Shut Up, You Freak!!

Shut Up, You Freak!!

Shut Up You Freak-small

Recently, as I watched the San Antonio Spurs pummel and demoralize the Oklahoma City Thunder, I was pummeled and demoralized myself, as I was smacked with a halftime commercial for the upcoming movie Alice Through the Looking Glass. Combine this with the recent rumors of a Beetlejuice sequel, and the conclusion is inescapable: it’s sixteen years into the twenty first century, and we haven’t learned a thing. Tim Burton just isn’t going to go away, and apparently there’s nothing that we can do to make him go away. (I know that the new Alice isn’t being directed by Burton, but he’s responsible for it in the same way that Nixon was responsible for the depredations of Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy.)

The man is seemingly bulletproof; no number of Rubberstamped, predictable, underperforming movies can stop him. “Tim Burton” is a firmly established pop culture brand, and it hardly matters that he hasn’t directed a good movie since the end of the last century. (I do make a partial exception for Big Fish, which wasn’t good, but was at least an ambitious, honorable failure. It also seemed to take something out of Burton; he’s never tried anything nearly as serious since.)

How did it come to this? Back in the day, I liked Batman, Ed Wood, and The Nightmare Before Christmas as much as anyone. I was initially underwhelmed by Mars Attacks but later came to appreciate it. Now, however, I greet the announcement of every new Tim Burton project in precisely the same way I greet every new American commitment in the Middle East: “Oh God — we’ve already done this, and it never works!”

Tim Burton

Tim Burton

What was the turning point? Please. Do you really need to ask? For me as for countless others, it was Planet of the Apes, my friend, Planet of the Apes. I looked forward to seeing that movie, I truly did. But then… I saw it. Did you ever thirstily twist the top off a gallon jug (fatally failing to check the expiration date), and take a great big swig of sour milk? It’s something your mouth never forgets.

Planet of the Apes Poster-small

The thing is, while the Planet of the Apes remake wasn’t a good movie, the bulk of it wasn’t “I’ve finally had it with this bleeping guy” bad, either. For most of its length, it was just mediocre; it wasn’t terrible enough to permanently degrade my perceptions of the man who made it. What pushed it into that dread category was the legendarily awful conclusion, the surprise ending that didn’t so much provide a pleasurable twist as it broke the collective necks of the movie, the director, and the audience. You know what I mean.

But it didn’t have to be that way. Just one more twist after the twist would have brought things back to where they needed to be and made all things well. The right road would have been taken, the perilous pass would have been negotiated successfully. Tim Burton’s career would have proceeded onward and ever upward. He would have gone from triumph to triumph. He would need five fireplaces to have enough mantlepiece space for his Oscars, and his name would now be a byword for brilliance instead of a punchline. If it just hadn’t been for that ending…

Monkey Abe

Fortunately, in this era of director’s cuts and DVD extras and re-remakes and retrofitted special effects and alternate endings, it’s not too late. Planet of the Apes can still be salvaged, Tim! (And thank God I’m here to tell you what to do.) Let’s pick it up with the last shot of the film…

The camera slowly pulls back from the tableau of a stunned Mark Whalberg standing before the simian Lincoln Memorial. Fade out.

Fade back in on the luxurious Hollywood office of producer extraordinaire David O. Selznick. The legendary mogul is sitting behind his enormous desk, reading a script. Seated across from Selznick, nervously awaiting his chief’s reaction, is the screenwriter.

David O. Selznick

David O. Selznick

Screenwriter: Well, Boss, what do you think?

Selznick: I give you six months and ten thousand dollars and this is what you give me? Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’ Hara are monkeys?!

Screenwriter: But Boss –

Selznick: But nothing! Faulkner, whoever told you could write was nuts! Get out and stay out!!

Selznick contemptuously throws the script into the wastebasket, as a disconsolate William Faulkner trudges out of the office, his dream of making big money in pictures shattered forever. As the door closes behind the writer, Selznick listlessly picks up a piece of paper from the desk; he looks at it for a moment and lets it drop. He slumps in his chair and buries his face in his hands. The camera moves in on the paper, which we can now see is a telegram informing the producer that his recently cast Scarlett O’ Hara, Vivien Leigh, has been fatally run over by a streetcar in New Orleans.

Selznick: What am I going to do? What am I going to do?

Selznick lays his head on the desk and begins to sob quietly. At that moment, the door opens and his secretary enters.

Secretary: Mr. Selznick, the last girl for the new Scarlett O’ Hara tryouts is here.

Selznick: What’s the use? Oh well… send her in.

The secretary exits, and a moment later fresh young ingenue Kim Hunter enters. Selznick stares fixedly at her for several moments, and then a light of hope begins to dawn in his eyes. He reaches into the wastebasket and retrieves the discarded script. He walks over to a table where his untouched lunch sits and brings back a basket of fruit and sets it on his desk, motioning for Hunter to sit. He leans forward and smiles charmingly.

Selznick: Banana, my dear?

Fade out.

Tim, it’s yours for free. Get in touch with me through Black Gate, any time, day or night. I’ll be in my room, watching Mars Attacks.

Thomas Parker’s last article for us was Alone at the Edge of the World: The Witch.

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James McGlothlin

I sometimes wonder if any of Burton’s movies were ever really that good. The ones I used to like I think don’t really hold up years later. They often strike me as silly.

I actually liked Big Fish, and, I think, didn’t he direct Sleepy Hollow. I think that’s still pretty good as well. I really love, at least parts of Edward Scissorhands, though it strikes me as more sentimental now than genuinely emotional.

I absolutely abhor Beetlejuice now, and I saw that movie like three times at the theater back in the day. I loved it then. But, it seems to me, that it suffers, what I call The Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure effect. Movies that were good because of the age you were at the time, but later you realize they’ve lost their shine.


Tim Burton is certainly prolific and eccentric. I am not a “fanboy,” and I certainly wouldn’t claim to love every one of his films. …THAT said, you are trash talking the person behind: Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (AMAZING), Beetlejuice (Amazing), Edward Scissorhands (Dang Good), Ed Wood (AMAZING), Sleepy Hollow (lots of fun), Big Fish (dang good), Corpse Bride (pretty cool), Frankenweenie (pretty awesome), and Big Eyes (quite good), among others.

…and you REALLY have the creds to tell ol’ Tim how to direct a movie? Somehow, I don’t think Tim is overly concerned.

Wild Ape

1. Go SPURS! 2. I loved the post Thomas even if I partially agree with AWA. I could not stand Beetlejuice or Edward Scissorhands but I have to salute Burton for his job on Batman. I remember when it was released people were laughing and joking about the movie until it was a hit and became popular. Since then everyone has been riding the comic superhero gravy train and I think Burton deserves a star in Hollyweird just for that. 3. I agree about Planet of the Apes. That movie was awful and Burton deserves the slow death sentence for that bomb. Hilarious post….mostly.


Okay, but what are you contentiating? Verily, criticizing is (by far!) the world’s easiest profession…just hard to get paid for it 😉

Planet of the Apes? Absolutely. Not a memorable film in the slighest. I had no idea Burton even directed it. Wouldn’t even try to argue with you.

But this is also the Director who has filmed some of the most memorable…”odd/dark/weird” humor scenes in modern cinema:
*Basement of the Alamo
*Say it…Beetlejuice!

…and if you’re not familiar with Ed Wood, based on the career of the Director of what is widely considered the most wonderfully worst movie of all time, Plan Nine From Outer Space, then you have missed a brilliant gem. I will confidently go on record saying the scene where Ed Wood bumps into Orson Wells in a Hollywood dive bar, and the two lament modern movie making, is one of the best ironic, dark comedy scenes shot…wanna arm wrestle? ;-P

So I guess my point is, criticize Planet of the Apes all you want (but really, who cares?) But to try to throw “all” of Burton’s work under the bus? Why bother? It’s a waste of digital ink, …and you’re wrong, just sayin’.

To posit you have “all the answers” to what ails Tim Burton? Really?

But thank you for getting me thinking about the span of Burton’s career, and for reminding me to re-watch Ed Wood 🙂


To paraphrase James McGlothlin, maybe we’ve all just gotten too old for Burton. It happens. I think I probably have, although I still like some of his work. I thought Sweeney Todd was great. I liked Sleepy Hollow too.


Okay, I’ll concede a lil 😉

I’m doing all this on a smallish Android phone, in an area with sporadic cell coverage, so even the whole “read more” functionality of Black Gate is mainly a caustic pain in the derriere…

But if you’re a fan of Ed Wood, then there’s gotta be at least some good in yer alignment 😉

Cheers, -AWA

Aonghus Fallon

Funnily enough, I was going to cite ‘Corpse Bride’ as an example of what Burton does best (mainly because it’s well within his comfort zone) only to see that you hated it. With ‘Planet of the Apes’ we have Burton as a director-for-hire (and I’m guessing the people who hired him did so for his chief selling point – a certain visual look – rather than his grasp of plot) whereas ‘The Corpse Bride’ is representative of the sort of director Burton might have been.

I started losing interest in Burton fairly on, as I think he’s primarily an art director, and even in this capacity, I think his work has deteriorated – a lot of his later stuff is actually pretty ugly. CGI can benefit some directors and work to the detriment of others, and I’d put Burton in the latter category. Crucially, the guy has little or no plot sense. Even his earlier, better work is structurally flimsy: ‘Edward Scissorshands’ has no middle act, ‘Beetlejuice’ is essentially a series of vignettes.

‘Planet of the Apes’ (the remake) and the fact that the producers hired Burton, is interesting example of how Hollywood can appropriate a film that had something interesting to say, and turn it into visual cotton candy.

Joe H.

So maybe Tim Burton is like the Simpsons? Everybody agrees that he’s kind of lost his way; the disagreement is exactly when he started to fall off.

(For me, I’d say season 8, possibly shading part-way into season 9, was the last one that was truly great.)

Aonghus Fallon

I think ‘Corpse Bride’ is interesting because it’s a relatively late addition to the Burton Oeuvre and was made in conjunction with ‘Charlie & the Chocolate Factory’, so you had Burton doing his Big Movie thing and something on a much smaller scale simultaneously.


Sorry, but for anyone who hasn’t seen Frankenweenie, with or without “kids,” it was QUITE good. Big Eyes was quite good as well, with excellent performances from both Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz.

Seriously, if you’ve gotten “too old” for Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice, or missed Ed Wood, you’ve lost/missed something precious…go out and find it 😉

I ascribe to Ray Kurzweil, the singularity is getting nearer every day, and you may need every active neuron to warrant transcendence 🙂

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