unfairly banished and losing his wife and young child fifteen years earlier. Now as Sweeney Todd, he returns seeking revenge on "Judge Turpin" (Alan Rickman) who both banished him and stole his wife and child all those years ago. In league with "Mrs Lovett" (Helena Bonham Carter) he re-opens his barber shop to sate his murderous needs, and to plot revenge on Judge Turpin.
In support of the main roles are a great turn from Timothy Spall as assistant, man servant "Beadle" to Rickman's Judge Turpin, Sacha Baron Cohen in a cameo as "Pirelli", Jamie Campbell Bower as "Anthony", Laura Michelle Kelly as a "Beggar Woman", Jayne Wisener as "Johanna" and a terrific performance from the youngest member Ed Sanders as "Toby".
With the songs themselves a joy and forming the majority of the film, the only two negatives I have is the comfort (or otherwise) shown when the characters are singing and the occasional clunking as a song is finished or faded, and replaced with traditional character dialogue. Occasionally this feels a little jarring, as does the lack of comfort it appears some (Rickman, Depp, Bonham Carter) feel when singing. The stand out performer here and a real acting talent too is Ed Sanders, as his Toby character is wonderful when singing, excellent when not and with traditional dialogue. The film has many stand outs, the "By The Sea" scene as noted below, Depp is excellent as always, as is Helena Bonham Carter and Alan Rickman. Timothy Spall too albeit in a smaller role. Supported by the superb musical score, Burton's dark, gothic and desaturated London brilliantly brought to life by Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski and production designer Dante Ferretti and a final nod (again) to Costume Designer Colleen Atwood. Sacha Baron Cohen's codpiece is also, a, well, stand out!
Nominated for three Oscars in 2008, Dante Ferretti deservedly won in the Best Art Direction category and there were richly deserved nominations for Colleen Atwood (Costume Design) and Johnny Depp (Best Actor in a Leading Role). How Colleen Atwood didn't win completely astounds me.
The scene I've chosen to briefly appraise is backed by Helena Bonham Carter singing "By The Sea" and the reason I've done so is that it simply encapsulates everything that is great about this film. It features every key element and also commences the last Act of the film in real style. Immediately noticeable is the change in colour, as per the picture opposite, the present day scene is now in full vibrant colour as opposed to the desaturated colour used to depict present day throughout the rest of the film. A burgeoning love affair in the eyes of Mrs Lovett, not entirely shared by Sweeney Todd, but to the strains of Bonham Carter singing "By The Sea" we merge from the now vibrant present day to a future dream sequence, even more vibrant in it's colour, and a surreal seaside scene. Remaining in the dream sequence, an overhead crane shot shows Mrs Lovett and Todd ambling along a seaside promenade, but with Burton's use of the dominant red colour again Mrs Lovett clearly stands out from the other strollers, who are all decked in white. It's a strikingly familiar image and use of colour. Cut to a "seaside wedding" and a particularly unhappy Sweeney Todd! The short scene ends with a brilliant swooping camera moving 360 degrees all whilst the vibrant colour is slowly replaced by the familiar desaturated grey. A short gem of a scene.
Not a personal favourite Tim Burton film of mine, but equally not a bad film and the opposite in fact. If you go along for the ride, suspend disbelief and place your tongue firmly in your cheek you may well enjoy the ride.
Alice in Wonderland (2010)
"You're entirely bonkers. But I'll tell you a secret. All the best people are"
As these pictures aptly demonstrate, Tim Burton's Wonderland is rich with vibrant colours and textures and it's immediately noticeable how this varies from the desaturated grey colour of the real, above ground world. A key Tim Burton technique. We are transported into a strange world of colourful toadstools, flowers and a large collection of talking frogs, dogs, cats, caterpillars and flowers, amongst many many others! Together with characters with over sized heads, a mixture of live action, CGI and voice talents merging together, this is very much a Tim Burton creation!
The cast involved is a veritable who's who of recent British cinema history, plus the almost ever present Johnny Depp as the "Mad Hatter". Helena Bonham Carter also returns to her husband's film, this time as the "Red Queen", with Anne Hathaway playing her polar opposite, the "White Queen". Crispin Glover is the Red Queen's faithful servant "Knave of Hearts", with Matt Lucas playing both the "Tweedledee" and "Tweedledum" roles. Voice talents are also provided by Michael Sheen as the "White Rabbit", Stephen Fry as the "Cheshire Cat", Alan Rickman as "Absolem", Barbara Windsor as the "Dormouse", Paul Whitehouse as the "March Hare" and Timothy Spall as "Bayard" the bloodhound.
With all the acting and voice talent on display, why was I so disappointed then? Some of the constituent elements just didn't fit together to make an enjoyable film would sum it up very quickly. The Tweedledum and Tweedledee characters are from one actor (a good Matt Lucas) however as with the Oompa Loompa's in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, they grated on me and just didn't fit the film. Similarly, their oversized head(s) just felt out of place, as did the Red Queen's. Helena Bonham Carter is very good as ever however her 3 times sized head just didn't fit the film. Some of the characters worked well, others didn't and that accusation can also be applied to some of the CGI which looks clunky and jarring and unfortunately, out of place. The Knave of Hearts for example just appears to be almost superimposed over the scene! The world's created by Tim Burton are rich and colourful and full of life, yet the blending of the CGI, the oversized and undersized characters just doesn't hold true. Exemplary musical score from regular collaborator Danny Elfman and a deserved Oscar for Costume Designer Colleen Atwood do not cover up this disappointing addition to Burton's cannon.
Dark Shadows (2012)
"I am Barnabas Collins"
Before the opening credits, "Barnabas Collins" (Johnny Depp) narrates the early premise for the film: In 1760, Barnabas and his family are starting work on their imposing family home in Collinsport. The timeline moves quickly, with Barnabas now aged early 20's and torn between a true love and an unwanted one. Following the suicide of his true love, Barnabas tries to save his love, with the realisation quickly evident his unwanted love, a witch, had cursed a family spell on him, turning him into a vampire. Cut to present day of 1972, with the Moody Blues beautiful "Knight's in White Satin" playing across the film's opening credits. A stellar cast, led by regular Tim Burton collaborators Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Jonny Lee Miller and Bella Heathcote also play significant roles, with Christopher Lee in a short cameo. As Barnabas Collins, Depp stars and carries the film with his twisted performance and poetic style, together with spurned lover "Angelique Bouchard", a great performance from Eva Green. Bella Heathcote as family Governess "Victoria Winters" is also worthy of note.
Whilst not a Tim Burton classic, it is a fun ride with strangely likeable characters. But the criticism of the film is simply that it doesn't convince as a fantasy, thriller or comedy, and is a mash of all three. There is also too much exposition, rather than allowing the audience to decide, the characters are prone to telling the story too directly. But it is a fun ride, especially Depp's performance and the 1970's inspired soundtrack. Together with Knight's in White Satin, there are numerous great choices throughout the film, and their exposition with scenes raise a smile, especially the manic love making to Barry White's "My First, My Last, My Everything"! Snippets of The Carpenters "Top of the World", Elton John's "Crocodile Rock and Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" are eclectric choices, and fit the film very well. As does a cameo from Alice Cooper.
The final fifteen minutes are pure Tim Burton and lead to an exhilarating finale'. With two great nods to The Exorcist, the film ends really well and satisfies, just not completely. Which is perhaps both the film's class and indeed it's curse.
"I have to go and find Sparky!"