The Burton/Depp Collaborations – The 1990s

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are a cinematic pair that will probably be working together, till both of them are in their old age. The duo have made seven pictures together of varying success. We’ll be looking at these films by decade and see of their collaborations are gaining value or zero-ing out.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)
It was quite a surprise to see teen heartthrob and star of 21 Jump Street working in a film by the director of Batman. Even though I was only eight at the time, I remember thinking it was weird that the Johnny Depp guy would be in this movie. I was also deeply obsessed with Burton at the time because of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, and aforementioned Batman. Scissorhands didn’t appeal to me at that age though, its a deeper film, meant for an older audience. Yes, it has elements of a fairy tale, but its satiric take on Southern California suburbia, its bittersweet love story, and its affection for the wonderful Vincent Price is sort of lost of a 3rd grader. This is the film Depp broke out with, and I feel he’s always felt a strong closeness to Burton because of it. Deep delivers a wonderfully muted performance, I can’t say I’ve seen him deliver anything like this since. While Jack Sparrow has flowery dialogue and free reign to go over the top. That’s a style of acting that can be a sort of cakewalk. Edward doesn’t get to speak much, but has those wonderful props on his hands, that give a truly unique form of expression. Burton is also at the top of his game, delivering the gothic landscapes as well as a neon suburbia. I hope that with Burton’s upcoming Frankenweenie feature film we can see some more of this.

Ed Wood (1994)
A lot of Burton/Depp fans have missed this one, and I personally think it is the best film Burton has ever made. There are references to his deep love of classic horror films and a darkly wicked sense of humor. The performances here are spectacular as well. Depp, who is such an adept chameleon, takes on the wackiness of Ed Wood completely. In addition, Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi is one of the best pieces of acting there has ever been in a Burton picture. Lugosi comes across as sympathetic, yet constantly acerbic and unlikable. It’s the only film Burton has done which was based on real events, and makes me curious to see what other visual flair he could add to another famous figure. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see a Burton directed film about Vincent Price? Or Edgar Allen Poe? Bill Murray also has a perfect performance as Wood’s homosexual producer and has one of the best scenes in the film during a mandatory baptism by financial backers from a church. Burton and Depp have come close only once to the level of perfection this film achieved.

Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Burton and Depp finished out the decade with the first of many adaptations. I am not a fan of the majority of Burton’s adapted works, the scripts are never written by him and bear a lot of the clichéd story beats of typical Hollywood work. Here we have Ichabod Crane turned from a schoolteacher to a pre-forensics crime investigator. That character tweak has always come off as insulting to me. The studio believed Crane had to be “sexier” and so he had to be a detective. It would have been simple to have Crane’s intellectual curiosity spurring him on to investigate the goings on in Sleepy Hollow. Depp felt very blank in this film as well, I never felt a true sense of personality in him. Yes, there are some wonderful visuals, but it is at about this point things begin to feel stale in Burton’s aesthetic. He draws on the classic Corman horror flicks of his youth but seems to recycle a lot of visuals from Nightmare Before Christmas. This staleness would continue into the next decade.

Next: The Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Sweeney Todd.

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