Saturday, April 13, 2013

Director's Retrospective: Tim Burton Part 3

Terribly sorry this took so long, life was determined to interfere.
Anyway, the 90s were weird, and not entirely kind, to Burton. He put out some of his best known and well liked movies in this time, yes, but he had 3 hits to 2 flops, not the world’s best ratio. But all was not lost for America’s favorite goth, he was about to enter the new millennium and get an unprecedented (for him) string of hits.

If only the quality of his movies remained so high.

Planet of the Apes:

I’ll be really honest, it wasn’t until I was looking over Burton’s Wikipedia entry, that I even remembered this movie happened. No, not that Burton directed it, though I obviously forgot that too. No, I forgot this movie had ever existed. And on watching it again, the reasons are obvious; It’s pretty goddamn forgettable. I mean, I want to say it’s a complete disaster, but really that’s giving it too much credit. A disaster is at least fascinating, this is just completely boring.

And really, that’s all I can say about it. Aside from the exceptional ape costumes from god of makeup Rick Baker and the massive ‘What the FUCK’ that was its attempt at a twist ending, there’s nothing to really say about it. It doesn’t even have much for me to hate. Sure there are some nitpicks that if I really felt invested in I could probably drag out and beat to death, but I’m really not interested in doing that, because it would be mean trying to dredge up more memories of this movies (which I finished watching mere hours ago, and am already forgetting).

What I find even more interesting is that, I’m not alone in my low opinion of this movie. Oh I don’t mean the critics, although none of them seemed to have much use for it. I mean the cast and crew themselves. The movie made a solid chunk of money, but no one anywhere seemed to want to make a sequel. Burton was, let’s say, unenthusiastic towards the idea of a sequel (I recall he said he’d rather jump out a window) and while the cast said they’d return if Burton did, I imagine that was mostly a way to back out without looking like they were backing out.

So despite making a brick ton of money, no one was enthusiastic for a sequel and interest gradually petered off until the 2011 reboot. But, for Burton, it was his second hit in a row, so he was back on the A-List, and was going to make the movies he wanted to make.

Big Fish:

I really like this movie. No, I’m not kidding, I really like it. I’d even be willing to go so far as to say I love it. Sure it’s a little sentimental, but as odd as this might sound given how sociopathic I am on an everyday basis, I’m not IMMUNE to sentimentality. Besides, what this is, besides sentimental, is also a pretty brilliant little piece.

The story, about a man who’s son has grown to resent him because he seems to never tell the truth, but rather go off on odd stories (and to be fair, giving a speech about yourself at your son’s wedding is kind of a dick move). Of course in real life, these stories would turn out to be total bullshit, but this is a movie. Most of the actual meat of the story is concerned with an extended retelling of the father’s life story (played for most of the story by Ewan McGregor, in one of the few good roles he got while working on the Star Wars prequels). In a way, the plot is a twist on the Flashman style story (which you might know better as Forrest Gump) by giving it’s lead a walking tour of history, the twist in this being that the character isn’t involved in any of the major events.

The plot is actually one of the first examples in Burton’s films of the thing that would drag him down (well…one of the things), his obsession with his, for lack of a better term, Daddy Issues. I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t know thing one about Burton’s childhood and I’m not interested enough to look into it. But, one thing a lot of his lesser movies have in common (and a couple of his better ones, like this one) is a preoccupation with father/son relationships. Now I don’t necessarily get that personally (my relationship with my father is as good as it can be, considering he lives just about 4,000 miles away) but in this film it’s explored honestly and well, it doesn’t drag the film down. I think that it helps that the father-son relationship is central, rather than a peripheral element that feels tacked on.

Like Apes, Big Fish was a large sized hit, especially for a movie with such a weird story and tone. What’s more it was well received critically and is today considered one of Burton’s better film. Given free reign, he decided to make a pet project, with his long time BFF, Johnny Depp.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:

There are a lot of interesting pieces to this film. It the first of a long line of Depp focused (not Depp including, Depp focused) films for Burton, which at the time made sense at the time as Depp was coming off back-to-back Oscar nominations (2003 for Pirates and 2004 for Finding Neverland). It was Burton’s first remake, and yes I know how it’s technically a re-adaptation of the book but the original movie is so iconic that the comparison is inevitable. It solidified the Burton aesthetic into a specific style that even the layman could recognize. It was also the first Burton film that, in my opinion, felt like a Burton film while flat out sucking.

I dunno if that’s an odd opinion, but it’s my opinion. The main problem, aside from a weak script and an irritating focus on Depp’s Willy Wonka (plus the incredibly ugly visual style), is in the structure. Unlike Burton’s usual problems with structure, which are usually kind of nebulous, the issue here is easily identifiable, and it comes back to Burton’s focus on the Daddy Issues. Adding in a father problem for Wonka to resolve adds a weird 4th act after the entire plot has been resolved, and the fact that it wasn’t even hinted at before makes it feel awkward and tacked on.
There are other major issues, the most notable being the weirdly anti-intellectual bent that Mike Teevee’s story takes. It’s slightly bizarre, as the slight adjustments to his story changes his crime from watching too much TV to wanting to know too much (which makes it all the more irritating that they don’t alter his song’s lyrics at all). There are aspects of the film that I like, mostly the songs, here reimagined as parodies of certain song styles, but there’s just too much that irritates me or puts me off. People have accused me of disliking this one because I’m too attached to the original, but really I was never all that fond of the Gene Wilder one either.

But regardless of what I think, this movies was a big hit and didn’t do so bad with the critics, which seems to suggest my opinion is a bit of a weird one. Burton and Depp were solid gold in Hollywood at this point and so they could do essentially whatever they want.

Corpse Bride:

Corpse Bride is probably the single smallest movie of Burton’s career. The story is small, the characters are small, the stakes are small, even the movie is small (it’s not even 80 minutes long). That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean the impact this movie has is pretty limited. It’s not a bad movie, and there are aspects of it that I really like (in particular the visual design) but it just doesn’t leave much of an impression on me.

As I said, I really like the visual design, especially on the titular Bride herself. The animation and highly stylized character design really help her out: If she was slightly more realistic, she’d be horrifying to look at, but her character design works, pretty solidly actually.

Aside from that, I really like the story. The trailers and title would suggest a macabre horror/romance parody, but the story is actually a lot sweeter and more touching than you’d think. I like the third act, or most of it anyway, as the eventual comedy bits involved with the zombie uprising (is that the word I want) are genuinely creative. There are issues, mostly in the weirdly flat second act and a pretty ineffectual villain, but it’s still a sweet and enjoyable movie.

Like Ape, Fish and Charlie, Bride was a big hit, and Burton was still riding pretty high. Next time we finish up the retrospective and try to figure out what’s upcoming for everyone’s favorite goth.

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