Burton’s fairy tale is undoubtedly his best, but that’s not saying much.
From their shrill voices as they gossip and bitch to their conceited lifestyle of designer clothes, hairdos and commodities, Burton’s presentation of a suburban community is truly horrid. Each brightly coloured McMansion within his model village is a replica of the last, highlighting the one thing this society lacks – imagination. This is the foundation for his central theme; the director deconstructs commodification and exposes the falsity of the American dream.
The message is all the more emphasised by the appearance of Edward, who needs no description, and having left the confines of the eerie castle grounds, the mysterious eccentric lives within the plastic town. While he is initially welcomed and his unique talents and creative imagination grant him celebrity status, it isn’t long before the greedy townsfolk manipulate him and use him as a tool to achieve their vision of perfection.
A lonely stranger, with quirks – every Burton film has an autobiographical aura with each character being a different iteration of himself. This is why he so frequently casts Depp as his star and here he is exceptional. He distances himself from dialogue and relies on body language and facial expressions to convey his character’s feelings. He’s a troubled soul, crippled with shyness, but brimming with charm that is often expressed by comedy, these light hearted distractions make Edward all the more identifiable.
Much like the famed protagonist, the scars of Burton’s film are there for everyone to see. Such a personal approach doesn’t wash with me; a self-centred director questioning the conceited nature of society is rather hypocritical. Additionally, the narrative is two paced and the ending feels rather rushed, which is disappointing after such a brilliant opening third. But most significantly of all the cinematography and soundtrack leave a lot to be desired, they lack any impact and fail to leave any sort of impression on the film.
The biggest problem for Burton, and any filmmaker with an easily identifiable style, is that the authorial sentiment will either work for an audience or it won’t. While his success and cult following cannot be avoided, his films haven’t worked for me. This is the first Burton film I’ve seen where his style works for the narrative rather than just personal gain, but his gothic atmosphere has always failed to match Henry Selick’s, whose films he’s often confused with.