Given the lacklustre treatment this film had on its recent Blu-ray release it’s good to see it (bizarrely looking better) in the DVD set, and Mars Attacks! is one of the funniest of Burton’s films, in fact you can imagine the director cacklingly wide-eyed around the set as he brought his own brand of apocalypse to the party Independence Day begin a few years earlier.
Nicholson returns in a dual role, Pierce Brosnan loses his head, Michael J. Fox lends a hand, Jack Black gets an early role (and an early exit) and in a film where Sylvia Sidney’s taste in music saves the world you really struggle to stifle the laughs as the world comes to a ridiculous end. Oh, and Tom Jones is in it. Therefore it is aces.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Roald Dahl’s cautionary tales have been much loved by children since their publication, not least for the gleeful depiction of the dangers of being an absolute git and though Burton chose to focus on the enigma of the lonely confectioner there is much to enjoy about the various fates befalling the children who compete, complain and cajole to win a lifetime’s supply of chocolate.
Johnny Depp’s Jackoesque performance was a necessary and direct contrast to Gene Wilder’s take on Wonka but the production design and ambiguous nature of the chocolatier is typical Burton and there’s a lot to enjoy in this film.
In Depp Burton found a perfect muse for his misfit heroes and from Edwards Scissorhands and Ed Wood there is a soulful melancholy to his work with the director which thrusts to the heart of why we love to see the worlds Burton creates. Though here in this particular Candyland Burton and Depp are having fun with the collision of internal and external worlds their next live action venture would be something altogether darker…
Before we get to that particular feast there is a wonderful diversion in Burton’s collaboration with the director and stop motion animator Mike Johnson with whom he worked previously on another Dahl adaptation, James and the Giant Peach. Corpse Bride has the familiar journey between this world and the next with some astonishing character designs and another sorrowful performance from Depp as Victor whose arranged wedding goes awry when he accidentally proposes to a tree (whose roots contain a finger from a murdered bride) and is hauled to the Land of the Dead to go through with his new wedding.
Burton’s love affair with stop motion pays off handsomely here as the characters coming to life in an extraordinary fashion. Danny Elfman’s music reaches new heights here with the main title score a joyous highlight, I’ve included it below as it’s easily one of my favourite pieces of film music.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s musical was brought to grim life on screen with Burton and Depp reteaming once again to the fill the air with blood and song as the tale of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street is told in gruesome detail.
The London created by Burton has echos of Gotham but there is a far greater variety of reprobate squirming through the crowded streets and Depp’s barber takes vengeance against his wife’s suicide by filling the meat pies of his neighbouring pie shop with his murdered clients.
It is one of the darkest turns for both actor and director, with Burton’s usual flair for the ugly and beautiful in grim harmony. It’s moral compass may spin furiously throughout and the film does suffer because of it however there’s much to enjoy here as Burton’s sharp and savage interpretation of Sondheim’s famed musical is brough, kicking and screaming, to life.
Looking beyond the boxset on offer here if you’re discovering the work of TIm Burton I can highly recommend the overlooked Big Fish as another beautifully told fairy tale, it has a lot of heart and some fantastic visual moments. Ed Wood also has a fine central performance from Depp, and the relationship between Wood and Bela Lugosi (played with heart rending despondency by Martin Landau) is one of Burton’s finest and his love for film making is apparent everywhere here, truly his position as champion of the cinematic underdog has never been more overt.