The evolution of Tim Burton 

From war to economic unrest, the last few years have been trying, to say the least. Filmmakers have reacted accordingly. Take Steven Spielberg, who typically produces escapist entertainment. He reflected our post 9/11 fears with his paranoid thrillers, Minority Report, War of the Worlds and Munich. If anyone should depict these bleak times, though, it should be gothic mastermind Tim Burton. However, as the times get tougher, Burton just gets softer.

Burton's early films are dense, gritty and uncompromisingly strange. Batman Returns must have seemed like a sick prank to most audiences when it was released. Those expecting a traditional superhero yarn were treated instead to a dark, somber film about scarred pasts and broken identities. Michael Keaton's Batman is not a fun, larger-than-life character, but a deeply conflicted man and battered warrior at the end of his rope. He doesn't just rough up criminals or scare them - he kills them in cold blood. He's surrounded by similarly disturbed, morally ambiguous characters - the freakish Penguin (Danny DeVito) and deranged Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) to name a few. These characters are not much different from Burton's most famous outcast character, the innocent yet knife-wielding Edward Scissorhands. They are dangerous and Burton's ability to stir up sympathy for them is what attracted people to his films.

Burton's latest hero is an innocent, pretty young girl with blonde hair; the manifestation of his recent films. Like the title character in Alice in Wonderland, Burton's films are now lighthearted and amiable. Their heroes are no longer outcasts, but ordinary people with extraordinary dreams. Take Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for example. Earlier in his career, Burton would have sympathized with a demented character like Willy Wonka. Now, he focuses on the hopeful young boy, Charlie. It seems Burton doesn't want to relate to the tortured outcasts anymore.

Even Burton's "horror" films are lighter. Sweeney Todd and Sleepy Hollow present violence with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Burton's gothic worlds used to be richly unsettling, but now they are fun and even comforting. In this sense, his film voice is regressing. The Batman films and Edward Scissorhands feel like the work of a mature, cynical filmmaker whereas his recent films seem like the early efforts of a budding director looking ahead at a bright future. Also like a young director, he's now paying homage to other filmmakers rather than using his own style. This is most evident in Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd - both tributes to the Hammer Horror films of the 50s.

Burton's greatest talent was his ability to make spectacular fantasy worlds feel lived in and real. Now these settings unfortunately feel like mere fantasy worlds and his movies feel like, well, movies. My hope is that Burton gets back in touch with the times and faces harsh reality, bringing him back to his old self - the filmmaker we loved with the films we looked forward to.


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Sam Watermeier

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