Sunday, December 30, 2007

Todd and the Future of Tim

this is my favorite picture of him

I hadn't realized that Sweeney Todd was rated 'R' until after I saw it, and it comes as little surprise considering the copious bloodshed. This is Tim Burton's second r-rated picture since Ed Wood, which only received that classification through Bela Lugosi's foul mouth and possibly some socially conservative jitters about cross-dressing. This is also Tim Burton's first GREAT movie since Wood. Though the uneven Mars Attacks! has many fine moments, the reluctant studio-approved auteur's output over the past 10 years has been mediocre at best. I've theorized a few reasons for this:

1) Burton's influence in bringing an animator's reality-bending sensibility to his material has been so strong that virtually every film uses "Burtonesque" art direction or cartoon physics, thanks to the ease of CGI...

2) Burton's influence in bridging the gap between what's considered kiddie or adult material - ie, Pee-Wee and Batman - helped paved the way for the perpetual adolescence of Hollywood today, with all it's wizards and superheroes...

3) The financial failure of Mars Attacks! might have scared Burton into choosing "bankable" material, like a Planet of the Apes or Willy Wonka remake, or another stop-motion film like Corpse Bride, or a Forrest Gump retread like Big Fish...these have all been pretty uninspiring, and create the impression that he's been content to work simply as a hired hand, coating the Tim Burton Touch superficially upon whatever licensed property calls for it...

In the case of Sweeney Todd, Burton has proven my third theory wrong insofar as bringing in his aesthetic (which now practically includes Johnny Depp as a given lead) and making something truly compelling. I'll admit I had the advantage of experiencing the Sweeney musical for the first time with this film, bringing no expectations to judge it against. Ordinarily I hate the type of talking/singing musical style used throughout, but it makes a world of difference with a skilled author like Stephen Sondheim behind it, and not, say, Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Depp's performance is also something of a relief. After the zaniness of three Pirates of the Carribbean movies and the dull obviousness of his crazy take on Willy Wonka, Sweeney Todd is nearly catatonic by comparison, only coming out of his shell in moments of bloodlust and vengeance. Like the character, the film itself could have been substantially camped up and thereby more family-friendly in the hands of a Ron Howard or a Joel Schumacher or any other mediocre stylist-for-hire, the type Burton was in danger of becoming.

It may be the case of a stopped watch being right twice a day, but the threshold Burton has crossed is that into truly adult material, something he began with Ed Wood and then put on hold until now. Having perfected the modern all-ages fantasy film in the first phase of his career, he ended it with Wood, a biopic based upon real persons and events, and without surreal stylization. The second phase has essentially been a regressive repetition of the first, doing fantasy material that can't possibly stand out from the glut of similar Hollywood stuff he helped promulgate. Should Burton choose to embrace the darkness that he has been unfairly accused of since the beginning of his career, and make more films dealing in the truly macabre and diabolical the way Sweeney does (not the cutesy variety seen in Corpse Bride) he could re-establish himself as an important and exciting figure in the American film scene.

On the other hand, IMDB says his next film is a feature length version of his 1984 short film Frankenweenie, so perhaps not just yet. One can hope.

1 comment:

Katie Rose said...

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