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Marshall Fine

Marshall Fine

Posted: March 26, 2010 06:44 AM

Annals of the Over-Rated: Tim Burton

What's Your Reaction:

America (and the world) has spoken: The less-than-mediocre Alice in Wonderland is a hit.

Allow me to disagree. Tim Burton is Exhibit A for my unified theory of movies, which goes like this:

You can be a great storyteller without being a great filmmaker. But you can't be a great filmmaker without also being a great storyteller.

Under that equation, Burton will never be a great filmmaker because story is so much of an afterthought in his movies. Sometimes that matters more than others -- but it is Burton's great failing as a filmmaker (evidenced by his awful Alice in Wonderland) and what makes him so overrated as a director.

I will stipulate to several things about Burton: that he has directed films that I've enjoyed (Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Ed Wood, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and all of Sweeney Todd except Helena Bonham Carter's wretched singing).

I'll also agree that, as stylists go, Burton has one of the most fertile imaginations working in film today. He has the eye of a visual artist (hence, the ongoing exhibit at New York's Museum of Modern Art).

But as a storyteller, he's generally a flop. He's always so enamored of his imagery that story regularly lands on the backburner while he indulges his artistic whims, at the expense of pace, momentum and story logic. Yet he's been kicky and kinky enough to seduce otherwise serious critics into buying his emperor's-new-clothes act for more than two decades.

Here comes the sacrilege: I never thought that either of Burton's Batman movies worked. I drew howls of protest when I slagged Batman Returns in my Alice review earlier this month ("I hate to break it to you," wrote one commenter, "but Batman Returns was a hit"). But I'll go further and say that Burton's Batman wasn't much better.

That film, which starred Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, is still something of a touchstone for a certain generation of filmgoers who happened to come of age when the film was released. If you see it through the lens of nostalgia -- remembered from a period of raging hormones and emotional upheaval that are the high-school and college years -- no doubt Batman has a cherished place in your heart.

Yet, as a comic-book movie, Batman is pretty deadly. The essence of the genre is action -- along with tension, jeopardy, excitement and humor. But Batman has only humor - and self-aware, campy humor at that, of the type most identified with the TV series of the 1960s. Honestly -- a Joker heist set to a Prince funk score?

This commentary continues on my website.

 
 
 

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