Tim Burton. You either love him or you hate him. I think he´s a genius. Sure he has a few flops, but who doesn´t? Even Stephen Spielberg can’t escape that. And that old jab that he hits upon the same themes over and over, and that his style doesn’t seem to change much is simply absurb. This is true for most artists (and in the film world Wes Anderson is another that particularly comes to mind).
Recently he’s gone through a bout of nostalgia, helping to resurrect the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows alongside Seth Grahame-Smith, and more recently bringing his own live-action short, Frankenweenie, to life again in a new animated feature (ironically resurrection is a central part of both these films). I can’t say these are his best films, but they are fun, and they have much merit.
What I noticed most about Burton’s Dark Shadows is the attention he payed to each and every shot. His palate of colors and lighting is so boldly contrasted, ranging from dark grey-tones to bright and colorful pastels, playing not only on the stereotypical monster movie but also capturing the vibe of a late-60s-early-70s soap opera. And what I was even fonder of was the many homages he made throughout the film (well, the movie in its entirety was an homage to what I imagine was the Buffy the Vampire Slayer of its time, attempting to be serious but being nothing more than laughable, yet still enjoyable). I caught many allusions to the classics: Frankenstein, Dracula, Nosferatu, American Werewolf, and even Hocus Pocus.
It is an anti-dark-comedy-horror beginning in New England during the infancy of America. Barnabas Collins is the son of a wealthy fisherman whose created an empire after migrating from Liverpool. He’s in mutual love with a girl named Jossette, but loved by a witch he’s had an affair with. The witch, Angelique, murders Jossette out of jealousy and dooms Barnabas to an eternity of being a vampire, buried alive by the townsfolk.
Some years later Barnabas is freed only to find that the town’s fishing empire has now been usurped by none other than Angelique herself. He returns to his parents’ mansion, where the descendents of his family still live (ill-mannered and idiotic), and begins rebuilding their dominance. A caretaker, named Victoria and who bears an eerie resemblance to the late Jossette, becomes the new object of his affection. What plays out is a quirky (yet terrifying at times) reiteration of the earlier story. Certainly not a masterpiece by any means, but it has everything that a good Halloween movie needs. This I think will be its legacy.
A couple years ago, after watching another great Halloween film, The Nightmare Before Christmas, my girlfriend and I decided to explore the DVD’s special features. Included were two of Burton’s original short films, the live-action Frankenweenie and the claymated Vincent. The first being about a boy whose dog is killed and so he sets out to resurrect him by the same means Shelley’s famous monster is, the second about a boy who wants to be like Vincent price, both being brilliant. What Burton does for his most recent film, Frankenweenie, is mashup the story of the former with the animation style of the latter.
This is simply a great reiteration and expansion of the original. It is filmed in stunning black and white, with beautifully dramatic lighting. It is a vivid audio-visual experience. For me it’s always refreshing to see an artist return to their roots, and work in the styles they are best with (claymation being Burton’s strongest media). And if Burton puts himself in any character, it’s in Vincent Frankenstein (the main character here). He is a filmmaker who is a little odd, yet loving and dedicated all the same. We see all these qualities in Burton’s professional and personal lives. He definitely put some heart into this film and it shows.
Burton’s sets are always immaculately designed, his characters and costumes well thought out, and his shots interesting and composed. In both Dark Shadows and Frankenweenie he does not disappoint. As a bonus we get some new original macabre writing in the latter. Both are monster movies with a sense of humor, perfect for Halloween (as most of Burton’s work is), and just what we’d expect, but worthy of praise all the same.