I recently saw Burton's version of Alice in Wonderland, and I'm left wondering..what happened? He used to be a director with so much promise. He was unique and quirky. He made darkness nifty and entertaining. He made Batman!
After Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice and Batman, I remember thinking Edward Scissorhands was weird but not bad; I assumed it was either an aberrant misstep or merely not my thing. Then came Batman Returns. Ok, I thought, sequels are tough. He got a pass. Ed Wood? Just being experimental. Everyone is allowed a 1941, after all.
At Mars Attacks, I was still trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, but the doubt was clearly growing. Sleepy Hollow was weakly hollow, but still in the Burton vocabulary.
Enter Planet of the Apes. There aren't enough disparaging words available to accurately trash this horrid mess of a movie. And still I believed that, somehow, the best days of Tim Burton were still ahead. Maybe it's because I recall so fondly the twisted genius of Pee-wee and Beetlejuice. Maybe it's because I give him too much credit for causing me to believe that a superhero movie could touch brilliance and reinvigorate a ridiculous sub-genre.
Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sweeney Todd all flew by in a blur of speckled mediocrity. The titillating murkiness of his earlier work had given way to full blown creepers. What was intriguing and subtly hilarious about Michael Keaton's Batman had been obliterated by the uncomfortably effeminate and Michael Jackson-esque Willy Wonka.
And now Alice in Wonderland. I'm not sure why I'm surprised. Maybe I continually hope for the resurrection of a promising career in a world of so much schlock. Maybe the redemption narrative just simply rules supreme in my psyche. Either way, I give up on you, Tim Burton! You won't hoodwink me any longer! Joel and Ethan understand me. Steven still has many wonderful cards up his sleeve, no doubt. Quentin, I'm tingling with anticipation. The Departed showed us that Marty still has some game, and even Oliver, though wussing out in his old age, may still surprise us.
"We've seen every conceivable battle sequence, every duel, all carnage, countless showdowns and all-too-long fights to the finish. Why does Alice in Wonderland have to end with an action sequence? Characters not rich enough? Story run out? Little minds, jazzed by sugar from the candy counter, might get too worked up without it? Or is it that executives, not trusting their artists and timid in the face of real stories, demand an action climax as insurance? Insurance of what? That the story will have a beginning and a middle but nothing so tedious as an ending?"