|Photo by: Tim Walker, HARPER'S BAZAR|
This year sees the release of two films by Tim Burton, a director who’s claim to fame is that he makes middle-of-the-road adaptations, and brands them with kooky black-and-white spirals. Dark Shadows, his big-screen take on the camp-classic TV show about a vampire and his dysfunctional family, hits theatres this weekend. It stars his on-screen alter-ego, Johnny Depp, and reunites him with Michelle Pfeiffer for the first time since she slinked her latex-clad way into our collective Bat-fantasies. In the fall Burton will release a feature length remake of his charming 1984 stop-motion animated short, Frankenweenie. He’s also producing Timur Bekmambetov’s anachronistic actioner, Abraham Linclon: Vampire Hunter. It’s a great time to be a Tim Burton fan. I couldn’t care less.
I’ve often heard Gullermo Del Toro cited as a contemporary, likely in reference to his distinct visual style and penchant for the fantastic. The difference though is that Burton is a lazy storyteller, content to co-opt previously published material, while Del Toro is intellectual and enthusiastic. Not all of Del Toro's films are effective, but at least he's either written or co-written every one (save Blade II). They are feverish and passionate, and dripping with Jungian anxiety. The last time Burton was given any kind of story credit was on The Corpse Bride (2005). And the time before that, Edward Scissorhands (1990).
There’s an argument to be made that Burton is a legitimate auteur who obsessively imbues his cinema with the personal and profane. But revisiting his filmography (16 films in the last 25 years), it becomes painfully obvious that he’s devolved into a director-for-hire whose visual predilections are about as tone-deaf as his storytelling acumen. Alice In Wonderland is one of the most successful bad movies in recent memory, and representative of all that's lacking in his filmmaking approach. College Humor put together a hilarious skit a few years ago, lampooning Burton’s shopworn schtick.
I like many of his early efforts, and maintain that Batman Returns is the best Dark Knight movie made so far. But I haven't enjoyed one of his films since Big Fish (2003). It's high time Burton passed on the next big-budget studio gig and made something intimate and character driven. The last time he did that the result was a quirky monochromatic comedy starring Johnnny Depp called Ed Wood. I rest my case.