Thursday, March 4, 2010

Why I'm not seeing Alice in Wonderland.

Tim Burton. I grew up enamored with the oddity of his films. Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Beetle Juice, Edward Scissor Hands... Well more the last two but still, they had a place in my heart because I watched them at just the right age for their titles and imagery to stick with me. And then you have his Batman movies. As a layman fan of comics I have to appreciate them as the best there was during the 80's to 90's stint, a stint that started with Burton willing to get dark and ended with Joel Schumacher putting nipples on the bat-suit.

So yes, there was a time when I associated the name with imagination and enjoyable movies. When, as I nursed my developing creativity, I might have used his among many others as fuel. There was a time when his name might have even been uttered during a "favorite directors" conversion among friends. But that time is long dead. It all boils down to one major point: I am sick of his recycled productions. I'm sorry, but since when are you considered a creative genius for using the same elements over and over... pop music aside? Tim Burton is marketed as this lone-wolf artist, possessed of unique and unfaltering vision. What they don't tell you is that it was just one vision, and he had it back in 1985.

I refuse to call beating the same color schemes to death in every movie "vision". Black and white next to pink? Brilliant- the first time. Either he does an entire world in neon to make one character in black stand out, a la Edward Scissor Hands. Or he does the world in black to make the character in neon stand out, a la Batman's Joker. And then, when he's feeling really bold, he does the entire world in black just to throw you off! Examples include Sleepy Hollow, Batman Returns, and Sweeney Todd. And let's not forget his love of stark white makeup. For the most part this pretty much reads like a "Hero!" sign hanging around the characters neck. Their pale, and therefore misunderstood. In his defence I will say this is part of what made his Joker work ("Mr J!" said in annoyingly high-pitched voice), but conversely it's part of what made his Willy Wonka fail.

All this is just vamping, however, for the entrance of my main (and most quantifiable) problem with Tim Burton: his casting- or lack there of. Put simply, Tim Burton has a fixation on Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and the composer Danny Elfman. And don't worry- I'm not just going to point the finger here. I knew I was gonna have to back this up so I went on IMDB and did a tally. The final numbers were actually worse (or better) than I predicted.

Since the Release of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure in 1985, Tim Burton has been working his way into the spotlight. Including Pee-Wee he's directed fourteen feature films in the last twenty-five years. Of those fourteen films, not a single one did not have one of the three names mentioned involved. But wait, there's more! Of those fourteen films, six starred Helena Bonham Carter, seven starred Johnny Depp (that's half by the way), and a whopping twelve (!) featured a score composed by Danny Elfman, many of those using the same pieces of music. Three of his movies featured all three, and eight of his movies featured at least two.

"So what?" you might be thinking. "Plenty of directors re-use cast members or composers. That doesn't mean their movies are 'regurgitated' does it?" Well, one of two people who reads my blog, I had a feeling you might say that. So I took the initiative and looked up a popular trio of artists who tend to team up. Director Steven Spielberg, actor Tom Hanks and composer John Williams.

These three are pretty well known, both individually and for their work together. My research says that in the same space of time (1985-2010) Spielberg has directed twenty feature films, three of which starred Tom Hanks, 16 of which featuring music by John Williams, and three having both. Sounds like a lot right? I agree, it was definitely more than I would have guessed, but let's look at the content.

Right off the bat we know that four of Spielberg's movies with Williams were from within series, two from Jurassic park and two from Indiana Jones, so in the interest of fairness we'll only count series relations as one title (I would do the same for Burton but there are no movies applicable). That brings our total down to fourteen of twenty. Still a big portion, but that's less than three out of four of Spielberg's output for those twenty-five years, as apposed to Elfman's 86% of nearly all of Burton's career. And of those movies, none outside of series relations re-use the same music. Unless it's a sequel, Williams is writing entirely new body's of work. Elfman and Burton, not so much. And as for Tom Hanks? He's been in 3 of Spielberg's twenty titles, I think we can call that good.

Then there's the quality of the films produced. This is of course a debatable subject, so, in honor of what week it is, we'll go by oscars. Of the twenty movies Spielberg has directed with Williams composing since 1985, Two have won him Oscars for Best Director with another garnering a nomination. The same three were also up for best picture, one of which took the statue home. And again, this is only representative of a 25 year period out of a career that stretches all the way back to 1959.

In the entirety of his career Burton has not once won an Oscar. He has never seen a nomination for best picture or director. His only nomination has been for Corpse Bride in the Animated Feature category... not that there's anything wrong with animated features.

So let's put accolaids aside. Why, in my opinion, is one innocent, and one guilty? The answer to that is subject matter. Other directors who re-use cast members or composers do so across various stories and plot lines. We'll use our example pair again. "Together", Spielberg and Williams have tackled everything from the plight of African-Americans in 1930's Georgia, to rampaging clone-dinosaurs. From Fire-Fighting Pilots to the horrors of the Holocaust. Now get ready for a spoiler warning cause I'm about to tell you how 9/10 of Burton's movies end: a lonely outsider eventually finds their place in the world with the help of something odd and/or dead. TA-DA!

This is not meant to be a rant on how good a Director Spielberg is, believe me he's made some fine movies but I have my problems with him too. My point is only to demonstrate that Burton's cinematic crimes run deeper then simply using casts over. That can be done while telling interesting and varying stories. No, Burton's crime is that he re-uses everything! Creature design, make-up affects, color pallets, plot-points, major set pieces, the list goes on and on!

If he manages to break out of his cycle (or Watcher X is willing to spend a pick on him) I'll consider spending full ticket prices for his films, but until then Netflix will have to do (I don't get paid for this after all, my budget is limited). Tim Burton is a broken record. I realise I may end up having to eat some crow next week, but still I stand by my statement. His particular brand of "wonder" has grown stale, and hearing people rave about his films only makes it worse. I need something new Tim, and that is why I'm not seeing Alice in Wonderland.


Kello said...

Honestly, I feel this way not about Burton, but Johnny Depp's characters. Seeing the preview for Alice made me think "oh, great, Willy Wonka in Wonderland."

I just see shades of Jack Sparrow in everything he does now....even Finding Neverland.

The Reel Deal said...

"Shades of Sparrow" How true. He is definetly an actor with settings. Dial one for "Charming Depp". Dial two for "Coocky Depp." Para Espanol, apretar tres.