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Writer's Viewpoint: Tim Burton Has Become A Fad Disguised As Art

August 19th, 2009 10:40am EDT
Tim BurtonI'm not against fads per se, but this Tim Burton mess bothers me. It's not the kind of harmless era-defining fad that jelly bracelets and scrunchies were in the 80s, and it's certainly not as subtle as Apple's catchy use of the lower-case "i."

Since the turn of the new millennium, Tim Burton has emerged as a kind of self-perpetuating cultural organism, eating other fads and franchises as it grows overstuffed and unable to control its own ego. And now it might be too late for us to do anything about it. It's like a monster straight out of, well - a Tim Burton film.

The kind of people who defend Tim Burton films are your hipster friends who like to pretend that they know something about film. Get mad if you want, but make a quality argument to what artistic vision Burton added to Washington Irving's classic tale of folklore gone awry. (And do it without saying the words Johnny or Depp.)

Mentioning this in conversation is the kind of blaspheme that Burtonites don't take too kindly to. "Burton is a genius!" they hiss. "He took Irving's hokey story and made it watchable. He added his unique vision to Irving's idea," they insist. It could be said that Irving's famous story needed no additional vision or that what Burton really did was reshape the story entirely so that it was digestible to a mass audience, but it's safer to change the subject to something like the war or gay rights.

"Planet of the Apes" was the Burton blob's next victim. Just as he'd discarded Irving's poignancy in favor of Johnny Depp's funny looking glasses, he showed little regard for the social claustrophobia of Rod Serling and Michael Wilson's original screenplay, not to mention pitching out Pierre Boulle's novel altogether. Burton seemed to favor high-stakes action and romance set in a replication of the world, which popular culture has embraced as a kind of inversion of our own. Of course, the end result made absolutely no sense, even in a mass consumer kind of way. But the formula endures.

Planet Of The Apes

Image © Courtesy BH Impact



Exhibit C, of course, would be the appalling "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", in which Burton famously decried the merits of the original, saying that he'd never actually seen the film and wanted to do something based more on the book. Who knows how much of this is true. Burton's film was actually a greater departure from the book than Mel Stuart's original, and Johnny Depp's depiction of Wonka is more akin to the creepier versions of Michael Jackson from tabloid videos than the mad genius of Gene Wilder.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Image © 2005 Warner Bros. Entertainment



Despite all of this, Burton himself is not a bad director. His work in the 90s demonstrated a powerful visionary style that would grow into the clandestine culture eater that it's become, now that its being wielded by an exploitative industry that Burton can't seem to break free of. "Big Fish" demonstrated that Burton still has good in him, but since then we've seen it squandered away with large soulless productions of "Willy Wonka" and "Sweeney Todd." Now comes his inevitable re-imagining of Lewis Carroll's beloved "Alice in Wonderland."

The reason that these movies keep happening is because sadly they are generally well received by, we can only assume, people that defend Burton's shameless replication of culture merely for the sake of his own aestheticism. And why not? "Edward Scissorhands" was good. "Nightmare Before Christmas" was good (Tim Burton didn't direct this one, by the way, although he gets credit for the vision). "Batman" was good. So it follows that Burton's vision fused with our valued cultural gems would also be good. Wouldn't it?

Imagine high school and college kids watching "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and thinking, "We like this, don't we? Yes. We actually like this. Johnny Depp is good, right? He is." This is the definition of a fad, and Tim Burton has become a fad disguised as art, much like the more overtly exploitative use of the "Star Wars" brand.

The general formula for these films has become quite apparent, and we're already seeing it with "Alice in Wonderland." The fanbase has already emerged like an electronic storm to bash anyone who thinks Johnny Depp is wearing way too much makeup as the Mad Hatter. The Burton blob will swell until the film's release, and then there will be a sudden roar as it kills off another great American fable. Satisfied fans will applaud because it's Burton, and he must be good, and then there will be the quiet hush as we wait for the next, having already forgotten the one that came before, just as we've already forgotten "Sleepy Hollow", "Planet of the Apes", "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", and "Sweeny Todd". Just keep purchasing those Jack Skellington socks and Edward Sissorhands T-shirts at Hot Topic.

And just for those wondering, the next in line are reportedly George Orwell's famous novel "1984" and the classic series "Dark Shadows." Kiss them "re-imagined" and "goodbye."

What do you think of Tim Burton? Is he a fad or fabulous? Let us know in the comments!

Eric Jones
Story by Eric Jones

Starpulse contributing writer