Tim Burton’s Secret Formula

Hot on the heels of some gentlemanly debate on Coilhouse (see Ross’s most recent edition of FAM) concerning hipstery snark, cynicism and Tim Burton’s waning cultural relevance, comes this sad but true (and hilarious) skit from College Humor:

Thanks for the heads up, Karen! I’m a diehard fan of Burton’s pre 00s films, but I still peed my (stripey, spooky) pantaloons.

23 Responses to “Tim Burton’s Secret Formula”

  1. Kambriel Says:

    I am far too busy sitting behind this swirling hill and taking things that aren’t black, and making them black to have any idea of what it is you’re saying here. ;)

    I unabashedly love it though and happily “embrace the cliché”… When I met Tim Burton a few months ago, he called me the Mad Hatter ~ so he’s aces in my book and I’d adore working with him someday!

  2. Mer Says:

    Hee hee… Kambriel, I hear ya, and like I said, I wholeheartedly love a lot of his films. But I do think his game is slipping, his (stripey) slip is showing, and his stable full of jet black one-trick-ponies are whinnying ’cause the (asymmetrical, spooky) barn’s on fire. ;)

  3. Tertiary Says:

    I confess, I didn’t find it all that funny.
    Maybe -because- I don’t have any great feelings one way or the other about Tim Burton. I can take or leave a great many of his films, really.

    Well, it must be said that artists have a tendency to repeat themselves, if only because they are deeply fascinated with some particular aesthetic or idea. Tim Burton is certainly no exception.
    Of course, Clint Eastwood is the same way, but his thing is making dark, unrelenting films about human fallibility. And sometimes people give both of them prizes.

    As the old saying goes, it’s not what you say, but how you say it.

    I haven’t seen a recent Tim Burton film, so I can’t comment on his current game (has he become a self-parody?), but Edward Scissorhands is, and shall remain, a favorite film of mine.

  4. Kambriel Says:

    Mer ~ I am laying it squarely on your shoulders that I now have visions of apes wearing bias-cut black and white striped slips dancing around in my head…

    It’s interesting though if you look at it in abstract terms. If he was doing tv, and had a show that lasted many seasons (as his film career has), it would have exponentially more episodes ~ several dozen at least, and conceivably, the episodes of the series would have a common thread/theme/aesthetic running throughout. Whereas in films, they each are perceived as needing to be more of a completely unique world or story each unto themselves. Perhaps he’ll surprise us in the end and we’ll realize his “episodes” were actually two hours each rather than a mere thirty minutes? ;)

    I can absolutely see why you wouldn’t want his talents and vision “wasted” on following a path that’s been strolled down so well in the pointy-toed boots before. I actually see that as a sign of having a deep admiration for his ability and potential, so it’s certainly a constructive criticism.

    Personally, I enjoy finding the common thread (some more overt than others) rooted in his own personal style that comes through in his work. I don’t think it’s pandering so much as just him being *him*. It’s like with Hitchcock’s films, you can see it and instantly know it’s a Hitchcock. Years from now, people will still be able to recognize that trademark Burton look, feel and sound.

  5. Zoetica Says:

    I laughed a bitter laugh of near-resignation! It’s very likely that anyone ranting or grumbling or poking fun at Tim Burton right now was once a huge fan. I’d be willing to bet that well over half of us here were enchanted by Edward Scissorhands, cheered for Ed Wood and LOLed at Frankenweenie [I’m especially biased toward that one – my childhood dog was a bull terrier]. We just want the good stuff back and refuse to believe and accept that Tim may have lost his power forever.

    That said, I’m probably still going to see Alice. I GOTTA.

  6. Mer Says:

    “I haven’t seen a recent Tim Burton film, so I can’t comment on his current game (has he become a self-parody?)”

    Yes. Oh yes.

  7. Jerem Morrow Says:

    The kids and I just rewatched James and the Giant Peach, and I gotta admit, I geeked a little at seeing Jack Skellington’s cameo. of course, he only played producer on those two, but still. Either way, this was hilarious.

  8. Julie H. Says:

    I do have to wonder just how much though is influenced by the studios. They are the ones who decide what scripts get filmed, what films get the green light and which ones make it to the screen. Their tendency is to go with known vehicles even if we have seen it over and over.

    I don’t think Burton is done with being original, just that it’s being extremely filtered by the studios right now. His recently exhibited artwork shows there is way more to the guy than what has been put up on the screen. Hopefully he will find a way to go with that.

  9. Nadya Says:

    OH MAN. The moment Danny Elfman appeared, I lost it. I still think that his soundtrack for The Kingdom from 2007 was a masterpiece, but everything else I’ve heard him do in recent years sounds EXACTLY like that! La-la-la-la-la-la-LA, bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-BUM, diddlydiddlydiddly, BUM BUM BUM BUM. And I’m an Oingo Boingo fan. So it sucks. :(

    For anyone not familiar, here’s the soundtrack I’m talking about, below. The film wasn’t so great, but the intro alone was worth the price of admission. The opening credits were consisted of a really compelling, condensed history of Saudi Arabia – lots of beautiful footage & typography. There’s a tiny bit on YouTube. ANYWAY! Here’s the soundtrack:

  10. Karen Says:

    That Kingdom soundtrack is gorgeous! But it’s not canceling out the soundtrack that’s now twinkling merrily in my head: la la LA la, la la LA la, BUM BUM BUM BUM.

  11. Rogue Anthropologist Says:

    I hate to say it, being a die-hard fan of both Tim Burton and Danny Elfman/Oingo-Boingo, but I think Danny did the right thing when he stopped recording with Oingo Boingo, going out while you’re still relevant to your fans is better than having them wish for the good old days before you started to repeat yourself. As far as Danny’s soundtracks go, yeah, more and more they are sounding the same. If Tim can pull off another fantastic movie and then fade away gracefully I think it would be best. I’m not saying that his remake of Alice (which I’m going to see, I loved the books before I knew about Burton) will be it but he needs to go out with a bang and remind his fans why we love(d) him.

  12. Ashbet Says:

    I just posted a recent parody skit (“Tim Burton Remakes ‘Weekend At Bernie’s'”) which also hit some of these same notes (do give it a watch, it’s hilarious!)


    I will say that I think Burton is capable of more than the studios let him do (since they tend to be all about guaranteed blockbusters these days) . . . I went to see his show at MoMA recently, and he’s still putting out interesting and non-one-note work. It still has his trademark stamp on it, but it’s not all stripey bloomers and croggly trees (not that there’s anything wrong with those *grins*)

    I do think that Kambriel has a very good point, though — he’s being judged for ‘lack of originality’ because his films share major stylistic points with each other, and often echo grace notes from previous movies . . . whereas I love seeing all the connections and finding the common threads.

    With that said, I do think that he needs to focus on storytelling and find some REALLY GOOD material to work with (hey, maybe “Alice” will be it, even though seeing Johnny Depp painted up that way makes me twitch nonstop), because his recent films just haven’t had the same charm and resonance for me as the earlier ones — it’s not that they’re artistically or stylistically inferior, necessarily, but just that the Story itself seems to have been neglected in favor of producing something in Burton-Flavored Style.

    This doesn’t mean that I don’t still look forward to each new project to see if, this time, he’s going to pull off yet another amazing trick . . .

    [sorry if this appears twice, I didn’t get the “You can edit your comment for the next _x_ minutes” thing this time, and my comment isn’t visible-but-greyed-out, so I’m not sure if it went through or not.]

  13. agent double oh-no Says:

    As Coilhouse has elective affinities with the Burton aesthetic, this parody is perfectly suited. It’s a funny challenge to all of us to keep growing.

    Yes, I too was a big fan of the early Burton films, but I lost interest nearly a decade ago as, it seemed, his work became increasingly formulaic. I’m still glad he’s making films that can delight youngsters who are new to his creepy-cute world, but I’m barking up other trees for inspiration nowadays.

  14. David Forbes Says:

    I lost it in an extremely undignified manner the second the phone with just Depp and Carter on it popped up.

    Somewhat blasphemous, but while I respect his obvious talents and influence, I’ve never found much of Burton’s work that appealing, for a lot of the reasons satirized above. There are a few exceptions (Nightmare Before Christmas) and this is more personal taste than an artistic judgement. The same sketch could be made about Guy Ritchie’s filmmaking aesthetic, which I happen to like better, though I’d be hard-pressed to argue that Ritchie is as good a director.

    Ironically, I think that my favorite Burton film in many years, Sweeney Todd, drew much of its strength from the fact that while bringing plenty of his own vision, some of his tendencies were balanced by having to work with an established story. Heck, at one point Burton even seemed in on the joke about his own formula.

  15. Infamous Amos Says:

    Pee Wee’s Big Adventure budget – 7 million
    Beetlejuice budget – 13 million
    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory budget – 150 million
    Alice in Wonderland budget – 150 million

    Need I quote the fallen prophet Biggie Smalls with this example?

    Burton is a brilliant dude, but like most brilliant people, I think he produced his best work under pressure. Okay, fine, 7 million bucks isn’t exactly “pressure”, but it proves that he can make a movie uniquely his own without a kings ransom of CGI dumped into it. I forget who said it first, and I won’t take credit for the saying, but when you have special effects in almost every shot in your film, that no longer make them ‘special’ effects. I’ll remember the second and a half shot of Large Marge for the rest of my life, but I can’t for the life of me remember a single shot in any of the film’s he’s made in the past decade that hit me that hard.

    Lately he’s just been handed a blank cheque and the freedom to shoot whatever, cast whoever, and make literally anything he wants. On paper that sounds great, but the restrictions he had to endure with his earlier work forced him to adapt, grow, and find his voice. This is probably just a symptom of a greater problem, mainly of course being studio involvement and the fact that his style is a huge money making brand that no studio would dare squander on somthing as ‘unmarketable’ as Ed Wood again. I don’t condemn the guy for getting popular, but I’d love to see what he could do now without more money than God.

    …Also, every now and again, I like to think that when I see the name “Danny Elfman” in a films opening credits, that perhaps they mean that the music was created on a machine called The Danny Elfman, and that the “la la la la, la la la la, bum bum bum bum” preset button somewho got stuck. I love the guy too much, and I’ll play dumb forever to live in that happy little bubble of delusion for his sake.

  16. Shay Says:

    I was at the Tim Burton exhibition at the MoMa recently (twice, actually), and kept having to remind myself – – Looking at all those images of Jack, Beetlejuice, and a myriad of monsters of varying degrees of awesomeness, that these are, in fact, the originals. I’m so used to seeing sketches in that style (and even of those characters). It’s just so familiar, it’s like a dime a dozen… But these are The First.
    All these characters and imagery come from a single person’s imagination.. And that’s pretty incredible.

  17. badluckshadow13 Says:

    I’m going to go dig out all my Oingo Boingo albums, I want to see if I can find a song that sounds like that…
    Heh, mind you, I’ll always love Oingo Boingo even if Elfman’s soundtrack work lately’s been a bit… repetitive, but it’ll make my lifetime if I can find just one that does go “lalalalalalaala bumbumbum didlydidly.”

  18. Nadya Says:

    badluckshadow, I’d be curious to hear it!

  19. Daniel Says:

    “I want to see if I can find a song that sounds like that…”

    A few tracks, but not many, do sound like his earlier film scores. “Nasty Habits”, being a good example.

  20. Mer Says:

    Just so we’re clear: I adore all of Danny Elfman’s Boingo stuff, and the majority of his scores. And I’m incredibly grateful for the good Burton pics. But oh, oh, oh…. yes, how I wish he’d go back to smaller budgets and better scripts and original stories.

  21. Charlotte Says:

    Okay, so who else is “team kill Tim Burton”?

  22. Tequila Says:

    I’ve been wanting to comment on this post for a while. Yet each time I try to nail down what I want to say it gets obnoxiously long (trying to curb that habit…heheh.)

    Ultimately what I see with Tim Burton is a studio director trying to balance creativity with commerce. Burton the artist vs. Burton the Brand studio and corporate execs. no doubt see him as. Something he has commented on in the past. Like Lucas he occupies a very unique position few creators get, where the merch produced is sometimes more important than the art created.

    A really good profile on Burton is up on Flickeringmyth.com. Part III (of IV) was recently posted and it gives a great overview of what happened to Burton from Mars Attacks! to Planet of the Apes. It’s no fanboy piece and gives a great picture into the difficulties of the every changing & never stable Hollywood Studio world.


    This was a standout for me…it just nails it…

    “…A major drawback for working on a big budget Hollywood picture for Tim Burton is all the studio craziness that happens off the movie set. “Sometimes I feel like the film gets in the way of the merchandising,” revealed the California-native. “There were people over in Taiwan making Planet of the Apes swords before we’d even shot the thing.” Burton did not entirely begrudge the experience. “I’ve been very lucky. Making a movie is tough by nature, whether it’s an independent film or whatever. As the world gets more corporate, you just want to protect that artistic feeling as much as you can. I don’t want to create a me-versus-them, because that’s not what it’s about. It’s a large operation – a lot of people, a lot of money – so I take it very seriously. I feel like I’m in the army sometimes.”…”

  23. pierrette Says:

    They should make one for Terry Gilliam.

    “Guys, we’re making a movie!”

    “Where are we going to get the money for it?”

    “Never mind the money! Money is for unimaginative capitalist pigs like Harvey Weinstein! This is…”

    “…genius. Yeah, let’s hear it, Terry…”

    “So there’s this ollllld man. And he thinks he’s outlived his prime, right?! He has all these great ideas, and nobody will fund them, least of all that unimaginative capitalist pig…”

    “…Harvey Weinstein. Yeah, yeah.”

    “Anyway, he has a beautiful daughter! Who’s just as full of imagination as he is! But nobody will give them money! But then, at the end, the power of imagination triumphs over everything!”

    “Uh huh. Who do you want me to call?”

    “I want Johnny Depp as the handsome but evil intruder who tries to take MY DAUGHTER AWAY FROM ME and CORRUPT HER INNOCENCE”

    “Settle down there. He’s working on a project with Tim Burton right now.”

    “Unimaginative capitalist pig! Fine, what about Hea…oh.