This past weekend, Tim Burton unleashed his latest creation – an adaptation of Ransom Riggs’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Our fearless leader was less than thrilled with the film, and as a critic and fan of Burton’s, I have to be honest…outside of the presence of the stunning Eva Green, I have had absolutely zero interest in watching this movie. Nothing about it looks particularly appealing having not read the books, and if the trailers had not mentioned Burton’s involvement, I doubt I would have made any connection to him.
This past weekend also debuted the teaser poster and trailer for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – the fifth (!!) film in the Johnny Depp headlining franchise. The first film was a complete surprise, bringing actual fun and adventure back to the movies. After the increasingly lackluster second, third and fourth entries (released in 2006, 2007 and 2011 respectively), I had assumed everyone would know it was time to move on. But instead, they made this future masterpiece, adding Javier Bardem as the new villain and bringing back not only Geoffrey Rush but Orlando Bloom as well (although the trailer has practically zero mention of anyone other than Bardem and young Australian up-and-comer Brenton Thwaites, who may or may not be playing the son of Bloom and Keira Knightley’s characters).
While both of these films share excruciatingly wordy titles – what film needs nine words? – they also share talent that once made some of Hollywood’s most creative and exciting films. But why have Burton and Depp, both Oscar-nominees, turned from visionaries to has-beens? While he turned heads in the otherwise disappointing Black Mass, it has been years since any Depp-starring film was considered a must-see. And I would argue that outside of his animated stop-motion work in Frankenweenie and Corpse Bride, Burton has not made a truly worthwhile film since Big Fish in 2003.
So what happened?
Any number of things could be the answer (money and fame being top contenders), but it is abundantly clear that both need to make like Stella and get their groove back. While Depp has an uphill battle with his tabloid fodder breakup with Amber Heard and his ill-advised friendship with Kevin Smith, Burton has nothing holding him back. He has always been a kooky artist (thanks for that one KS!), and likely will end his career as a kooky artist. So why does he seem unable to create another truly bonkers film like Beetlejuice, or something as bittersweet and intimate like Edward Scissorhands? After his nearly unwatchable and creatively bankrupt rendition of Alice in Wonderland, does he really think a live-action Dumbo is a good move? Should we immediately assume that Depp is going to get cast as one of the jive-talking, atrociously racist crows?
I know I asked a lot of questions in the last paragraph, and know they are not easy to answer. I have no idea what’s driving Burton’s choices, and I know too much about what’s driving Depp’s. But it hurts me as a fan of both of these powerhouse talents to continually be let down with each new film. How am I supposed to be excited to see anything they create, or actively encourage anyone else to sit through them?
So as someone with literally no say in their decisions, I have crafted the following short-term plan for both men. It is not perfect by any means, but I feel like we have gotten past the point of no return – we are at a point of complete and utter desperation.
- Take some time off and relax. Burton can hang out with his kids, and Depp can sort out his personal life and his public image – which I will admit, may be irrevocably damaged.
- Ignore any potential franchise ideas they may get pitched, whether they are old or new. And yes, this means we need to let go of Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian.
- Have a look through their back catalogue of work and remember how creatively invigorating and exciting they were to create.
- Take a breath.
- Then commit to something fresh and exciting that will lack staleness and God willing, lead to Oscar glory.
Here’s hoping they get the memo. They might not care that their best work is behind them, but I know the fans and critics do. And anything that brings either of these two positive press, specifically Depp, should be the win they are looking for. Because the last thing we need is another crappy YA adaptation.
And we need a new Pirates of the Caribbean film even less.
Recommendation of the Week: Ed Wood, the all but forgotten and ridiculously underrated Burton/Depp pairing from 1994. The film casts Depp as the titular film director, who happened to have an affinity for dressing in women’s clothes (specifically angora sweaters). He also happened to be the director of what was once considered the worst film ever made, Plan 9 from Outer Space. Burton’s film is a loving ode to this ambitious man who could never quite get it right, and it may be one of the finest projects he and Depp ever worked on.