HAVE YOUR SAY: WHEN DID TIM BURTON JUMP THE SHARK?
by Peter Martin, May 8, 2012 8:37 PM
COMEDY, HAVE YOUR SAY, HORROR, USA & CANADA
The arrival of Tim Burton's Dark Shadows in theatres this week fills me with dread -- and not the good kind.
When Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Burton's feature directorial debut, burst on the scene in 1985, it was a blast of fresh air, a kiddie tale cleverly targeted at the demented adolescent yearning of young adults. Burton followed that up with Beetlejuice in 1988, the first full-blown manifestation of what has become his signature style: dark fantasies leavened by childish humor and adorned in sumptuously colorful costumes and production design, accompanied by Danny Elfman, a master of minor-chord musical scoring.
To greater or lesser extent, Burton has been reworking the styles, themes, and jokes from Beetlejuice ever since. He rescued Batman from the memory of the 60s TV show, explored the moody depths of twisted suburbia in Edward Scissorhands, remained deeply unhappy with Batman Returns, produced the exceptional The Nightmare Before Christmas, honored the cinematic work ethic in Ed Wood, desecrated 50s sci-fi classics in Mars Attacks!, and plunged into his deepest approximation of true horror in Sleepy Hollow.
Those were all fine, fascinating, often memorable efforts, all made in the studio system and all worthy of revisits. But the turning point in his career seems to have come with his ill-fated remake of Planet of the Apes in 2001.
For all of his skills as a visual storyteller, Burton could not do much of anything with Planet. Lacking a compelling reason for the remake -- other than the studio's desire to exploit a popular property -- and perhaps affected by a rushed production schedule, this was the first of Burton's pictures that felt like a job for hire.
Throughout the decade following that disappointment, I've found it increasingly difficult to enjoy Burton's work. His visual style remains distinctly his own, but his films lack the sparkle and energy that marked his earlier efforts. The fantasy of Big Fish feels lackadaisical, the whimsy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory comes across in a forced manner, and even Corpse Bride failed to engage completely.
Sweeney Todd and Alice in Wonderland continued this downward trend, and advance word on Dark Shadows has not been encouraging. Circumstances prevented me from attending an advance screening last night, so dim hope still prevails, but I can't say I look forward to his films anymore; they feel increasingly like the work of a creatively exhausted director who keeps making movies because studios like the profits that he makes them.
But maybe that's just me. What do you think? Are you still on board with Tim Burton? Do you think his best work lies ahead? Or do you believe he's run out of tricks? Should he continue working with Johnny Depp? Have your say in the comments below.