Tuesday, March 27, 2012

DIRECTOR SPOTLIGHT: Tim Burton Fatigue

Any regular readers here might have picked up on the fact that, over the last few years, I have grown increasingly weary of Tim Burton.  I feel like it's been several years, now approaching a decade, since Burton has directed a film that feels fresh.  Remakes and "re-imaginings" of classic movies, books, and plays, have been Burton's modus operandi.  Of course there have been a few small victories in the last ten years, but overall it feels like Tim Burton has transformed into that picture of the snake eating its own tail.  Any time a Burton film is announced, it will be a remake or an adaptation of existing material, only now we realize it will be splashed with gothic imagery and art direction, scored by Danny Elfman, and starring Johnny Depp.

I say all of this despite the fact that Burton's latest adaptation, Dark Shadows, of course starring Johnny Depp, looks rather fun.  But still, there is nothing very surprising about the material except that the tone is comedic rather than melodramatic like the seventies series.  That works.  Also, the source material has been out of sight for a very long time, and the obscurity works in Burton's advantage.  Regardless, it is not original work.  Ever since Burton botched an unnecessary remake of Planet of the Apes, a dreary and forgettable and murky picture, complete with an ending of which I have yet to find a reasonable explanation, it seems he has been seeking out material that he can easily "Burton-ize." 

He tackled Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 2005, yet another pointless remake fashioned as a more accurate depiction of the book than the classic Gene Wilder film.  Regardless, it was a remake of existing material and the result was a film that is, frankly, not very good.  In 2007, Burton re-imagined the famous play Sweeney Todd.  This was arguably his most successful film of the decade, but again I found very little interesting material here.  Three years later Burton did the exact same thing with Alice in Wonderland he did with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, adapting an existing picture based on a novel but explaining it away by saying it was more of a continuation of Alice's story.  Either way, here was another tired remake.  Oh and I forgot to mention that, as you probably realize, all three of these films starred Johnny Depp. 

Directors have latched on to stars over the years and their collaborations have generated some of the greatest films.  Scorsese and DeNiro became Scorsese and Dicaprio.  Think about Cronenberg and his three films with Viggo Mortensen.  But this Johnny Depp collaborative think tank has run its course.  The entire loop of Burton/Depp material has gotten tired.  Because every film feels like a different version of the same thing.  Sure, Scorsese and DeNiro teamed up for a handful of gangster pictures, but think about the wild difference between Taxi Driver and Raging Bull along the way.  Mean Streets and Goodfellas are both gangster pictures, but they are hardly comparable in style.  All of these Burton/Depp films feel too similar and have become repetitive.

Burton and Depp made some wonderful films together, including Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands.  But, you see, those two examples are very different from each other.  When Burton has made fresh and original films in recent years he has stepped out of his comfort zone.  Think Big Fish.  There is no Depp to be seen.  Tim Burton needs to write some new material, something original and fresh and something free of Johnny Depp as inspiration.  He still has it in him, but he needs to head back to his own quirky and crazy drawing board, the one inside his imagination.