Something Simian, Something Sinister

By John Anderson

From Newsday (New York, NY), 07.27.2001

(2 STARS) PLANET OF THE APES. (PG-13) U.S. Air Force pilot, sucked up by a celestial wormhole, is spit out on a planet ruled by fascist primates. Tim Roth dominates as the big bad ape, the set design is inspired, but you might say the human element is lacking. And that ending? Possibly written by a chimp. With Mark Wahlberg, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan, Paul Giamatti, Estella Warren, Charlton Heston. Screenplay by William Broyles Jr., Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal, based on the novel “Monkey Planet” by Pierre Boulle. Directed by Tim Burton. 1:40 (violence). At area theaters.

SLINKING, SNARLING AND sniffing his enemies with murderous intent, Tim Roth’s uber-primate General Thade gives the new and not quite improved “Planet of the Apes” nearly the juice it needs to save itself, if not the entire movie summer. But in trying to reverse the plotline of the original five films, director Tim Burton has also reversed their attitude, too: Instead of clumsily executed, overly serious sci-fi, we now get something glitteringly facile, and cripplingly glib.

Flipping the apes-as-slaves motif of “Conquest of” and “Battle for the Planet of the Apes,” Burton’s film proposes an ape-run planet in which humans are not just enslaved but, in Thade’s view, dangerous enough to warrant total extinction. Into this totalitarian nightmare rockets Air Force pilot Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg), refugee from the space station Oberon, who valiantly follows one of his ship’s worker chimps through an electro-magnetic time warp and finds himself hip-deep in monkeys and metaphor.

Burton’s film, marked by the visual grandeur that has always been his calling card, is saddled with a script by William Broyles Jr., Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal that goes for the gag every time it can – often feebly, sometimes desperately. This is done largely, but not always, by quoting liberally from the celebrated 1968 ancestor of the entire cult, the film in which Charlton Heston – who appears here to deliver an ironic, albeit self-serving anti-gun message – found his destiny in the Forbidden Zone.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. “Damn them all to Hell!!!” Heston bellows, as Thade’s ailing ape father, who knows the legacy of humankind. “Take your stinking hands off me, you damned dirty human!!” a soldier ape tells a beaten Leo, the latter struggling to his feet. “Can’t we all just get along?” asks the sniveling Limbo (Paul Giamatti), the comical slave trader whose Rodney King line resurrects, with little apparent thought, the race-relations subtext of the old “Apes” series.

Roth aside, the cast is a handicap: Wahlberg can’t carry a movie like this; the ubiquitous Estella Warren, playing a human, is singularly unconvincing. But what makes Burton’s ape world more compelling than the original is that the gap between primate and man is so much smaller than it was back when Heston crash-landed. His character, Taylor, found an ape civilization advanced to about the point of the early Renaissance; had Galileo been an advocate of human rights – humans being mute and mangy – he would have been excommunicated by the movie’s fundamentalist orangutans/guardians of primate culture.

In the new film, the apes are pre-Hastings, post-Athens, a little to the right of the Caesars’ Rome. Apt, given the movie Burton is really remaking.

It may simply be that Stanley Kubrick’s presence is as palpable this summer as it has been in 20 years, but Burton’s “Apes” isn’t just a classic western (Leo drops in, fights evil, rides on). It’s also “Spartacus.” Thade, like Laurence Olivier’s Crassus, uses the slave revolt instigated by Leo to consolidate political power. Leo, reluctant hero, is able to organize the human swarm into a fighting force willing to confront the overwhelming power of the empire’s “legions” and die for freedom. Ari (Helena Bonham Carter), child of a senator and with a pretty obvious cross-species attraction for Leo, sides with the enemies of her race (see Jean Simmons). There are scenes in obvious homage to Kubrick’s gladiator movie, but to explain them further would give away the ending upon which the enjoyment of this “Apes” no doubt depends.

And yes, there is a “surprise ending.” The guess is here that knowing laughs will anticipate that final befuddling shot, with irritation to follow: While most of this “Planet of the Apes” is built on a fairly solid, inventive narrative structure, the twist Burton leaves us with is just a joke – something in keeping with the rest of his film, but somewhat unworthy of the decades-long devotion on which he and Fox are hoping to cash in.


By Nigel Andrews

From Financial Times (London), 02.01.1992

The New Man, as we all know, is gentle, caring and Politically Correct. He helps with the washing up and changes baby’s nappies. He makes sure the goldfish has fresh water, the dog has a good book and the cat is on a high-fibre vegetarian diet. He croons his wife to sleep and then spends all night studying Dr Spock.

We have to ask at this point: Where is the New Man in modern cinema? The film heroes on video this month include Arnold Schwarzenegger stomping around futuristic Los Angeles smashing everything and everyone in sight in Terminator 2 (Guild); Bruce Willis brawling and ladykilling across New York and Europe in Hudson Hawk (20:20); a whole lot of gun-toting blacks blasting us out of our sofas in New Jack City (Warner); and Gerard Depardieu battering Isabelle Huppert into romantic submission in the French film Loulou (Artificial Eye).

Popular ideology likes the New Man. Popular entertainment loathes him. And video culture may be part of the reason. With its stress on short-attention-span storytelling, where every scene must pack a punch to keep the home viewer’s finger off the fast-forward button and his mind off the rival TV channels, video demands high-definition heroes with no-nonsense virility.

The world sometimes makes penance for this by throwing charity money at a film like Dances With Wolves (Guild). But there is a deep and essential Jekyll-and-Hyde duality in the simultaneous rise of the caring male in modern sociological fashion and the Cro-Magnon super-hero in modern cinematic fashion.

Indeed in today’s movies the sensitive male must be surreal to be believed. He must be the crazed, poetic, topiarising youth created by a mad scientist in Edward Scissorhands (Fox), where he is played by Johnny Depp in all-Gothic leather as if he were Harpo Marx mugged by Kenneth Anger. Tim Burton’s fantasia in small-town America comes to us from the same writer-director who gave us Batman (Warners). In this, you recall, the hero is a masked avenger by night (all-male superhero) and a home-loving fellow by day (New Man), played by a Michael Keaton best-known previously for man-with-apron roles like Mr Mom.

In Edward Scissorhands the New Man is a gentle, adorable freak. In period guise he is much the same in Peter Medak’s film of the Craig-Bentley case Let Him Have It (1st Independent), where Bentley is a sweetnatured fellow of deprived IQ driven towards violence by his evil twin Craig. Medak builds a stylish, moody picture of 1950s Britain in this true-life tale of travestied justice–Bentley was hanged for a policeman’s murder he neither committed nor probably abetted–and he sharpens without caricaturing the contrast between the gangling, slow-witted hero and his pintsize Mephistopheles pal.

As the sum of these films shows, the cinema has a wonderful counterbalancing instinct. Every ideological posture that a new age brings provokes an equal and opposite counter-posture. For every gentle chap brought shyly towards the centre of action from screen left, his opposite is sent stomping in from screen right.

Which brings us back to the Stone Age superheroes we started with. I have tried to dislike Terminator 2, with its preposterous superhunk throwing his weight around post-nuclear L.A. But dear me, I would rather have Arnold Schwarzenegger in this mad, mythopoeic, metamorphic form than Kevin Costner tending the winsome Indians in Dances With Revisionism.

I cannot so keenly recommend Hudson Hawk or New Jack City: sometimes thick-eared machismo is just thick-eared machismo. But you should try the European thinking man’s answer to Mr Schwarzenegger, namely Monsieur Depardieu. In Maurice Pialat’s Loulou our Gerard is not so much a New Man, more an ageing hippie driven by Bachanialian demons. He sweeps a stunned-looking Isabelle Huppert off her feet, pushes aside her maturer boyfriend (Guy Marchand) and generally behaves as if he would not recognise Political Correctness between the sexes if it fell down from the sky and beaned him.


From The Los Angeles Times, 03.06.1992, Home Edition

Playing with Blame It on the Bellboy only at the El Capitan on Hollywood Boulevard is Tim Burton’s 29-minute Frankenweenie (1984), which is such an inspired, deft pleasure that it is almost worth the price of admission–almost because of today’s steep ticket prices and because Bellboy is not that good.

Shot in a luminous black-and-white, Frankenweenie anticipates subsequent Burton features–Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands in particular–in its love of the poignancy of old horror movies. Inspired by a school experiment on a frog, a small boy (Barret Oliver) turns the attic of his family’s home into a lab rigged up with household electrical appliances with which he intends to bring his beloved but recently deceased dog Sparky back to life. (It’s not for nothing that his family’s name is Frankenstein.)

Frankenweenie, written by Lenny Ripps from an idea by Burton, is a subtle parable on the fear of the unknown. It has terrific style, an appropriately thunderous score (by Michael Convertino and David Newman) and boasts Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern as the boy’s initially perplexed parents.


From The Toronto Sun, 10.28.2000

Twentieth Century Fox has taken the movie world by surprise by being the first to nail down release dates for their biggest films during the competitive summer 2001 season, Variety reports.

Prime among them is Sleepy Hollow director Tim Burton’s retelling of The Planet Of The Apes, which has been pushed back to July 27 from an original release date of July 4, Variety said.

The film stars Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth and Helena Bonham Carter in a reinterpretation of the sci-fi original, which starred Charlton Heston as an astronaut who crash-lands on a world ruled by talking apes.

Although most of the studios won’t be locking in their big summer projects for some time, Fox has already staked its claim to the prime slots.


From USA Today, 11.14.2000

In Hollywood, a well-known name is power. Trade publication The Hollywood Reporter today ranks more than 800 film directors based on bankability — the ability to draw financial backing (and moviegoers) based on the director’s name alone.

The top 10:

1 Steven Spielberg (Jurassic ParkSaving Private RyanE.T.Raiders of the Lost Ark)

2 James Cameron (TitanicTerminator)

3 George Lucas (Star WarsAmerican Graffiti)

4 Ron Howard (Apollo 13How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

5 Tim Burton (BatmanEdward Scissorhands)

6 Martin Scorsese (Raging BullGoodFellas)

7 John Woo (Face/OffMission: Impossible 2)

8 Ridley Scott (Blade RunnerGladiator)

9 Robert Zemeckis (Back to the FutureForrest Gump)

10 Michael Bay (The RockArmageddon)


From The Toronto Star, 10.02.1988, Sunday Second Edition

The blockbuster horror comedy Beetlejuice hits video this month, just in time for Halloween. We asked Catherine O’Hara, the SCTV star who plays its sort-of villain, Delia Deetz, to take us behind the scenes.

What was your first reaction to this very strange script?

“When I first read it, I didn’t know what the heck it meant. But it was intriguing. I pictured Beetlejuice being played by this lecherous old creep, and it scared me. But then they told me Michael (Keaton) was going to play it, and that changed it completely for me. It turned into what it is, as opposed to what I thought it was. My thinking was probably a little too linear.”

What about Delia? Did you base her on anyone real?

“Basically, I just thought of myself on my worst day. Initially I thought she was going to be this one-dimensional witch. I mean, she is the villain and everything, but instead of making her just mean, which is how I first read it, she just became someone that gets in everybody’s way because she’s so insecurely self-obsessed.”

Most people who’ve seen the movie say the “Day-O” dinner party is their favorite scene.

“That scene’s had such incredible response. I remember us all sitting around after the preview, trying to figure out why it works so well. But really, none of us had a clue.

“Filming it was interesting–we made each other laugh a lot. We had to shoot it in sequence because of the lip-synch, and there were a lot of reshoots for close-ups and angles, so we must have done it about a hundred times. The sight of Dick Cavett dancing around with his bum in the air . . .”

This had to be a pretty creepy set. Ever get scared?

“The worst was getting French-kissed by a snake–a fake snake. But the scene was cut, so I guess it didn’t work. There was one scene where they wound eight feet of snake body around my legs, and then pulled, so that when they ran it backwards, it looked like it was attacking me. Except the prop guy pulled too hard and I shot six feet into the air. I didn’t feel hurt, but I looked around and saw everyone looking at me as if I were dead. So I started to cry, because maybe I was dead.”

What sort of video library do you have at home?

“I’ve got The 10th Victim . . . we did it on SCTV once. It’s funny, sometimes I’ll be having a discussion about a classic movie, and suddenly realize that I’ve never seen it and that I’m actually talking about a parody we did. I’ve also got a couple of Jacques Tati films, and Dinner At Eight and Holiday Inn, and three copies of It’s A Wonderful Life. And After Hours and Heartburn, of course.

What’s coming up for you?

“I wish I knew. But I am doing a character on Marty Short’s Ed Grimley cartoon show. We all are–Joe Flaherty, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas. And I’ve got a small part in the new Batman movie (like Beetlejuice, directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton). It’s a death scene. I get to demonstrate how The Joker is going to destroy the world. Jack Nicholson is The Joker. He and Michael will be a great team.”


By Denise Abbott

From Hollywood Reporter — International Edition, vol 361 n 49, 02.29.2000Inside production designer Rick Heinrichs’ spooky settings for Sleepy Hollow

An ominous windmill lurks in the shadows of Sleepy Hollow and eventually becomes the backdrop for the film’s climactic good vs. evil sequence in which the Headless Horseman confronts Ichabod, Katrina and Young Masbath. In a sense, the scene showcases every aspect of the film’s production design. “One of the things we were trying to do,” explains production designer Rick Heinrichs, “was inspire a sense of scary portentousness in the village. I think it’s different from Irving’s Sleepy Hollow, which is described as a dozing Dutch farm community. If our Sleepy Hollow is asleep, it’s a fitful sort of sleep, with nightmares.”While the windmill is more fantasy than reality — with its “pure Burton Batwing” sails — Heinrichs considers the image a metaphor for the town’s restless spirits. “It’s a derelict windmill until Ichabod releases the lever and the sails begin to turn. It’s as if it’s being brought back to life. There’s a ‘living dead’ vibe going on.”

Heinrichs, who has known director Tim Burton for 20 years since their days at Disney’s animation studio, had hoped to build the windmill as a single practical structure that could supply both interior and exterior settings. But safety concerns and the desire to maintain a controlled theatrical environment made Heinrichs decide on a combination of several interior and exterior sets, full-scale and miniature. He built a 60-foot-tall forced-perspective exterior (visible to highway travelers miles away), a base and rooftop set and a quarter-scale miniature. The interior of the mill, which was about 30-feet high and 25-feet wide, featured wooden gears equipped with mechanisms for grinding flour.

A wider view of the windmill was rendered on a Leavesden soundstage set with a quarter-scale windmill, complete with rotating vanes, painted sky backdrop and special-effects fire.

“It was scary for the actors who were having burning wood explode at them,” Heinrichs recalls. “There were controls in place and people standing by with hoses, of course, but there’s always a chance of something going wrong.”

For a final shot of the burning mill exploding, the quarter-scale windmill and painted backdrop were erected against the outside wall of the “flight shed,” a spacious hangar on the far side of Leavesden Studios. “The special-effects crew would set the vanes on fire and put the flames out after each take. They have a way of sealing things and applying the flammable material on top, although, after the course of several nights, it does do a number on the structure. For scheduling reasons, we shot the postexplosion first, so I was delighted that the blades fell where we wanted. Cables were used to try to make them land correctly, but it really comes down to luck.”

The flight shed interior served as the staging ground for a heart-stopping chase sequence, with Ichabod, Katrina and Young Masbath escaping the windmill conflagration in a horse-drawn coach, riding into the depths of the Western Woods with the Headless Horseman in hot pursuit. The hangar’s interior walls were knocked down to create a 450-foot run, with a 40-foot width still allowing for coach and cameras. Heinrichs tailored the sets so cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki could shoot from above without seeing the end of the stage. “They’d start the horses at one end, and by the time they gathered full speed, they had to slow down so they wouldn’t smash into the wall. They were able to photograph only about six seconds worth of film at a time. Had we tried to do the coach chase outdoors, it could have been disastrous because of weather and the sheer size of what Lubezki would have had to light. So we just repeated the action over and over along the length of our interior forest set. After being edited, the sequence read as if they’d traveled two miles.”

The film’s strong design element necessitated that nearly everything be built from scratch. “One of the great accomplishments for us was building a functioning hydraulically powered windmill with carved wooden gears,” says Heinrichs. “Special effects worried that the teeth would grind down and break off. They wanted to use multigears running on separate motors. I thought, ‘Windmills have been used for hundreds of years; it’s got to work.’ It was magnificent to see.

“There’s a theatrical truth to the set that I know the actors really appreciated,” continues Heinrichs, who used a combination of real materials, painted backings and old-fashioned perspective techniques to create what he calls “stylized naturalism.””(Actor) Ian McDiarmid had just finished working on Phantom Menace, and he was so delighted not to be working on a blue-screen stage. There was mood, atmosphere and actual quality the actors could play off of and react to. It’s as close to old Hollywood as you can get.”


By Kathleen A. Hughes (The Wall Street Journal)

From The Toronto Star, 12.26.1988, Home Delivery Two

Batman’s sidekick, Robin, is officially dead, but for followers of the dynamic duo everywhere, the worst is yet to come:

The caped crusader may turn out to be a wimp.

Batman’s fans at first were thrilled by reports that Warner Bros. would spend $30 million to make a new Batman movie, for release next summer. They’re no longer thrilled. Warner has cavalierly ignored their advice to cast a serious macho type–Sylvester Stallone or Clint Eastwood, say–in the spectacular. Instead, director Tim Burton has given the part to Michael Keaton.

Michael Keaton is no Sylvester Stallone.

Best known as a wacky prankster in Burton’s 1988 comedy, Beetlejuice, Keaton has a receding hairline and a less-than-heroic chin. He stands an estimated 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighs in at 160 pounds or so, and “looks like a hundred guys you see on the street,” says Beau Smith, a Batman fan in Ceredo, W. Va. “If you saw him in an alley wearing a bat suit, you would laugh, not run in fear. Batman should be 6-2, 235 pounds, your classically handsome guy with an imposing, scary image.”

Not at all, says Burton. “Michael Keaton is basically an ordinary guy, a regular human being,” he says. “I thought it would be much more interesting to take someone like that and make him into Batman. I met with a number of very good, square-jawed actors, but the bottom line was that I just couldn’t see any of them putting on a bat suit.”

This line is less than persuasive to Batman’s fans. Hundreds of passionate and humorless protest letters have poured into the offices of publications that cater to comic-book fans and collectors. Many of the letter writers voice strong suspicion that Warner may pull a fast one, springing on an unwary public a cynical sendup rather than a celebration of Batman.

Warner Bros., a Warner Communications Inc. unit, is “after the money of all the people who only remember Batman as a buffoon with a twerp for a sidekick in the campy TV series from the ’60s,” says J. Alan Bolick, a real-estate appraiser in Suwanee, Ga. “Hollywood is just in it for the money, and Warner Bros. has been doing a bit of duplicity. I don’t think Mr. Burton has any intention of making a serious Batman movie. But Batman has been part of everyone’s childhood. He deserves a bit of respect.”

Fans have circulated petitions demanding a different cast, and they booed Warner representatives who had the audacity to show up at a comics-fan convention with a photograph of Keaton. A few fans also dislike the casting of Jack Nicholson as the Joker, a pathologically evil Batman archenemy. Mr. Nicholson, it seems, is guilty of having a sense of humor.

“How can you have Jack Nicholson playing a villain and not have him be funny,” says David McDonnell, editor of Starlog magazine, a monthly devoted to science-fiction media.

Batman, the fans say, is no joke. They hated the Bam! Pow! tongue-in-cheek TV series from the 1960s, which they think ridiculed their hero and, by extension, his following. By contrast, the absence of Robin, The Boy Wonder, from Warner’s Batman doesn’t ruffle all the fans. In a recent DC Comics telephone poll of fans, a majority voted for a scenario in which Boy Wonder would be blown to bits by a bomb.

Because dyed-in-the-wool fans make up the core audiences for films like Batman, Warner is going to some length to try to appease them–without changing the movie.

Warner executives swear it was never intended to be–and won’t be–a comedy. Warner has sponsored a contest that gives fans a chance to win a role in the film. Studio representatives have touted it in speeches at conventions of comics fans. The studio hired Batman’s comic-strip creator, Bob Kane, as a consultant, and he has been endorsing the movie.

“The movie isn’t a comedy at all. It’s going to be heavy melodrama,” says. Kane. The villainous Joker, he says, “is a psychotic murderer, a maniacal killer. It’s all very evil.”

Warner Bros., which won’t let any of the cast or crew be interviewed directly, also gave the Comics Buyer’s Guide, the fans’ bible, a lengthy statement by the director on why he chose the weak-chinned Keaton.

The fans remain skeptical. “Most people are dismissing Bob Kane, saying Warner is paying him to say nice things about the movie. No one seems to have taken him seriously,” says Don Thompson, co-editor of Comics Buyer’s Guide, which has received more than 500 protest letters to date.

Warner began filming outside London last month. The studio says the fans’ protests have caused no changes in the movie. Some fans also think the protests have been futile.

“There’s been enough whining about Michael Keaton playing Batman,” says James Van Hise, a Poway, Calif., fan and comic-book writer himself. “People are still going on and on about it as though it will make a difference. The one thing a studio will never do is let fans tell them how to make a movie.”

How can a movie about a man who dresses up in a bat costume to fight crime not be funny? What happens in a serious Batman movie, anyway? Warner isn’t blabbing about the plot. But a peek at a recent version of the script shows the demented Joker falling into a vat of toxic waste during a fight with Batman and emerging with a perpetual, ghoulish smile. He takes revenge by tainting soap and shampoo with “Smylenol”, a deadly ingedient that causes users to die laughing. One victim is an anchorwoman who laughs insanely on the air and then keels over with a big grin.

Batman tries to save Gotham City from death by laughter, and he’s particularly interested in saving, a sexy photogapher, played by Kim Bassinger, who . . . But enough. Warner begged us not to give away the ending.

This, then, appears to be a serious movie about people who die laughing. That’s right, says Jeff Walker, a marketing consultant for Warner. “I’ve read all the drafts (of the script) and the only times I laughed were at some of the Joker’s comments,” he says. “Nothing about Batman is a joke.”

Adam West, who played Batman in the TV series, says he had hoped to get the part in the Warner movie. “It’s disappointing not to have the chance to do the definitive, big-screen Batman,” says Mr. West, now 60. While the fans certainly would have disapproved of Mr. West, he thinks his TV rendition of Batman was just right. “Batman isn’t RoboCop or Dirty Harry,” he says. “Batman is a fun character.”

West did once appear in a zany Batman movie made by 20th Century-Fox, after the TV show became a hit. Earlier, in the 1940s, Columbia Pictures released two sort-of-serious Batman serials.

Batman has become grimmer than ever in a series of graphic novels aimed at adults. In Dark Knight, a four-part comic book series set in the future, Batman has retired, Robin is dead, and Gotham City is under attack by a gang called the Mutants, who have killed three nuns and are suspected of stapling a cat to the door of a church.

Now that’s serious. The novels have been big hits in Batman circles.


From The Economist, 08.26.1989

Mr Jack Nicholson must be cackling all the way to the bank. There can be little doubt that the many records broken in the film world this summer includes that of the most remunerated movie star. Mr Nicholson’s fee for playing Batman’s twistedly-comic nemesis, the Joker, is said to have been a run-of-the-mill $ 6m. However, his percentage of the film’s profits–and his cut on the take from ubiquitous peripheral merchandising–could push his final haul up towards ten times his original fee. That would add up to well over $1m for every minute of screen time; great pay for scenery-chewing.

Batman, directed by Mr Tim Burton is the most financially successful film in the most successful summer in Hollywood’s history. It is only Mr Burton’s third film: Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice were also successful. His rise is the most impressive since that of Mr George Lucas, whose second film, American Graffiti, was a great success, and whose third film was Star Wars.

Like Mr Lucas, Mr Burton is a fantasist, though of a different sort. His films hit a tone which, if Hollywood holds true to its herd instincts, could soon be inflated into a genre: “phantasmacomedy” (a possible contender for the most-ludicrous-portmanteau-word record). They share a vein of childish delight in the outlandish, often expressed through a striking use of mechanical effects which allow a joyful artifice sophisticated computer animation cannot match.

It is not a mood unique to Mr Burton. Its most notable proponent is Mr Terry Gilliam, the one-time Monty Python animator. His brilliant, dystopian Brazil exerted a visible influence on the Gotham City sets that Mr Burton and his designer Mr Anton Furst concocted to give Batman its atmosphere. Following the failure of Baron Munchausen, which contained gorgeous moments but did very little with them, Mr Gilliam now seems set to follow in Mr Burton’s footsteps; he is working on a film of Watchmen, a complex and critically acclaimed comic, with a script by the unlikely sounding Mr Sam Hamm, who was in part responsible for the Batman screenplay. The outcome should be intriguing–though it may not be phantasmacomical–and will certainly not be as hypable as a black bat on a gold oval has proven.

While Mr Burton has made his reputation from a cultural icon, the rest of Hollywood has been earning the wages of repetition. The third Indiana Jones film, which is saved from tedium by the presence of Mr Sean Connery, is Batman’s nearest rival at the box office, at $183m. Ghostbusters II has proved disappointing. It was hard pressed to earn more than $100m–a fair whack, but not as much as was hoped. The original Ghostbusters was the biggest-grossing comedy ever; its sequel is neck-and-neck with Honey I Shrunk the Kids, a film whose title says it all. The worst disappointment was the James Bond film, which did atrociously in America. It may make up for that, at least in part, in the rest of the world. Between the lot of them, these films had pushed America’s total 1989 box office over $3 billion by early August.

One studio, Fox, owned by Mr Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, has made remarkably little of that money, a sorry state of affairs it hoped to rectify with one big film. The Abyss, directed by Mr James Cameron, cost Fox over $60m, mostly because it was filmed in the flooded hulk of an unfinished nuclear power plant. This film is similar in style to Mr Cameron’s previous two science-fiction films, The Terminator and the entertaining Aliens. The futures he evokes are grim, workaday places, where technology dominates but does not steal the scene. However, the techniques that worked so well in adventure films are not capable of sustaining this more ambitious project.

The Abyss is a long film, which upsets cinema scheduling, with a central love story, which upsets thrill-seeking audiences. There are friendly aliens reminiscent of those in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In fact, Mr Cameron is frequently reminiscent of Stephen Spielberg, especially in the pace of his camerawork. Mr Cameron’s The Terminator captures almost exactly the menace of Mr Spielberg’s early masterpiece Duel, with Arnold Schwarzenegger playing the role of the unstoppable threat. (Mr Spielberg used a 20-ton truck.) But unfortunately for Fox The Abyss is unlikely to be a Spielbergian blockbuster.So what next? Batman IIGhostbusters III and so on seem almost foregone conclusions. Mr Cameron may be reined in to make better films on smaller budgets. Or he and Mr Burton could collaborate on something. After all, Mr Lucas and Mr Spielberg collaborated to make the tremendously enjoyable Raiders of the Lost Ark–and Indiana Jones has now ridden off into the sunset. Maybe their successors could come up with something as amusing for the 1990s.


Tim Burton is one of the last people you’d imagine would become one of the most acclaimed directors in the world. He is an introverted, unassuming person. His career got underway at the most famous animation studio in Hollywood, he landed his first directing gig because of a bootleg tape of a short film that was never released, and (for a while, at least) he had a movie in the top-ten grossers of all time.

Timothy William Burton was born August 25, 1958 in Burbank, California. Burbank may not ring as many bells as Hollywood, but it is the home to many film and television studios — NBC, Warner Brothers, Disney, and others. Burbank was quintessential 1950s American suburbia, a world in which the shy, artistic Tim was not quite in step with the shiny happy people surrounding him. He was not particularly good in school, and was not a bookworm. Instead, he found his pleasure in painting, drawing, and movies. He loved monster movies: Godzilla, the Hammer horror films from Great Britain, the work of Ray Harryhausen. One of his heroes was actor Vincent Price.

After high school in 1976, Burton attended the California Institute of the Arts. Cal Arts had been founded by Disney as a “breeding ground” for new animators, though they did offer other courses of study. Burton entered the Disney animation program in his second year, thinking it would be a good way to make a living. In 1979, he was drafted to join the Disney animation ranks.

Burton did not enjoy being an animator, not one little bit. Imagine, if you will, what it’s like to be an animator. Films are projected at 24 frames per second. For a 90-minute film, that’s over 129,000 individual frames. Characters are drawn separately and then put together, and placed over painted backgrounds. The work requires talented artists, but they cannot deviate from the structured manner of drawing the characters. Burton had been brought in to work on The Fox And The Hound. It bored him silly.

The studio recognized that Burton’s talent was not being utilized. They made him a conceptual artist, the people who design the characters that appear in the films. He did early work on The Black Cauldron, the adaptation of the second volume of Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain (a seven-volume fantasy series). If you’re familiar with Burton’s artwork, you can imagine that his concept drawings were nothing like your standard Disney fare. It didn’t go over too well, and it was not used. However, he was set loose on his own projects. These included a poem and artwork that years later would become The Nightmare Before Christmas, the animated short Vincent, and the live-action short Frankenweenie.

The latter two received little or no outside exposure, but Burton did get to work with his idol, Vincent Price, for the first time and they remained friends until Price’s death in 1993. Frankenweenie was awarded a PG rating, which precluded its release with their G-rated animated features. It was only released theatrically overseas, and had limited availability on VHS. However, it would be the film that landed him his first feature directing job.

Horror writer Stephen King (you have heard of him, right?) had seen Frankenweenie, and strongly recommended it to Bonni Lee, an executive at Warner Brothers. Lee then showed the film to Paul Reubens. Reubens was the man behind Pee-wee Herman, and was in the process of bringing his alter ego to the big screen. He knew right away that Tim Burton was the perfect choice for the job, and indeed they were a perfect match. As they say, the rest is history.

Following the surprise success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Burton didn’t make another film for almost three years. It wasn’t until he was offered the anarchic screenplay for Beetlejuice that he finally found another project suited to his unique vision. The film was an even bigger hit, and led to Warner Bros. offering Burton the job directing an eagerly awaited comic book adaptation that had been years in the planning.

Batman was less a movie, more of an event. It sparked controversy with the casting of Michael Keaton as the Dark Knight, and generated a merchandising blitz that is now standard for blockbusters. However, despite all the hype and studio interference, Burton still managed to put his own stamp on the film and it remains one of the most influential Hollywood movies of the last few decades. It’s box office gross of over $250 million is also one of the highest in the studio’s history.

Rather than jump into making another blockbuster, Burton used his new clout to get an extremely personal project greenlit by 20th Century Fox. Edward Scissorhands was the first time Burton had full creative control over a feature film, having written the story and also produced the movie. The film was a hit with moviegoers and critics, and marked the beginning of Burton being taken seriously as an artist.

He followed it up in 1992 with the sequel Batman Returns. It was not as big a hit as the first film, and suffered a backlash from parents who considered it too dark and twisted for younger Bat fans. Although the film was an artistic triumph, the perceived disappointment led to Joel Schumacher taking over the franchise (although Burton did have a producer credit on Batman Forever). The same year Burton also found time to play a small cameo role in Cameron Crowe’s grunge film, Singles, and an even smaller cameo as a corpse in his buddy Danny DeVito’s film, Hoffa.

After finally seeing his dream project realised with the feature length stop-motion film The Nightmare Before Christmas, Burton returned to smaller filmmaking with his next project, Ed Wood. An affectionate tribute to the supposed worst filmmaker of all time, it was not a hit at the box office, but won Burton the best reviews of his career, as well as two Oscars. It was followed by an indirect homage to Wood’s films, Mars Attacks! The film was a disappointment at the box office, and scorned by many critics, but has gained a cult status over the years. Burton made something of a comeback three years later with his first real horror film, Sleepy Hollow.

Tim Burton, director of “Sleepy Hollow” with Horseman’s head

As for Burton’s personal life, he married German artist Lena Gieseke in 1989 (while in the middle of production on Batman). They separated shortly after filming of Batman Returns. He began dating Lisa Marie shortly after. She appeared in four of his films: Ed WoodMars Attacks!Sleepy Hollow and Planet of the Apes.

Between Mars Attacks! and Sleepy Hollow, Tim Burton spent over a year working on a new Superman film. A preliminary script draft was written by independent filmmaker and comic geek extraordinaire Kevin Smith. Nicolas Cage was attached to the project to play the Man Of Steel. However, Burton was not particularly happy with the script, and a spiraling budget caused Warner Brothers to pull the plug on the project.

His next project was a reworking of the classic sci-fi film Planet Of The Apes. The film was rushed into production after a long gestation period, and may have suffered as a result. The film was visually stunning, and featured several strong performances by the actors in Rick Baker’s astonishing ape makeup, but it was regarded as a disappointment by many.

At the same time Burton’s personal life was in a state of upheaval. Both of his parents died within a short space of time, and his relationship with Lisa Marie ended. Shortly after the release of Planet of the Apes, Burton began dating one of the stars of the film, Helena Bonham Carter. Their son, Billy, was born in October, 2003.

Burton’s next project couldn’t have been more different, even though it shared the same producer (Richard D. Zanuck). Big Fish was an adaptation of the novel by Daniel Wallace. Perhaps the theme of a man trying to reconnect with his dying father resulted in this being Burton’s most personal and emotional film in years, and it earned respectable reviews and box office.

In 2005, Burton directed back to back movies for the first time. His first project was another movie based on a novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Johnny Depp played the lead role of Willy Wonka, and the film was one of the most successful blockbusters of 2005. It was followed two months later by the release of the stop motion animated film, Corpse Bride. Both films generally received good reviews, and Corpse Bride was even nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature (it lost to Wallace and Gromit).

Burton’s next directorial project turned out to be the long-rumored musical Sweeney Todd. It was released in the U.S. in December, 2007 to rave reviews. After producing the animated feature 9 (released on 9/9/2009), Burton followed it up in 2010 with the 3D Alice in Wonderland (which, despite the title, was actually a sequel to the Disney classic, not a remake). Despite a mixed reception, the film grossed over a billion dollars worldwide.

Although there are rumours that he wants to take time off to be with his family, Burton has no less than eight films currently in development, either as producer and/or director. The first of these to see release will probably be a feature length version of his short, Frankenweenie. Burton has claimed for years that he wanted to expand on this story, and he will finally get his chance. Though his recent films have been disappointing for some, one can only hope that at least a few of these future projects will connect with the filmmaker and create some more of that Burton magic.