It would seem to me that Tim Burton’s feature film career thus far can be placed into two catagories, those made prior to 1999 and those made afterwards. 1999 being the year of ‘Sleepy Hollow‘, the film I believe marks the end of Burton’s first period if you like. That period included greats such as ‘Betelgeuse‘, ‘Batman‘, ‘Edward Scissorhands‘, ‘Batman Returns‘, and ‘Ed Wood‘. Far more hits than misses, if any misses at all. The first post ‘Sleepy Hollow‘ Burton film was his misjudged 2001 remake of ‘Planet of the Apes‘, as well as the dissapointing ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory‘, and most recently the odd feeling ‘Alice in Wonderland‘. Sandwiched amoungst these were the fabulous ‘Big Fish‘ and the joyously black ‘Sweeney Todd‘. So by no means a bad run of movies AT ALL, but there is certainly a distinctly different feel to his post ’99 movies.., and why not, any artist should have the freedom to explore new paths and new textures.
I do however feel that some of Burton’s uniqueness has been lost in these latter films. I don’t want to get hung up on the “it’s just not a Tim Burton film” argument that always does the rounds with each new film that distances itself from his older catalogue of work. Some people said that ‘Psycho‘ wasn’t very Hitchcock back in 1960. One note of thought is that since (and including) ‘Planet of the Apes‘ all of Burton’s feature projects have been produced by legendary producer Richard Zanuck. It would almost seem like Zanuck is hand picking projects for Burton that seem like perfect Burton matches; ‘Apes‘, ‘Charlie‘, ‘Todd‘, and ‘Alice‘.., who wouldn’t want to see Burton’s take on these twisted tales? Maybe that’s the problem.
Personally I found ‘Alice‘ an odd Burton experience.., as an auteur (and I truly believe he is one, and will be treasured as so in decades to come) I didn’t feel that I was watching a visionary filmmaker at work. Yes the imagery, as always (he is indeed an artist) was beautiful and the Mad hatter had Burton written all over him. However, imagery aside it lacked some of his early works nuances, clever black humour, wit, and character richness. Most disappointing is the final third which was sadly reminiscent of any standard Hollywood fantasy. But this isn’t a review, merely a comment to say that post ‘Alice‘ I would love to see Burton return to perhaps a more intimate personal tale, maybe a Burton original, his mind after all must be bursting with ideas. I think it’s important that future projects aren’t simply assessed on the prefix of “that is SO Burton, I’d love to see his take on that“.