Routines are presently establishing themselves.
I have finished a second box of round, store-brand crackers; I find my usual serving size is an entire sleeve. The Pop-Tarts I brought along from Massachusetts have officially run out. The film I have been watching this evening has just ended, and I am out to the twenty-four hour Wal-Mart (the only thing presently open) to get some snacks- more Pop-Tarts, perhaps some plain popcorn, maybe Ruffles or Pringles if things get out of hand.
After reading three books since arriving here in Florida, I turned my attention to music yesterday and films sporadically.
I made sure before leaving that I had loaded my new iPod with as much music I had as time would permit, and I brought along all the DVDs I own. I deem them both good decisions.
So far for films I have watched Sleepy Hollow, directed by Tim Burton, From Hell by the Hughes Brothers (utterly excellent- I still enjoy it after multiple viewings), Jurassic Park by Spielburg, and lastly Batman (1989) and Batman Returns, both by Burton.
Out of these five films, three have been directed by Mr. Burton. I have enjoyed each of his three films successively less, for reasons I shall set forth.
Prior to coming to Florida, I have previously seen these films. I first was exposed to Batman at the age of six or seven. As a child, I was not incredulous that Michael Keaton could lay a beating on someone. Batman was the hero. The car and personal aircraft were exceedingly awesome. At this stage, cab-over-engine semis could actually be alien robots in disguise. Turtles could evolve into humanoid form given the right protocol.
My higher education encouraged the application of a discerning eye into all the world ’round.
This past winter I read a fantastic collection of Edgar Allen Poe’s fiction, poetry, and criticism. In his criticism, Poe reveals his criteria for judging a play, poem, short story, or novel good or bad.
I agree with his statement that a good ___ is efficient, consistent, and engaging. These characteristics are just as applicable to today’s cinema.
I’ve often seen books, music, and films as being faulted for being “unoriginal”, “repetitive”, or “derivitive”. Most, and I’d argue actually all, creative processes are thus. To be truly novel and innovative is neigh impossible. Think of it like this, in the broadest terms possible: musicians can only work with sounds the human ear can discern. Chefs can only serve what is edible. Filmmakers are confined to the visible spectrum.
To come back to the subject at hand, I’m not going to rip Tim Burton a new one over the three films he has directed that I’ve watched down here because they were not assembled from a vacuum.
The first film, Sleepy Hollow is an adaption of Washington Irving’s short story from either the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century; I’m inclined to side with the former, as he was quite active during the colonial revolt. Most of us know, especially if we’re from New England, the basics that Ichabod Crane is our protagonist and the headless horseman is the primary antagonist. I haven’t read the short story for some time, so I do not know how much license Burton took with the tale. Overall I liked it. For the most part, it held up to the rule that each scene contributed to the overall plot of the film, and was necessary. There even was a tip of the cap to Whale’s 1933 Frankenstein with the burning windmill.
What I found disappointing with Sleepy Hollow is that for roughly the first three-quarters of the film, the tone was grave, serious, dignified. Once it was revealed who controlled the horseman, the film quickly deteriorated into campy one-liners. I’d still watch it, though.
With Batman, I still enjoy it, for Burton, whom I understand was creatively handcuffed by Warner Brothers, managed to faithfully reproduce and elaborate on the essence of the early Batman comics, from what I understand. Nicholson’s Joker is visually reminiscent of Cesar Romero’s, but it still looks like the Joker from the early strips. Burton’s film does mingle the ridiculous with attempted explanation. We do get to see, however briefly, the motivation for young Bruce Wayne to fight crime in Gotham. Nicholson’s Joker is a mob man out to avenge the boss who put a price on his head. While I can appreciate why Nicholson’s Joker is vicious, the humor is not as evident. Burton’s film has us believe the Joker’s appearance resulted from botched surgery and a chemical reaction that bleached his skin and turned his hair green.
The implausibilities of the 1989 film lie in some details- how the Batmobile can sustain such heavy damage while having so little mass, how you cannot use bullets to carve an easy entry for car or person, how Michael Keaton can win that easily in fights, why his cowl isn’t also a helmet, but I am getting off the point. The film, although with Burton at the helm, manages to be edgy but not wholly inappropriate. The joker electrocutes someone with a buzzer. A few henchmen are shot. People fall to their deaths. In true Burton habit, black and white patterns are featured throughout, and some animated sequences are snuck in for special effects. It was 1980s. Slack given.
Now with the trash I just finished watching, Batman Returns. The film is a chore to sit through. It violates one of Poe’s dictates, that you can enjoy it in one sitting, and further that you lose track of time during the experience.
A quick recap of the franchise before I continue. The original strip started in the 1930s or 1940s. It was quite violent, as were many other strips of the time. Facing the threat of government censorship, the franchise took a turn for the campy, leading to the Adam West era as we remember it, which for the most part was not too objectionable for children. I know the double-entendre of Batman & Robin, but before we go down that road, it was more subtle in this time than Burton’s tantrum with this film.
Part of the appeal of the character is the “everyman” quality, at least compared to Superman. As the reasoning goes, with enough wealth, discipline, and intellect, it is plausible that someone could choose to be Batman. He isn’t an alien, or the result of some experiment gone awry. Futher, the traumatic incident at the heart of the hero’s (antihero?) origin is a sad reality. Batman is fundamentally a dark, brooding character, suitable for mature treatment, and thus his perfect foil is the wholly opposite Joker.
With this film, Burton throws this to the wind. Keaton is a comedic actor, primarily. He isn’t physically imposing. The antagonists in this film defy all explanation- although I have no qualms believing Danny DeVito is the horrid little troll The Penguin, we are left to accept the fantastic. Further, Catwoman can only be killed on the ninth attempt? And don’t even get me started on the pervasive sexual innuendo.
This film was meant to merely be a summer blockbuster, a means of showing off pyrotechnics and stunt choreography. But the film is both too perverted for children, and too insufferably campy to appeal to adults. If Burton attempted to compromise and appease both, he has failed miserably.
I cannot fairly fault Burton for storylines- all, or mostly all, of the main characters in each of the three films are drawn from their respective source material.
Each of these three films is visually similar, and after seeing a number of Tim Burton films over the years, it is growing insufferably stale. Black and white patterns abound- largely in floor tile, but many characters also don stripes. Stop-motion animation is generally used for special effects. Landscapes commonly taper off into curls, or architecture features absurdly severe angles. Nearly all protagonists are lone males. The medieval spiked coffin, the torture instrument, is omnipresent. The soundtracks are generally by Elfman (who needs new tricks beyond xylophones, marimbas, and clarinet flourishes), although I cannot recall offhand if Sleepy Hollow is an exception to the rule. Humor is generally awkward.
What makes this film leave an especially bad taste in my mouth is the meticulous and innovative approach that Christopher Nolan took with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Perhaps I am sick of watching Burton work on auto-pilot. In any event, Batman Returns is heading for swaptree in the near future.