Sunday, August 1, 2010

Terry Gilliam via Tim Burton, part 1: Tim Burton

The headline should be the other way around, if one were to be chronological in one's analysis. Terry Gilliam and Brazil, which changed the way I and a lot of other people saw the possibilities of movies, was made in 1985, and Tim Burton didn't really wow us until three years later, with Beetlejuice in 1988, followed by Edward Scissorhands in 1990. (Many were wowed by Gilliam even earlier, with Time Bandits in 1981, but I was a junior in high school then and doubt this film came to my local cineplex. Though I was introduced to dystopian films and their power, at about the same time, by Blade Runner, which is a whole different essay.)

We had a little Terry Gilliam film festival at our house this summer after watching Burton's Alice in Wonderland. My primary reaction to that film is this: How on earth did anyone think that what James Cameron created in Avatar was better or in any way more interesting-- even, if not especially, visually interesting-- given what Burton provided us with in Alice. Now personally, I don't think the special effects in Avatar even hold up next to the basic work of any recent Disney or Pixar film, but in the Disney production that is Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, visual spectacle at the service of storytelling and character-building reaches its highest level. James Cameron may have spent way more money doing his film, employed many more people and invented a camera, but when you see what Tim Burton has been able to do in Alice, you have to ask yourself-- so what? Why invent a new camera? Can't you do something just as good, if not better, with current technology? And isn't that way more impressive? At the end of the day, a film is judged on how it looks and feels, and how it makes us look (at the world) and feel, and Burton has created a world and characters that made me crave more and feel deeply satisfied.

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