The Tim Burton Problem Continues

Thinking back to last year, one of the most popular posts I wrote was about Tim Burton and how I felt his Batman films weren’t as good as those created by Christopher Nolan. I made it clear that I liked Tim Burton’s films and I respect him as a director, but he is someone I can admit has somewhat deteriorated in his standard of film making.

The original post from last year was well received by the majority of people and still remains my most viewed piece of writing, but I was met with a small amount of negativity. I wasn’t bothered by it because people are entitled to their own opinion and I jump at any chance to discuss films and talk about different perspectives. In fact one of the best things about being interested in films is the number of opportunities available to talk about them in depth. Just recently however it did get me thinking about Tim Burton as a director and a writer and why I’m beginning to dislike him.

Don’t get me wrong I absolutely love some of Tim Burton’s work; I think he has proved on occasion that he has a really good eye for cinema and is capable of producing works of art. It’s clichéd but I do like ‘Edward Scissorhands’ but mainly because it’s a film I’ve grown up with. A lot of people will regard it as his best piece of film but I would argue that his genius lies in ‘Corpse Bride’, it took things back to a simple but artistic gothic style that really worked. The story worked well with the addition of musical numbers which made it entertaining, but what made it special was the deeper messages about what love actually is and how it effects people. This is what I admired and liked Tim Burton for, so where did it go?

I think most people hope that film directors get better with age, like Martin Scorsese. He went through the phase of making gritty films like ‘Taxi Driver’ and then of course ‘Goodfellas’ (which are both superb) and it seemed like he wasn’t going to settle down and was trying to keep the seventies alive, even if he was dragging it through to the nineties. But then he showed he was capable of making something like ‘Hugo’ in 2009 that was for a completely different cinema audience and showed how his directing abilities are broad. With Tim Burton he’s still stuck in the phase of trying to be different, and putting Johnny Depp in as many odd costumes as he can. I swear that man will wear anything as long as Burton pays him.

The thing with Burton is this, his approach to films was different in the nineties and it was entertaining, but the novelty has faded. He’s still trying to apply the same formula of visual technique and it’s not good enough. Take one of his latest pieces, ‘Dark Shadows’, the ill-advised venture into a gothic comedy. I saw the trailer and thought there could be something there, it made me laugh slightly to myself and looked like it could be sharply witty. So I sat down to watch it and found myself bitterly disappointed. I wanted it to be good, I really did, but it just lacked substance. If you take away the half decent visuals, silly wardrobe choice and hairstyles, the childish characters all you’re left with is a 113 minute period of dull dialogue, tedious set pieces, and gothic rubbish designed to make the film a little darker. It was an ill disciplined piece from someone who is capable of better.

The whole gothic approach to film is wearing thin, so people could argue that Burton is keeping this flare alive. But in actual fact he is clinging to this with every fibre of his being and trying not to let it slip away, and he is losing that battle. ‘Dark Shadows’ showed how far he had fallen from works such as ‘Beetlejuice’ because it showed a lack of imagination, and a ‘copy and paste’ approach to film, regurgitating Johnny Depp in a silly costume as a dark character, a family that have to accept a weird addition to the household, and a large gothic building that looks like it’s from an episode of Scooby Doo. Sound like ‘Edward Scissorhands’ much?

It’s not just ‘Dark Shadows’ that annoyed me though, I’ve had to sit through ‘Alice in Wonderland’ countless times and attempt to like it when I know that it’s bad. It took a classic novel and turned it up to eleven on the stupid scale, stuck Johnny Depp on screen in a silly costume and added visuals that would have looked impressive back in 2004. It’s disappointing because I expected a lot more from a director who can be good, and a novel that is beautifully constructed to be so intricate. That is why the film was unsatisfactory, because it didn’t feel like a Burton film. It felt like you’d taken bits of Burton and jumbled them together and I’m sorry, it just didn’t work. You can put a star studded cast on screen in silly outfits up against a green screen backdrop and it doesn’t make it a good film.

While on the topic of that film it’s worth mentioning that Tim Burton put film makers to shame during the making of that film. He showed exactly what is wrong with Hollywood and modern cinema. Now I don’t know if it was his decision because I am aware it was probably out of his hands, but accepting to have the film released in 3D showed how film makers are so fixed upon making money. It’s slowly slipping away from being an art form designed to entertain a mass audience and it’s moving more in to a business, where people in suits sit at the top of the pile and watch the money come tumbling in. As I said I don’t know if it was Burton’s decision personally because the matter may have been out of his hands, but it was annoying nonetheless because didn’t add anything to the film and is again showing how stupid cinema audiences can be by paying for such nonsense.

You could see the signs on Burton slipping slowly down the scale years ago though, having to sit through ‘Sweeney Todd’ you could see that his style is losing its touch. I don’t completely hate the film because there is some level of enjoyment, but as a whole it felt quite shambolic and disjointed because it didn’t run smoothly. It appeared that the gothic element and the musical element were constantly competing against each other so the film doesn’t settle in one camp or the other and that does bother me. Not because my OCD traits want my DVDs organised in to genres but because it means the tone of the film darts about and it never really finds itself. As soon as it feels like it’s going to settle, something ruins it and it begins to be very repetitive and makes me lose interest. It is a shame because again I wanted the film to be good, but I found myself disappointed.

I realise that this is the point in which Tim Burton fans will want to hit me, but as I have said before I do like him as a director, it’s just I prefer is old films to his new ones. He will always have classics such as ‘Beetlejuice’ that will remain classics and quite rightly so, but his new films are nowhere near as good as his old work. His old films were artistic and near perfect, his new films are annoying ill disciplined. I can only hope that he’s on his way to being as good as he once was. It may just be a case of him going through a bit a low point but then rising back up to former glory. I hope it’ll happen, but with the state of things how they are, it doesn’t look hopeful.

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is still better.

The Perfect Guide On How To Turn A Book Into A Film – Oil! vs There Will Be Blood

Recently I’ve been getting quite caught up in a frenzy of ranting about books being made into films and why certain adaptions annoy me more than others. This means that I’ve only really been discussing the films that make me annoyed, and I’m angry at myself for this. I’ve once again gotten so caught up in a state of negativity that it’s lead to me coming across as a horrible person who finds no joy in life. I would still like to think that this isn’t the case, but the evidence continues to expand.

I find that much like with most things in life, if you focus too much on the negatives you soon fail to see the positives that are right in front of you. It is all well and good me spending time discussing how much a film annoys me, but I think it’s time much better spent if I talk about the films that had a positive impact on me.

As I said before, I’ve been writing a lot about novels being adapted for the big screen and how it’s difficult to get this right. As per usual I’ve talked the hind legs off a horse about ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘The Hobbit’, but if there’s one film I know I will always appreciate as well as the book, then it’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece ‘There Will Be Blood’.

Based on the novel Oil! written by Upton Sinclair in the early 1920s, the film tells the story of a businessman navigating his way to the top of the oil market in early 20th century America. It shows how his greed and his lust for power control his personality and have lasting impacts for those around him, including family members. The film may not follow the book directly, but I admire that.

The book is very complex, switching from second person narrative to third person narrative and following a range of different characters as they encounter conflict, political changes and the questioning of religion.  The social issues are explored in great depth and it draws an intriguing comparison to how society is nowadays to how it once was. At its core the novel has characters that are consistent to the plot, but whereas the novel focuses more on Daniel Plainview’s son and the people he interacts with, the film strips away a lot of the padding and leaves us with just Mr Plainview himself and his actions.

The book moves on quite quickly from the events surrounding Daniel Plainview and soon become focused on his son moving away and becoming tangled in conflict and political struggles, but with the film Paul Thomas Anderson stuck to the events surrounding Daniel Plainview. It might annoy others who like the book because it does detract away from the topics the book covers, but I like it because it keeps the film simplistic. Stylistically PTA keeps his films simple so that they focus on the characters, which I think he achieved perfectly with ‘There Will Be Blood’, the character of Plainview was so complex. I went from thinking he was a good business, to hating him, to feeling some sympathy for him, before hating his guts again.

There was a bold changing of the character presented in the novel, taking someone who was essentially a family man who wanted to do the best for his family and turning him to a sinister, cold hearted shell of a man. It kept the flare for business and passion for making money, but it twisted it and made it show more about what happens when greed is left to manifest itself. The film is very simplistic and does centre on one man, but that is what made it so chilling. It left us following a man we in all likelihood hate as we see his greed completely change who he was.

There’s always a popular complaint from people when a big screen adaptation is released, because people will always compare it to the book and say that the film doesn’t follow the story of the book. In some cases, such as Harry Potter, I don’t care because I wasn’t engaged enough in the books to care about what happens with the films. In the case of The Hobbit I care because it’s one of my favourite books and I care about what happens to it. In the case of Oil! I admire the changes that PTA made. I like the fact he respected the source material, but then made it something different. I think it’s so admirable that a film maker who is the writer and director can take a fine piece of literature and be inspired. That was the key thing with this film, it inspired Paul Thomas Anderson.

It’s all well and good taking a book and directly transferring it to screen, much like a lot of film makers do nowadays anyway, but it shows something special when they can be inspired by a book and use that inspiration to make it in to something different. PTA took a source that he respected, took the elements that inspired him the most and made a film that was tangential to the novel, but worked not only as a piece of cinema but as a solid narrative. He took an idea, a character, a made an entire film out of it, questioning what it is that makes us human.

As a screenplay writer as well, PTA tested how far a character can be strengthened by speech. The film takes a full nineteen minutes before speech is heard, before that it’s footage of Plainview digging and discovering oil. It was chilling to see such vast desert landscapes with just one man walking across. It was the sort of shot that made me reflect on how small my existence is, it made realise that I am such a small part of this enormous planet we live on. That was chilling.

The correlation between the film being one of my favourites and the novel being one of my favourites is not clichéd, nor is it coincidental, I appreciate both for different reasons and I will always hold them close to me. The film was the first film I saw by Paul Thomas Anderson who has grown in to my favourite screenplay writer, and the novel kept me company over a series of lunch breaks at my part time job and two days ill in bed whilst on holiday in Tunisia. It will always means something special to me and be a book I can look back on a remember how it made me feel after reading it for the first time.

As the title suggests, I believe this was a perfect example of how to turn a book into a film, and it is. It showed how a film maker can appreciate a piece of literature, be inspired by it and make a piece of film from that spark of inspiration. It showed how you don’t just have to copy and paste a book to the big screen, you don’t have to follow a book just like a rule book, and you certainly do not have to add things to influence the pace of a film. That wasn’t a dig at The Hobbit. Not in the slightest.

If you haven’t read the book then I would heavily recommend it, it’s a classic novel exploring greed and jealously and how they affect us as humans. I may dislike the character of Daniel Plainview but in the end I know he represents all of us. He is a physical representation of the deeply pitted greed that hides in all humans, and is a display of what happens when this greed is set free.