Let’s say you were cryogenically frozen in 1996 and unfrozen yesterday. (Welcome back.) You might remember Tim Burton (after taking time to stretch your legs, catch up with friends and family and shit your pants over the iPhone) as the offbeat autuer behind darkly comic cinematic gems like Beetle Juice and Edward Scissorhands. So, when perusing the shelves at your neighborhood video store (no one has bothered to tell you about Netflix yet, fearing another pant-shitting episode) you might happen upon Burton’s newly released Alice In Wonderland and think to yourself, Fuck ya! Tim Burton was born to tell this story! He’s gonna rip that old Disney animated version a new Doormouse!
You might then rent the movie (on DVD!) and bring it home. You might begin watching it. You might notice something is amiss, but decide to give it a chance. You might get up to make some popcorn, come back, watch a little more and then realize: this is a steaming pile of garbage vomit. Literally, watching this movie is the equivalent of staring at garbage that was consumed by someone (possibly this guy) and then vomited out in pile form.
And you might wonder: what the hell? Welcome to the year 2010, when Google runs the world, a black dude is President and Tim Burton does nothing but make horrible, garbage-vomity remakes. How did this happen? (The Tim Burton part; the black dude being President is pretty cool, and we’re not fucking with Google.) How did one of the most promising directors of his generation go so horribly, soul-suckingly wrong?
Let’s take a look:
Now wait a minute, you may be saying. Sure, I’ve spent the last fourteen years in a state of suspended animation, but I remember this: Batman was awesome. Jack Nicholson as the Joker? Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader? Lando Calrissian getting work? And, to a lesser extent, Batman Returns was awesome too, although that might have been completely partly due to Michelle Pfeiffer wearing that spray-painted latex outfit. But whatever. Awesome flicks. Vintage Burton.
Yes, you’re right, those were good movies. And that’s the point. This was the moment Burton got hooked on the idea that his role was to remake and update old, classic stories/movies and give them a surreal, gothic makeover. He turned this into this, critics loved it and audiences lapped it up, and a switch was flipped in his brain. A very, very bad switch.
Which brings us to…
SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999)
Some may remember a Disney cartoon from the ’40s called The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. It was a double feature, one half an adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, the other half of Washington Irving‘s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. (Because what goes together better than a bunch of anthropomorphic woodland creatures and a guy getting beheaded?) The Sleepy Hollow portion (narrated by Bing Crosby!) featured a scary pumpkin-headed villain and a prolonged chase scene through a dark and foreboding forest. Sounds ripe for a little Burtonization, right?
Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Unless, that is, your definition of “right” is two hours of drab mist and a squinting, charisma-free Johnny Depp followed by a weird, poorly choreographed climax involving a dead witch (or something) who isn’t dead (or something) and, out of nowhere, Christopher Walken with a really bad set of fake fangs. OK, that last part sounds kind of cool. It isn’t.
And yet that was only the beginning of the uncoolness, and looked like the love child of Miles Davis and an iceberg when compared to…
PLANET OF THE APES (2001)
This would seem to be more in Burton’s Batman-era wheelhouse: a beloved but rather cheesy classic waiting for a strange, twisted reboot.
Paul Giamatti as a sniveling orangutan covered the twisted bit, but the only strange thing was how Burton managed to take the one surefire, unfuckupable part of the original (the twist ending) and fuck it up. Damn, dirty, crap.
And speaking of crap…
Whereas Depp’s lack of charisma was understandable in Sleepy Hollow (Ichabod Crane is kind of a putz), here Depp’s cast as Willy Friggin’ Wonka. Admittedly Gene Wilder left some pretty big shoes to fill.
But instead of even trying to fill them Depp (who does good work most of the time, it should be said) squeezed into an entirely different, much lamer pair that were presumably cobbled and laced by Mr. Burton.
Wonka was transformed into a sort of Michael Jackson-on-mescaline caricature, drained of all the whimsy and intrigue that make the character–and by extension the story–work. And so the movie crumbled around him, like a big, turd-coated sandcastle getting hit by a wave of awfulness.
A wave named Tim Burton.
There’s more. Burton also did a bad remake of the musical Sweeney Todd (Depp again, only this time singing). And among his rumored upcoming projects are a remake of The Addams Family (let me guess: Johnny Depp as Uncle Fester!) and a 3-D remake of his own movie, the 1984 short Frankenweenie. Hopefully that one will create a meet-your-future-self-in-the-past paradox and Burton’s career will swallow itself.
But I’ve kept you long enough. You were just unfrozen; you have so much to experience. The Internet (without modems that sound like dying narwals). Lady Gaga (think Madonna and Cher’s special-needs daughter). Frozen yogurt (yeah, it’s back).
Just remember, whatever you do, if it involves the words “from the imagination of Tim Burton” and “you’ve never seen [insert aspect of old movie you liked] like this” stay far, far away. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.