With Disney releasing the trailer of the Tim Burton directed Alice in Wonderland (Trailer) I thought I would take a look back at the film’s Burton has helmed and give my opinion on one of my very favorite filmmakers. Admired by many, hated by some, Burton, now 50 years old, has left his mark in film. Never a conventional storyteller, Burton has put many images on screen that burn in ones brain forever. While most of his work is flawed, it still carries weight in emotional impact that cannot be disregarded. Here’s my look at his directorial body of work which now spans almost 25 years.
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure 1985- The only Burton directed film that I didn’t see in a theater. Paul Ruebens (Pee-wee) handpicked Burton to direct this film after seeing his terrific short film Frankenweenie. Burton and Ruebens were a perfect creative match and the film was a blast if you were a fan of Pee-wee at the time. It was obvious from this outing that Burton had a unique flare for being a little unusual, a trait that hasn’t changed to this day. ***1/2 out of *****
Beetle Juice 1988- I remember seeing this for the first time and having a somewhat mixed reaction (because it was so visually unique) but there was something fascinating about it and I wound up seeing it numerous times at the theater and having a great time with it. Michael Keaton’s work in this film is now legendary. Every time he came on screen as bio-exorcist “Beetlejuice” I couldn’t take my eyes off him; clearly one of the most inventive and unique comic performances ever put on film. It also revived the career of Keaton who would soon be cast as the Caped Crusader in Burton’s version of Batman. Like many Burton films, Beetle Juice is flawed storytelling but there’s so much good stuff in it that as a whole it really works. Plus Keaton is brilliant here. **** Out of *****
Batman 1989- Since Tim was still fairly new to the game this was more of a studio film than a standalone Burton project, although there are many elements of his unique vision on display. The one scene that comes to mind is Jack Nicholson’s Joker having a conversation with a corpse after he has electrocuted him via a handshake. Clearly a film that gave Burton immense influence in the industry. **** Out of *****
Edward Scissorhands 1990- My favorite Burton work and his first collaboration with actor Johnny Depp. In many ways a reflection of Burton himself who perceived himself as sort of a strange outsider growing up. While not perfect in storytelling the movie all comes together and is a very moving experience that has real beauty in each and every frame. There’s real power to the film’s last 20 minutes. It’s one of my all time favorite movies. ****1/2 out of *****
Batman Returns 1992- Many people feel this is much more of a Tim Burton film than an actual Batman movie. Compared to the first Batman film, they are right. As a Burton fan I’m a big supporter of this sequel to his 1989 smash hit, especially because of the true undercurrent of sadness in his exploration of 3 misfits, Batman, Penguin and the Catwomen. Like the character of Edward Scissorhands, Burton’s take on Danny Devito’s Penquin was focused on his rejection by society, so in many ways he’s similar to that character only the other side of the same coin. His story arc was actually very moving and my favorite aspect of the movie. **** Out of *****
Ed Wood 1994- Terrific film depicting the life of Ed Wood Jr, a filmmaker who many called “the worst director of all-time”. Johnny Depp hit all the right notes as Ed Wood and Martin Landau was nothing short of brilliant as Bela Lugosi. He would go on to win the Oscar for best supporting actor. One of Depp’s very best performances. ****1/2 out of *****
Mars Attacks 1996- I thought this parody of Alien invasion films was a lot of fun but it had the bad luck to come out a few months after Independence Day, which became one of the biggest box-office hits of all time. While all of it doesn’t work (every scene with Pierce Brosnan) I found it funny, visually interesting and a good time at the movies. ***1/2 out of *****
Sleepy Hollow 1999- Tim Burton’s very enjoyable take on the classic Washington Irving tale of Ichabod Crane and the headless horseman. The film featured great art direction and effects. Johnny Depp was clearly having a lot of fun as the offbeat Crane who’s a detective with an interest in forensic science in this story (and not a school teacher like the novel). **** Out of *****
Planet of the Apes 2001- From the get go I never thought Burton would be a good fit for this genre and he was clearly not. While the film has its bright spots, including the terrific performance by Tim Roth as General Thade, the overall film was a huge letdown compared to the classic 1968 original. I hated the fact that Burton decided to film most of it on soundstages instead of on location which would have given the movie a more authentic feel. Considering how many ideas, scripts and talent (Oliver Stone, Philip Noyce, James Cameron, Peter Jackson and Arnold Schwarzenegger who was slated to star at one time) that had been attached to the project before Burton stepped in, it’s hard to believe that this re-boot of the famed franchise crashed and burned in reviews. Despite being a financial winner, in retrospect Burton never should have taken on this project. It was like mixing oil and water. **1/2 Out of *****
Big Fish 2003- A very moving father and son story that had Burton’s blueprint all over it while still telling an involving tale about a man whose life might be a bit of an exaggeration. Offbeat but still involving and quite emotionally powerful with a GREAT last 15 minutes. Solid work from Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney. **** Out of *****
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 2005- This film was an interesting but very disappointing misfire in my opinion. While I loved the first 40 minutes with the Charlie character being set up, the film took a turn for the worse when Johnny Depp’s ultra strange Willy Wonka enters the picture. For whatever reason Depp and Burton pushed the envelope too far in terms of weirdness as Deep’s interpretation couldn’t hold a candle to Gene Wilder’s superior take. Still most critics liked it and it was a solid hit. Have to be honest- Depp ruined the film for me. **1/2 out of *****
Sweeny Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street 2007- Burton received the best director nod from the National Board of Review for his work on this feature film adaptation of the dark and edgy stage musical. Burton was a nice fit for this somewhat demented material and Johnny Depp received an Oscar nomination for his fine work. ***1/2 out of *****
After Burton finishes his work on Alice in Wonderland he will reportedly team up with Johnny Depp once again for a feature film version of the 1960’s Daytime Soap, Dark Shadows. It seems like a great fit once again.