Alice in Wonderland (Burton, 2010)

The well of Tim Burton, once filled to the brim by Ed Wood, Beetlejuice, Sleepy Hollow, and Mars Attacks!, has finally run horribly dry. After nearly a decade of inane, big budget rehashes, the director’s creative drought culminates with his Alice in Wonderland, a charmless, fanciful mess layering vibrant colors, shifting shapes, and ridiculous contortions onto a facade of unforgivable silliness. Burton’s once brilliant association with German Expressionism has completely evaporated, leaving a strangely demented blaze to replace the menacing darkness. Call it a sledgehammer of uncomfortable cutesy.

It’s a mystery why Burton has disavowed the depth behind his always impressive visuals, the wit behind the strangeness, and the humanity underneath the gothic worry populating most of his early films. But Alice in Wonderland proves his horrendous pattern of expensive flubs, starting with Planet of the Apes on through Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is no mistake, not a momentary case of auteurism gone bad. Alice represents a major director reaching the peak of indulgence, favoring the gravity of surface and artifice over any concern for character and conflict. And this alternate universe is becoming increasingly tepid, a flimsy place of inconsequence.

The horrendous 3-D technology doesn’t help Alice transcend its numerous creative faults, but Burton’s failure to conjure up any emotion or weight within Carrol’s evolving fantasy world cannot be blamed on the success or failure of his dynamic imagery. Also, Burton’s adherence to his acting troupe (Johnny Depp, Crispin Glover, Helena Bonham Carter) is proving overtly problematic, mostly since these actors are just revising previous incarnations, leaving the audience without any mystery or danger to associate with these once fascinating presences. In the end, Burton’s Alice is the worst kind of film – a benign, safe, and clumsy product from once relevant artists who can’t see the forest for the trees. With Alice Burton’s delusions of grandeur are staggering, and for his fans, damn disappointing.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Burton, 2007)

Burton’s deliciously violent adaptation of the Sondheim musical reiterates a lackluster sensibility concerning the director’s latest work. As with Big Fish, Sweeney Todd displays a haunting visual complexity, focusing on riveting color schemes and incredible mise-en-scene while showing little to no interest in character development or story structure. In that sense, Burton’s visual feasts come across as lifeless symphonies of visceral entities pining for your attention via showy montages and melodrama. But Sweeney Todd does reflect Burton’s genius for set and sound design, using splatter effects to lyrically evoke Sweeney’s disturbing disdain for human life. While Burton’s overdone carnage mixes well with Depp’s brutality, Bonham Carter’s pragmatism, and Rickman’s villainy, this incredible surface of blacks, reds, and blues still feels frightfully hollow and self-indulgent.