Swinging For The Fence – Tim Burton

Tim Burton

Tim Burton is easily one of the most unique directors in Hollywood today. All one needs to do is look a still from one of his films to know that it has his name written all over it. Burton implements a distinctive use of production design, costumes, cinematography and music (usually composed by Danny Elfman) to set his films apart for the norm. In fact Burton naysayers have argued that most Burton films suffer from style over substance, but as I am a Burton fan I don’t agree with that at all.

Burton started out as an animator for Disney in the early 80’s, working on such films as The Fox And The Hound and The Black Cauldron. His first foray into live action directing was a cute little black and white short called Frankenweenie(’84). While the film is juvenile and silly one can still see Burton’s stand out style shinning through.

Burton has had very successful career but by no means is he perfect. Like all directors his had his share of misses, financial and artistically, although not necessarily at the same time. My personal favorite film of his, Ed Wood, earned an Academy Award for Martin Landau’s brilliant performance as Bela Lugosi, but financially it was his least successful grossing just under $6 million, almost a third of the cost of the film. So just how good a director is Tim Burton? Let’s let the films speak for themselves.

Batting Order:

1. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) Hit While Burton only got this job because every other director turned it down, this was a fantastic first outing for the young filmmaker. He made a memorable kids film that got him a lot of notice and put him on the map.

2. Beetle Juice (1988) Hit Burton took his time choosing his next film and he chose wisely. This quirky dark comedy stood out from every other film at the time and Burton proved once again he could be a profitable filmmaker and maintain his artistic integrity. In fact it was the success of this film that convinced the studio he could handle his next one.

3. Batman (1989) Hit Burton went three for three with his first high budget studio film. The summer of ’89 was Batmania. Not only did Batman become an instant blockbuster but it paved the way for all the comic book films that followed. Burton proved that a serious comic book movie could be made and enjoyed by all. The only sad thing about this film is that the recent Batman Begins has completely over shadowed it but that does not take away from this films original greatness.

4. Edward Scissorhands (1990) Hit Burton once again returned to his quirky roots to bring us this wonderful fable about a man with scissors for hands. This magical film perfectly represents Burton’s capricious style and mentality. This film also proved that Johnny Depp was not just the pretty boy that he portrayed on 21 Jump Street. This was Burton and Depp’s first pairing and created a director/actor team up to rival Scorsese/De Niro.

5. Batman Returns (1992) Miss All good things must come to and end. Sadly, it was Burton stepping back into the world the Bat the brought him his first big strike. What a mess of a movie this is. It’s awkward, uncomfortable, and generally unpleasant to watch. Very little in this film works on any level. Still, it’s better than anything Schumacher spewed out.

6. Ed Wood (1994) Hit Not only is this my favorite Tim Burton movie, but it’s my favorite movie of all time. With the film placed #191 on imdb.com’s Top 250 list I’m obviously not alone. Johnny Depp as the hapless Ed Wood is marvelous. To see how much he loves filmmaking yet fails every step of the way is heartbreaking. This film is reason I decided I want to make movies.

7. Mars Attacks! (1996) Hit This is a silly fun film that is barely a hit. It easily could have been a miss if not for the fantastic performances by all the great actors including two off the wall characters played by Jack Nicholson.

8. Sleepy Hollow (1999) Miss Where as Mars Attacks! was barely a hit, this one is barely a miss. Depp is wonderful as the clumsy Ichabod Crane as he tries to solve the case the Headless Horseman. This is a fun film but it feels as if Burton is doing it by the numbers so some of the film falls flat for those who aren’t hardcore Burton fans.

9. Planet Of The Apes (2001) Miss Why did someone think that a remake of Planet of The Apes would be a good idea? And why the hell did Burton agree to that? This is hands down Burton’s worst film. It’s agonizingly painful from beginning to end. Why, Tim, why?

10. Big Fish (2003) Hit This film is Burton’s return to form. Big Fish is a whimsical fairytale full of magic and wonder. Ewan McGregor seems right at home in Burton’s world, but the really kudos’ here go to Albert Finney who is wholly remarkable. Scoring #204 on imdb.com’s Top 250 this is easily Burton’s second best film.

11. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory (2005) Hit Once again Burton dares to remake a beloved classic. Only this time he succeeds admirably. This is perhaps Burton’s most debated film. There are some who ever refuse to acknowledge it, loving the original too much. However Depp proves that Wilder is not the only one who can play the candy loving Wonka and young Freddie Highmore is simply charming as Charlie Bucket.

12. The Corpse Bride (2005) Miss While Tim Burton did not direct The Nightmare Before Christmas, he does take on that role with his second stop motion film, The Corpse Bride. Sadly, his second venture into the art form did not produce satisfactory results. There is no arguing that The Corpse Bride is a beautiful film with wonderful imagery, but the story, songs, and characters are completely lackluster and forgettable. This is indeed a case of style over substance.

It is a shame to end this list on a down note and we can only hope that Burton’s next film, Sweeney Todd is another hit for the auteur.

In the twelve films reviewed here Johnny Depp has stared in five of them. The upcoming Sweeney Todd will mark their sixth collaboration. But even when Depp isn’t around, Burton manages to find himself some fantastic leading men. Out of these twelve films we have 8 hits giving Mr. Tim Burton a directing average of .666. Somehow this number is exceedingly appropriate for the quirky director and his strange array of films.

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