Sunday, 8 July 2012

Burton & Luhrmann: All is lost?

Tim Burton and Baz Luhrmann are two of the most exciting directors of the past twenty years. Visually, their work stands out when compared to their Hollywood peers. Aside from the landmark effects seen in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Avatar and Disney Pixar films, not since the days of Vincente Minnelli has there been so much vibrancy and colour on screen, nor creativity and magic. Their work is literally a feast for the eyes, and was a massively exciting addition to Hollywood film.

In spite of this, I feel that the magic these two hugely talented people had in their fingertips, has sadly diminished. Although he has directed a few short films, Luhrmann hasn't directed a feature length film for nearly four years. His last film was Australia (2008) a film that was big-budget and featured big landscapes and big stars, but not many enjoyed it. Risking sounding hypocritical, I haven't actually seen  Australia myself, but I never wanted to. When I saw the trailer I just thought to myself, where's Luhrmann's style, where's the excitement and the colour? Is this the same Luhrmann that created the sparkly world of Moulin Rouge! (2001) Or in fact, is it the same Luhrmann that transformed William Shakespeare's classic Romeo & Juliet into a modern cinematic masterpiece set on beaches with people shooting guns instead of waving swords, and a couple falling in love at first sight through the transparency and beauty of a tropical fish tank? Surely not? From what I gathered from my film student peers, they too were put off going to see the movie because it did not seem to have Luhrmann's stamp. My sisters watched the film and didn't like it, so that has put me off seeing it too. I do intend to watch the film to judge it for myself, but I am not expecting much.

Unfortunately, Burton seems to have gone off the boil too. Burton is a strange director in the way that his early films such as Edward Scissorhands (1990) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993 - he produced this instead of directed) each possessed a unique combination of fun, magic, fantasy, mixed with humanity, sentimentality, and a huge amount of pathos. There is something truly beautiful about his work that feels almost seems fragile when you watch it - as if touching it would make it break into millions of little pieces because it looks like a a child's dream. In that sense you can call Burton a magician, and most definitely an artist. His other successes like Beetlejuice (1988), Batman (1989) and Sleepy Hollow (1999) to name a handful are all good pictures, and again weird and wonderful, transporting us into another world - the world of Burton's imagination. His recent works like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) and Alice in Wonderland (2010) were below average.  Watching these films was like watching someone trying to imitate Burton, but failing miserably. The humour is poor, the atmosphere is dead, the characters are dull, and what was once so wow and show-stopping with Burton's films has turned into nothing more than a bland paste. His latest film is Dark shadows (2012) and it looks just like the previous two mentioned.

Luhrmann's upcoming film on the other hand, looks hugely promising. He has directed an adaptation of The Great Gatsby. After being so unimpressed with the Robert Redford original (which I turned off after 45minutes, regardless of Redford's gorgeousness) I am really looking forward to this one. With a cast including the outstanding Leonardo DiCaprio and the brilliant Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan, this film looks like it may just redeem Luhrmann. Let's hope he can capture the spirit of the 1920s and of F. Scott Fitzgerald's original novel.

I truly hope that The Great Gatsby shows that Luhrmann hasn't lost his magic, and I hope that Burton brings another masterpiece to our screens soon. The early work of both directors is truly astounding. Will there ever be a more romantic scene than the fish tank and swimming pool scenes in William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet? And will there ever be a more heartbreakingly beautiful story than Edward Scissorhands?

The relationship between both directors and their chosen composers is another cinematic dream, for it seems that each partnership was destined. Craig Armstrong's work for Luhrmann was masterful, and he composed some of the most beautiful pieces of soundtrack music in film, namely 'Balcony Scene,' in William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. 

As for Burton, Danny Elfman wrote a phenomenal soundtrack with world-class songs for The Nightmare Before Christmas. These weren't you're average songs for animation. Elfman's soundtrack combined the family musical with a quality that was more eerie and solemn than childlike and spooky, particularly with the songs for the characters Jack Skellington and Sally. Both of them had songs that were incredibly mature, heartfelt, but also deep and sombre. The song 'Jack's Lament' is literally a lament, he is pouring his soul out, talking of the despair and emptiness in his life.

Elfman's score for Edward Scissorhands sounded like falling snow, mirroring the beautiful scenes between Edward and Kim in the film. Eerie, ghostly, heavenly, fantastical, dreamlike - all of these combined into one, forms one of greatest scores for a film ever composed. Both Armstrong and Elfman did not receive the acclaim and praise for their work on these films, which is unforgivable.

Let's have more of this Burton and Luhrmann! More of the magic. More of the story. More of the music. More of the dream.

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