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13 August 2011

Director Overviews: Tim Burton

Born: August 25th,1958
Years Active: 1982-Present
Nationality: American
Film's Directed Count: 16

Burton is one of modern cinemas best directors because of his visual imagination and style of filmmaking. He is a great director, a great visionary and a great storyteller. With films such as “Beetlejuice”, “Edward Scissorhands” and “big fish” under his belt, he is a director who has ventured into many genres. Many will not consider him one of the greatest, but he has brought many a good film to our screen over the past two decades and despite the failure of his “Alice in Wonderland” in 2010, he will be a director to remember for years to come. He has had a hit-and-miss kind of career but many of his films are wholesome, true and wonderfully imaginative.

Where did he begin?
In 1979, he began to work at Walt Disney Animation Studios. He worked as an animator, storyboard artist and conceptual artist in films such as “The Fox and the Hound”, “The Black Cauldron” and “Tron”. However, Burton's personal style clashed with Disney's own standards, and he longed to work on solo projects. While at Disney in 1982, Burton made his first short, “Vincent”, a six minute black and white stop motion film based on a poem written by the film-maker, and depicting a young boy who fantasizes that he is Vincent Price (who is Burton’s hero), with Price himself providing narration. This was followed by Burton's first live-action production “Hansel and Gretel”, a Japanese-themed adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale for the Disney Channel. Having aired once at 10:30 pm on Halloween 1983 and promptly shelved, prints of the film are extremely difficult to locate, which contributes to the rumour that this project does not exist.

A Shot from "Vincent".
Burton's next live-action short, “Frankenweenie,” was released in 1984. It tells the story of a young boy who tries to revive his dog after it is run over by a car. Filmed in black-and-white, it stars Barret Oliver, Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern. After “Frankenweenie” was completed, Disney fired Burton, under the pretext of him spending the company's resources on doing a film that would be too dark and scary for children to see. I liked the idea of how Burton made this project in homage to “Frankenstein” form 1931, and in the film’s climax, it resembles the film’s ending. If only disney knew they would be seeing moreof Burton in the future. Eventually Paul Reubens seen “Frankenweenie” and chose Burton to direct his spin-off of Pee-Wee Herman.

Pee-Wee’s big Adventure to Batman Returns
His first feature film may not have received much praise but “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” was Burton’s first attempt and even here, he implemented his style with a few of the scenes and effects. After 1986, he would go on to making Beetlejuice in 1988, which is another Burton-styled film that is definitely his funniest work. It stars Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis in a frantic and fun comedy satire that pokes fun at death. It was after Beetlejuice he then went on to direct his first big action film being “Batman”. Since its release, it has many mixed reviews and in all honesty, it was a terrific film. For one of Burton’s earliest films he touched it well and it even stars Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as the joker. Many say Nicholson steals the spotlight of the film, but tied in with great action, Nicholson and some comedy moments, it is a great film. Now Burton' name has become familiar with the critics and film industry.

After “Batman” Burton now wanted to make a film of his own creation, and up came “Edward Scissorhands”, a story based on a character Burton had drawn in his childhood. The story was wholesome, touching and wonderfully bright with young Johnny Depp’s breath-taking performance. It was a great leap for both their careers and Burton would collide again with Depp in the future. After Scissorhands in 1990, Burton began another one of his own creations and this time it would be a venture into stop motion. “The Nightmare before Christmas” is based on a poem Burton previously had written. Burton and Denise DiNovi created the screenplay and Henry Selick directed the film. The film took three years of production, and in 1993, it was complete under the help with Disney. Although not a box-office smash, it has gained cult status and for me it is one of the best-animated films of all time. The film is wonderfully magical animation can compare with today’s CGI because of its depth and style.

Batman Forever was released in 1992 and to critical acclaim that it was either darker, or lighter than the previous film. I would probably say it is darker than the last. It stars Keaton as Batman again, Danny DeVito as the penguin man (whose shape and figure suited it so well) and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. With a main villain and the Catwoman (who is between good and bad) the story gets quite complex making it completely wild. Still, a very fun action film has some great action sequences.

Ed Wood 1994.
Ed Wood to Big fish
Sleepy Hollow 1999.
 So far Burton has made a good lot of films and is now becoming the next big thing in Hollywood. Now he would lunge into a biopic film, “Ed Wood”. Burton chose Johnny Depp to play the role of Ed Wood D. Wood Jr., who is acclaimed as one of the worst director of all time. The film released in 1994 and got reasonably positive reviews. Depp was excellent as Ed Wood and the film is terrific depicting the life of a director who may not have made good films, but loved what he done. After Ed Wood Burton went on to directing and writing, “Mars Attacks!” which is for me, his worst film so far into his career at that point. It tells a story of Martians invading with about 12 main characters in a way and involves the use of some early CGI. The film had an immense cast that had Jack Nicholson, Jack Black, Glenn Close, Danny Devito, Michael J. Fox, Natlie Portman and even Tom Jones.  “Mars Attacks!” was a bit of a failure but the next film up would be “Sleepy Hollow” in 1999. 

Burton chose Depp to play the main role and this time we venture into the world of “Sleepy Hollow” and Ichabod Crane. The story was great and Burton once more gave it a Burton-esque touch. It received mixed reviews from critics, but mostly positive.  The story was perfect, the effects where nice and Depp and the others were great in their roles. After this Burton would go on to make the remake of “The Planet of the Apes”, from 1968. 

Although this is the only Burton film, I have not seen it has been said to be worse than the original, a pattern that seems only natural. During this time, Burton also began to date Helena Bonham-Carter, who also starred in Burton’s remake. Burton is still Helena’s domestic partner and they now have two children. The film was released in 2001. Now Burton is a full time director with many a film behind him. He then went on to making “big fish” which is a great drama film looking over the life of a strange man. It got good reception from critics and audiences alike. Next up is Chocolate!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to now
Most people will say the original is better, yes it is, but this remake is still great. Depp is no Wilder but his performance was eccentric, goofy and funny. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” also received mixed criticism mostly positive. After this Burton would now venture into a world he had not went into for well over a decade, stop-motion. In 2006 Burton created “Corpse Bride” a wonderfully stop-motion film that is beautifully shot and has an excellent story, alongside voice acting form his domestic partner Helena and Johnny Depp. Once again, burton made another great film that audiences and critics loved.

Sweeney Todd 2007.
The next film he went on to direct was “Sweeney Todd:  the Demon Barber of Fleet Street”, a musical horror film. With shades of grey on the colour palette Burton captures the 19th century London look with finesse. It is one of Burton’s best films and is the sixth collaboration he had with Johnny Depp. Burton in 2008 produced a film called “9” which released on 9/09/09. His latest directorial film is “Alice in Wonderland” form 2010, which may have grossed just over $1 billion worldwide, but received negative criticism. It is packed with CGI and the story is weak. Definitely, the worst Burton film worst since “Mars Attacks!”.

The Next Projects:
Well unfortunately there is no Burton film for 2011, but 2012 is a stop-motion feature length film based on his short film “Frankenweenie”. This is exciting because you do not get stop-motion films very often. He is also set to direct a film adaptation based on the television series “Dark Shadows”. Johnny Depp will portray Barnabas Collins as well as co-produce the film, and Seth Grahame-Smith is currently writing the script. However, Dark Shadows will be pushed back due to Depp and Burton's commitments to other projects. During Comic-Con 2009, Burton confirmed that “Dark Shadows” will be his next film.

This gratifying term is often used as a descriptive word for a style. Ray Harryhausen and German Expressionists such as F.W Murnau have partly affected Burton’s style. His artistic touch can be seen in films like “Edward Scissorhands” “Beetle Juice” and most of all, “The nightmare before Christmas”.  With pointy edged objects, crooked doors and exaggerated shapes, his style feels unique. He does not only have a vividly wonderful imagination and look to his films, but his way of storytelling is fresh. His story of Edward Scissorhands it touching because of its relation to his hard teenage life and can relate to being out of touch with others.

Burton has had a big influence on me and was the first director I ever had ever fallen in love with (not in that way you dummy’s!). His films are responsible for me sitting here writing about films to be exact. His wonderful and vivid imagination throughout his great films was what first captured me into the world of cinema many years ago. Although he has been bunked down my favourite directors list by others like Stanley Kubrick, Charlie Chaplin and Christopher Nolan he is still one of my favourites.  Today some of Burton’s artistry work is in the museum of modern art, and it is all too easy to see why.  There is just something wholesome and unique in his films like many of the great directors out there.

Among the great names of today's cinema such as Chrisopher Nolan, David Fincher and Peter Jackson, Burton sits among them. He is one of modern cinemas geniuses who has a wide inventory of films behind him and will hopefully go on to make even more great stylistic and lovable films. Although there are only around 4 of his films that I would give 9/10 or above, most of his films are lovable and his wok in "Nightmare before Christmas" was just wonderful.Although, a times his films are weak, his good films prevail the bad.

Burton with Helena Bonham
I know my overview is quite long, but there is a lot to say about him since I have seen all but a few of the films he has been associated with in his career. Sure, he's a little bit weird, but aren't most great people? Most people probably will not agree with me on him being one of the best, but the films he chooses to direct feel different ad he always touches it with visionary grace. He has become a big influence on me and I am sure many others. He had a hard time growing up, was very artistic, and eventually rose to success. Burton is a director who knows the craft of film well and is one of the directors today who is not just in the business for money. Overall, Burton is an almighty influence to me whose crafting style will be remembered and his directorial ability I hope will impress us in the future.

Top Ten Burton Films (as director):
  1. Edward Scissorhands
  2. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
  3. Ed Wood
  4. Corpse Bride
  5. Beetlejuice
  6. Big Fish
  7. Sleepy Hollow
  8. Batman
  9. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  10. Batman Returns
    *As with many of my lists, it will likely change in the future.*

    Director Score: 84/100
    Influence Score: 87/100


    1. World's Best? Nah. some good films but he is wildly inconsistant. Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate factory were not good films. There is Danny Boyle, Darren Afonosky, Paul Thomas Anderson, Del Toro who are better filmmakers in my eyes. Of course Fincher as well. Scorcese is still working.

    2. I did not say he was the best. One of the best :) And Alice in wonderland is a bad film. Thanks for commenting.

    3. Great article dude I really like Tim Burton one of the few directors to infuse his own style. My favorite are two Sleepy Hollow and A Nightmare Before Christmas.

    4. Oh yeah to the max!!!! I couldn't agree more with you. Brilliant creator with vivid imagination, that can almost always fascinates me. Even in his so-called bad movies, which of course he has like every great director, (I believe that "failure" can be a good thing from time to time) I always find something to gaze at. Awesome top ten and excellent blog entry :D

    5. Great write up! I didn't know he worked on Fox and the Hound! Good to know. I think Burton is heavily snubbed by the cinephile population. I think he's really different and manages to capture the darkness of his films superbly. I absolutely love Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd. Both very finely crafted films.

    6. Before we go and hand it to him as the world's best, the country's best, the best all time or the best of anything..... forget it. This guy will be like yesterday's news for making forgettable films in the test of time.

    7. I know I did not type that but that is what I meant to say. I stand corrected.



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