Happy birthday today to Tim Burton, who long ago pulled filmgoers down into the rabbit hole into his own singular imagination.
Burton is 51 today and enjoys a rare status in Hollywood as one of very few contemporary directors who are as big as the films they make and truly unique in the sensibility and vision they put on the screen. Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and Quentin Tarantino, in their own ways, would make that list, as would Guillermo del Toro and Hayao Miyazaki, but none of those masters has made blockbusters on the scale of Burton. (The 13 Burton-directed feature films to date have grossed $1.3 billion in the U.S. alone.) Love his work or hate it (and there are plenty of outspoken advocates for both points of view), it’s impossible not to recognize a Burton film at this point and anyone who loves film pays attention to each of his releases.
Burton is back next year with “Alice in Wonderland” (check out the trailer if you haven’t already seen it) but today we’re taking a look back at some of his previous work. Since this is the Hero Complex, let’s start with Burton’s highest-grossing film, “Batman” from 1989, and its underrated sequel, “Batman Returns.” Hard to believe it has been 20 years since Jack Nicholson brought the Joker to life and even harder to believe that it’s now only the second most-celebrated portrayal of the greatest comic-book villian ever. Ever wonder what Burton thought of “The Dark Knight“? I asked him, and his surprising answer is here.
My favorite Burton movie? I know this is going to be jeered by many of you, but I adore “Ed Wood.” There’s a spirit to the film that is so playful and loving and bittersweet — I think it may be the most human of all his films. Depp is amazing in the movie, and it has the role of a lifetime (and an Oscar winner) for the great Martin Landau. Along with Woody Allen’s darkly sublime “Crimes and Misdemeanors” in 1989, this gave Landau two marvelous touchstone films in the third decade of his career, which got an early jump start with Alfred Hitchcock’s “North By Northwest” in 1959. Burton, Hitchcock and Allen? Pretty good directors there, Mr. Landau. “Ed Wood” was a commercial bomb and I remember that I coaxed a group of friends to go see it at late show and (after too much beer) a few of them were dozing off by the end. I don’t care, I thought it was genius that night in 1994 and I still think so today.
Burton likes to stick with actors who understand his vision. Apparently, no one understands it better than Johnny Depp, who has been in six of Burton’s films and stars in “Alice” as the Mad Hatter. Here are the trailers for their first collaboration, 1990’s “Edward Scissorhands,” and the most recent, 2005’s “The Corpse Bride.“
Not every Burton movie works. I thought “Mars Attacks!” was, well, unwatchable, and the ending of “Planet of the Apes” still has me scratching my head. When they click, though, they can be magic. Take a look back at “Beetlejuice,” which (along with the “Ghostbusters” films) really created the template for special-effects comedies that would follow, among them films as varied as “Men in Black” and “Night at the Museum.” I was never fully won over to the idea of Michael Keaton as Batman (although he was a good Bruce Wayne) but he was perfect in this ghost movie that has become one of my kids’ favorite films despite the 21 years since its release. (And look how skinny Alec Baldwin was!)
What do you think, what’s Burton’s best film? Leave a comment or, better yet, a birthday wish. I know Tim has checked out the blog in the past and he may see your message.
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