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October 21st, 2018

Tim Burton’s The ‘-esque’ Factor

I’m just going to put this out there: Tim Burton needs to stop making movies and delve into some other medium. Gothic landscape gardening, perhaps. It’s not that I dislike the man’s movies; it’s just that he seems to have been making the same one over and over for years now. I haven’t seen the new ‘Alice in Wonderland’ yet, but here are a few things I’m pretty sure it’s going to include:

  • Johnny Depp, sporting some strange accent and outrageous hair
  •  Helena Bonham Carter looking dishevelled.
  • Some stripy tights.
  • Lots and lots of white Max factor foundation.

Don’t get me wrong, emo kids: this is not a bad thing. It’s just so…so…Tim Burtonesque. And there we have it: the esque-factor. Pretty much the opposite of the x-factor, which stands for that impalpable allure that some stars have and some don’t, the esque-factor is the death knell of creativity. And Tim Burton seems to be coming down with it in spades. Not that he is the only guilty one, (a certain Mr Tarantino springs to mind), but he irks me most of all because I love Tim Burton movies. His quirky oddness and cutesy-goth aesthetic are right up my alley. What I object to is the fact that he seems to have been trapped in a stasis-bubble since ‘Big Fish’, sticking to the formula that works instead of trying new and different (and possibly fail-worthy) things. Now, his movies seem less quirky and odd and more paint-by-numbers: 1. Buy stock in white pancake makeup industry, 2. Drag Johnny and Helena backwards through a hedge to achieve the correct hairstyle, 3. Spend millions on CGI to achieve the right Hot Topic tone, and 4. Repeat.

It saddens me, because ‘Nightmare before Christmas’, ‘Beetlejuice’ and ‘Edward Scissorhands’ could fit easily into my top ten movies of all time list. You could say that they also follow along the same general formula and you’d be right; stripy tights abound, and Johnny Depp dithers and twitches his way across the screen as usual. But there’s something about them that makes them different from his later works. They had the x-factor, an indefinable charm that made them hilarious and at the same time tinged with melancholy.

Trying to define the x-factor is hard. Presumably that’s why they have replaced it with ‘x’, in the time-honoured algebraic fashion. But I’m going to give it a try, because it’s been bothering me all day. My roommate, (the recent recipient of his very own B.A. degree, Eng. Lit. and Philosophy, no less) and I had a long and fancy discussion about it, using lots of words like ‘ersatz’ and ‘pseudo-goth-chic’. What it all boils down to is that his movies have become pale imitations of themselves, mere copies of what was once fresh and new. But underneath all my academic guff, there is another, truer, reason. It’s weird, but some movies don’t seem to have a sell-by-date. I hesitate to use the word ‘classic’, but I think what it really means when you come right down to it is that some movies stick around on your hard-drive for years, and others are the first to go when you need to delete stuff to make more space. ‘Nightmare’ has been on my HD for years, but ‘Corpse Bride’ got deleted within days, in favour of the latest season of ‘Trailer Park Boys’ (not porn, if that’s what you’re wondering, but in fact an excellent Canadian mockumentary show).

It’s a pity when artists get stuck in a rut. Their work might not necessarily be bad, but it is certainly safe. It takes no risks, pushes no boundaries. It fades after 2 or 3 washes, like an old grey t-shirt. I’ll probably go and watch ‘Alice’ anyway, because I know it will be beautiful and shiny and not at all a waste of two hours or so. But that will most likely be the end of it. I’ll never say of it ‘You haven’t watched what? Get out of my sight and go to the video store and get it now…I’ll start making popcorn!’

If the x-factor is elusive and hard to define, the esque-factor is its total opposite. Just think of a writer, director or other creative person you admire. If you can add an
–esque to the end of their name (although sometimes it might be an ‘-ian’, for strange grammatical reasons), they’re probably guilty. It’s perfectly ok for an artist to have a voice, but they have to say new and interesting things with it. They have to break away from their own iconic status if they want to stay fresh and relevant. If, on the other hand, they are the theme of many many 21st birthday-parties, perhaps it might be time for them to re-think their approach. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get my Sally outfit and pop down to the pub; it’s Tim Burton night, and you get in free if you’re in costume.


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