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.

One thought on “The Tim Burton Problem Continues

  1. From a film studies student, I have to say that your idea of his directing technique is wrong [in my opinion]. He’s considered an Auteur (it’s a theory linked to directors take a look) for the reasons of how his films are all the same style, genre and technique, he is set in his ways to create his own vision, not “clinging on with every fibre”. Much like Quentin Tarantino (not in style but in vision) he wants what he wants and that’s what he gets. It’s his own vision he’s creating, which is what he is considered an Auteur Director. (Have a look a the specific definition and judge for yourself as it is all down to interpretation but he is highly considered an Auteur)

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