Directors Who Matter - Tim Burton -

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Directors Who Matter - Tim Burton

By ANTHONY C. FERRANTE     January 01, 2006

Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton on the set of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005).
© Warner Bros. Pictures

Age: 47

Most Recent Film: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Best Film: Edward Scissorhands

Most Underrated Film: Big Fish

Did You Know: Designed winning anti-litter poster for a garbage company when he was in ninth grade, and all the company's trucks sported his poster for a year.

Why He Matters: If anyone was a true artiste, it would be Burton, whose warped and idiosyncratic world-eye view has continually been brought to very successful big-budget mainstream studio fare like Batman and Sleepy Hollow.

When you heard that director Tim Burton was re-imagining Roald Dahl's famous children's book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it's one of the few times you didn't hear a groan echoing throughout the global collective consciousness at another beloved classic being remade. After all, Charlie is the type of movie (like Sleepy Hollow) where you recognize Burton was born to make it.

"I remember growing up and the book having a lot of impact on me," says Burton. "There weren't many authors in my mind that captured that feeling of light and dark that spoke to children and adults at the same time, even though it's a bit more commonplace now."

While many view the 1971 Gene Wilder film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as a classic, Burton didn't want to compete with the earlier film and was more interested in adapting the Dahl book more faithfully.

"I wanted to keep it true to the book and things that were in there," says Burton. "It's a strong book."

The process for bringing Charlie to the big screen was a long one. Various directors and writers had been on board over the years, and everyone from Jim Carrey to Will Ferrell were considered for the role of Willy Wonka.

"The tact we took was to go back to the book," says Burton. "If not, then why make this to begin with?"

But he admits some of the early scripts did go a bit astray.

"They were originally trying to make Charlie more proactive, or this and that," recalls Burton. "The kids are so clearly bad, and part of the whole thing about Charlie is he represents 90 percent of the kids we knew in school -- people you don't recognize that were just quiet and maybe good, but not overly demonstrative. I think the key was to keep it simple that way and not really make him some sort of super boy or anything."

Not surprising, Burton mainstay Johnny Depp played Wonka in the new film, and he was even more eccentric than the more outgoing Wilder in the original film. Charlie, as a film, was also be a bit darker as well.

"I grew up watching monster movies and never had problems with them," says Burton. "Fairy tales have been around for centuries and have explored darker aspects of things without any real problems. I think certain adults forget what it's like to be a kid and become more politically correct. They're afraid of the things they forget they were kind of into when they were younger. I read early manuscripts that Raold Dahl had wrote for Charlie, and he had characters called Herpes and other weird things. He kind of pulled himself back a little, but some kids can take certain things and some kids can't. A lot of times adults freak them out and make them think something is wrong with it, and it isn't."

While many filmmakers might have gone an overly CGI-route for the film, Burton says he still believes in keeping things as practical as possible.

"We tried to keep CGI to a minimum," says Burton. "It really isn't an action movie and with kids and all we tried to build as many sets and tried not to rely on blue screen that much. It gives everything a real texture, and I think it helped everybody the kids especially when things were on the set. If you rely on something like CGI too much, you get in this black hole. There's something fun about the original old-fashioned way of making a movie that you really don't want to lose. That's one of the main reasons you're doing it. It's always a balance."

Getting his start in the business as an animator at Disney, followed by a couple oddball shorts, Burton made his feature debut with 1985's Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and followed it with the quirky afterlife comedy Beetlejuice before spearheading the big screen adaptation of Batman in 1989. Through it all he's continued to maintain his filmmaking identity, even when he makes the occasional misstep like Planet of the Apes.

"I've felt lucky for the most part because I've been able to do what I wanted to do," says Burton. "I've always had a certain amount of freedom and a certain amount of restrictions, but that's the nature of filmmaking. No matter where you get money from, you have your restrictions. It's just trying to find that balance all the time."

Then again for Burton, he doesn't feel he would have been as successful if he did it any other way.

"When people ask me advice, I think the best thing I remember is to keep true to yourself and try to do the things you want to do," says Burton. "I always thought it was a mistake when people would go outside of themselves to do something. The only thing you can do is go by your own passion and do what you want to do and hope somebody will go for it."


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lracors 1/3/2006 2:43:45 PM
I have to agree with mostly everyone that Tim Burton is one exceptional director. He has, in my mind, slipped in quality lately. "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" was a bit off, I like that he stuck to the book more, but didn't like the Oompa Loompa's or the song sequences and the factory seemed more like an excuse to spend visual effect money then create a sense of wonder. "Corpse Bride" was not anywhere near as good as "The Nightmare Before Christmas". He has made some very remarkable films including "Batman Returns", "Sleepy Hollow" and "Ed Wood". Furthermore, when you hear his name attached to a film you cannot help but to wonder what it will be like. He has had occasional missteps like other directors, but overall solid quality.


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