Technically, War for the Planet of the Apes is a triumph. There are no two ways about it. The fully computer-generated ape protagonists aren’t perfect all of the time just yet, but they have heft and weight and they’re expressive and believable – and while I cannot say how much of the performance is the work of the actors and how much is the animators’, all of these deserve all the praise they receive and more. Outside fully animated films of the Disney and Pixar kind, I cannot remember a film that relied so heavily on non-human protagonists where, after a few minutes, you accept and stop thinking about the fact that the leads in the story aren’t the same species as you.
It’s been a while since I really liked a Tim Burton movie. Sleepy Hollow looked great, but I felt that the romantic subplot between Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci was tacked on, and largely as a result the film felt mean-spirited to me. Mars Attacks! was half an hour of great over-the-top black comedy padded to an indecent extent with boring SFX bits and cameos. Planet of the Apes was, well, Planet of the Apes. Big Fish annoyed me more than most movies I’ve seen in the past few years; it was aggressively sentimental and the old guy simply angered me with his chronic need to be the centre of attention. (If I’d been the Billy Crudup character, I would have suffocated Daddy Dearest with a pillow ten minutes into the movie.) Corpse Bride was okay and nicely done, but it was no Nightmare before Christmas – the characters were flatter, the music less memorable, and the bits that were best felt like rehashed bits of Halloween Town.
As I wrote recently, I enjoyed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory quite a bit, but it’s not the sort of film that I’d need to see more than once. All in all, I wasn’t sure what to expect of Sweeney Todd, since I’d heard mixed things. I’m not the greatest fan of musicals (even though I keep finding myself wanting to rewatch “Once More, With Feelings”), and I wasn’t sure whether anything new or interesting would come out of Tim Burton working with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter yet again.
We sat in the very front row at the cinema, since all the other seats were already taken. Not the best starting point for an enjoyable evening at the cinema (and I’d rather not tell you about the Mexican restaurant beforehand… I may very well have woken tonight, screaming the lyrics of that horrible Latin-y Happy Birthday song they played at top volume).
I think I was riveted about two minutes into the film. Like Sleepy Hollow, the atmosphere was great – the film was one of those that you should be able to frame and hang on the wall. But unlike that throat-wounding movie, this one had better writing and, accordingly, better, more believable characters. While the film was visibly artificial, it didn’t feel fake like many of Burton’s worlds tend to do. And the emotions on the screen felt more… well, more grown up, for want of a better term. There’s something very child-like (sometimes indeed childish) to many of Burton’s works, and in the case of Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood it works quite well, but it was getting tired and stale. By comparison, this film felt like Jacobean revenge tragedy – bloody, passionate, alive and raw.
P.S.: It’s a shame that Anthony Head (yes, I squeaked “It’s Giles!” at the cinema) didn’t get to do more on screen. Apparently he recorded some songs, but they didn’t make it into the final version of the film.
P.P.S.: For the first time, in this movie I saw why some people think Neil Gaiman and Alan Rickman look alike. When the latter doesn’t do his patented “Where are ze fucking detonators?” sneer, he does look and even sound a bit like Mr. Sandman.
I used to be a big Tim Burton fan. I greatly enjoyed his dark romanticism of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Batman Returns is probably my favourite Batman film. (Batman Begins does better action, but it lacks the inventiveness and the compelling relationships between characters such as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Selina Kyle/Catwoman. Michael Caine’s Alfred rules, though.) And even if Nightmare Before Christmas was directed by Henry Selick, it still oozed Burtonesque style from every semi-putrescent orifice. It had the Tim Burton soul.
Then came Mars Attacks!, a nice half-hour comedy stuck in a two-hour movie, and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow – a film that looked gorgeous (I never knew there were so many colours in grey before that movie) but had a meanness that hadn’t been in the previous films. The less said about Burton’s Planet of the Apes, the better. And Big Fish, even though lots of people liked it, always struck me as a smug, self-satisfied piece of schmaltz. It sides unequivocally with a self-infatuated, selfish boor who needs to stand at the centre of attention. (I very much saw where Billy Crudup’s character was coming from… Personally I would have strangled Daddy Storyteller in his sleep halfway through my childhood if I was him.) When I first saw the trailers for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I was suspicious. Actually, no. I was turned off. I thought they looked loud, crude, tacky and tasteless. None of that weirdo “I’m a goth, please give me a hug” sweetness of the early films. In spite of liking Roald Dahl, I gave Charlie a wide berth.
Until they showed it on television last week. We watched it, expecting very little… but roughly five minutes into the film we both had silly grins on our faces. From the first scene, the snow swirling around the Warner Brothers logo and the strains of Danny Elfman’s orchestral score, it felt like the Tim Burton I’d come to love. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is by no means perfect, and there are moments that are too shrill for their own good. It’s also somewhat let down by an overly sentimental, almost Disney-ish streak of “Family matters”. But on the whole it gets the balance between quirkiness, whimsy and sentiment just right, helped along by the touching earnestness of the title character and an almost surreal, dark streak that comes from Willy Wonka, arguably one of Burton’s most troubled characters yet, and the Oompa Loompas.
Based on this movie, I can say that I’m again looking forward to the next film by Tim Burton for the first time in years.