There was a demon that lived in the sky; and anyone that challenged him would die. They called it the Sound Barrier.
It’s fair to say at this point that Tim Burton is a brand name. Even though Sweeney Todd did $53 Million, this was partly because it did not become an academy favorite, and was not launched with the same panache of other Burton-esque films. This appeal can mean big summer business (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory‘s $206 Million) or solid but unremarkable business (The Corpse Bride‘s $53 Million). Basically if you give the man the limitation of a rating and sell it wide, he does business. His career is riddled with misfires, but mostly when he chases Oscar attentions (at least post-Mars Attacks!, which was mis-sold). But even Steven Spielberg had and has his misses.
But more than anything, he’s managed to make films that are Burton-esque. This has been parodied, but his voice is familiar enough that people will return to it. Few modern directors have been as strong at doing this. Spielberg had it, but – in his way – gave it up post-Saving Private Ryan. His returns to Spielbergian whimsy has been some of his least successful films. Martin Scorsese has it, in the sense that he’s become the most well known “artistic” director. I don’t know if people could say they always recognize his voice, though they might pick out a shot or two. Arguably James Cameron has this though – like Spielberg – there are stages of his career, even if he has core thematic concerns. Whereas there are mercenaries, like Robert Zemeckis, and dabblers like Gus Van Sant and Stephen Soderbergh that don’t have those same interests of repeating themselves as regularly. Michael Bay has evolved or devolved into a complete package now that people can be sure of what they’re getting. There are others, consistent voices like David Cronenberg, Quentin Tarantino, etc. But there’s no need to discuss auteurism. Though it’s fair to say a film is the summation of a group of people working together in collaboration, most directors have a through-line of some sort or another. Thematic concerns and style. And just as it’s important to acknowledge that work, it’s just as important to not judge a film by a body of work (witness Mike D’Angelo’s recent AV Club celebration of Training Day)
For many, branding eventually works against them, as it limits what they do. John Waters has a core demographic and can’t really ditch it any more, whereas filmmakers like Todd Solonz seemed not to evolve, and M. Night Shyamalan became a parody of himself. Branding also can turn you into a niche director. John Carpenter seemed to have designs outside of genre at a certain point, but found himself toiling mostly in horror. It’s hard to brand yourself and be mainstream without wearing out your welcome.
What must be said is that most audiences – though followng directors has increased over more recent cinematic history – were more likely to follow an actor than director. To a certain extent, they still do. Back in the day, star was king, and only filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder had a recognizable name. Auteurists rescued Howard Hawks and John Ford to some extent, and both relied heavily on making films with stars to achieve success. and the only way people would know Sam Fuller and Budd Boetticher is because of nerds like me, and filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese.
So as easy as it is to mock a director like Tim Burton, it’s fair to say he’s done it. He’s managed to put himself in a position to make films on his name. The quality of that product is what’s questionable.
PREDICTIONS YOU ATE IT, THERE IS NONE LEFT
Alice in Wonderland has been the recipient of a lot of bad to toxic buzz in my circles. Though Harry Knowles seemed to like it, most of these nerds I know (I know, these are the nerds I know) thought it was either bad or terrible. How it plays for the mainstream is entirely up for grabs, but Disney’s move to rush the film out on to home video suggests that they think the film will be out of theaters very quickly. Does it get to $100 this weekend? Probably not. But it could get close. I’m going to say near $80 Million with a heavy Friday number, regardless of the Oscars. Brooklyn’s Finest should do medium business.
1. Alice in Wonderland - $81.5 Million
2. Shutter Island – $13 Million
3. Brooklyn’s Finest - $11.3 Million
4. Cop Out – $8.5 Million
5. The Crazies - $8 Million
And if Avatar sneaks into the top five, and if Cop Out or The Crazies drops hotter, there’s that. See you Sunday.