Wait a minute, that's not a wiener dog...what was brought back to life?

Tim Burton...no, you know what, I don't want to start this review like that. I don't want to spend paragraph after paragraph deriding  the various cliches and hallmarks that have made Burton's work look and feel empty since the 80's. I won't give examples and go into detail about how a man who started out very creative drowned in a sea of self-plagiarism and intellectual stagnation and became a shadow of what he once was. I want to start this thing off on a positive note. All that shit can wait for a few minutes.

So, I just got myself a new 3D monitor for my computer. Well that isn't the reason I got a new monitor, as I have mentioned on the site before, I have started a new business with my wife (www.mohrceramics.com) and, as is usual for new businesses, I am a one man army when it comes to the advertising, web site design and photo editing that normally goes with entrepreneurship. Sufficient to say, the TV I was using for a monitor, while nice, was not going to cut it, as it had massive issues with color reproduction and would forget the settings you program in within an hour, every time. So I upgraded to a really nice LED monitor with a crazy good screen and passive 3D. Because why not?

OK, the happy part is over, on to business.


Pictured: business.

Tim Burton is a hack.

Nah, that's not fair at all, he really isn't a hack per say, but he really is a shell of what he once was, and is fast turning into a punchline, when that was, at one point, simply a crazy thought to entertain. In fact, as a scary thought, "Frankenweenie" represents the first film Burton has made since 2003's "Big Fish" not to feature Johnny Depp, and the first since 1999's "Sleepy Hollow" not to feature Helena Bohmam Cater. This is also the first original story Burton has filmed since 2005's "The Corpse Bride," I am not saying that Mr. Burton has fallen into a pit of unoriginality, but looking at his the last 20 years, the man has directed exactly four original films (and even that is being generous, as "Mars Attacks!" was based off a comic book, and "Frankenweenie" was based on a short film he made in '84). For comparison in that same time period he made six films that were retelling of other stories and that he shoehorned Johnny Depp into. I guess this really doesn't have to be a bad thing, lots of director's gain fame from working with other people's projects and from working with a small, dedicated, group of actors. But I digress from the main point of this review, as making fun of Tim Burton's lack of originality is beating a long dead horse. A horse with big black eyes and lanky legs. And probably striped for some reason.

Speaking of dead things, "Frankenweenie!" That's what we in the writing business call a segue. It is a comment or train or thought that is used to connect two, often conflicting subjects. I'm dropping knowledge all up on ya for no real reason, because I'm cool like that. Um. Dog.

Speaking of dogs (see how those work?) "Frankenweenie" is about a young boy named Victor Frankenstein (not a joke) who's only friend is his dog. The two of them frolic together. Make movies in the backyard together. Attend Hollywood gals dressed like Robert Smith's middle aged uncle trying desperately to connect with the "cool kids" his nephew hangs out with together. All in all, they are as close as a boy and a dog can be. Shame when the dog gets hit by a car, but what are you going to do?

Well, if you are Young Frankenstein, you just bring that sucker right back to life using science. Because when life gives you lemons you don't make lemonade,, you give those lemons to your engineers and you have them make combustible lemons, and you use those lemons to burn life's house down. With science.

Make life rue the day it thought it could give Cave Johnson lemons!

So we have young Victor and his now totally alive and not dead dog "Sparky", because see what they did there? The two are happy until the local kids all realize that since Victor solved the greatest problem mankind has ever known,because a ten year old has become God, and controls life and death, he is a shoe in for winning the school science fair and winning the giant trophy that goes along with it. So they steal his secret and hijinks ensues. Hijinks yo.

For the first two acts of the movie, I actually enjoyed what was presented. The story was simplistic, yes, but notably absent was Tim Burton's normal signatures; we don't get shadow people, we don't have sand worms and trees look like trees. Sure some of the kids look like they are right out of his dream journal, but on the other hand we have kids based on classic horror movie actors, so that is a wash. If the movie ended two thirds of the way thru (which the 1984 version did), I would consider this movie to be a nice, albeit dark, children's movie and give it my seal of approval. Buuuuttt there had to be a third act.

Here is the thing about Tim Burton, he is a great short story teller. He really is, I will never argue that. He is also a great absurdest story teller, that is telling a story that isn't supposed to tell a story, but rather to be odd. "Beetlejuice" was great not for character arcs, but because it was weird. Same with "Edward Sissorhands". We don't grow from watching those movies, we are entertained and move on. In films like that his flair from the dynamic are an aid to his story telling. Where Burton falls, over and over again, is telling stories where there are people involved. Anytime he has to fit a story into the conventional three act format, he can't seem to figure out how to get everything the way it should be. It isn't that he can't do it, "Big Fish" showed us that it is possible, but rather, and this is totally a hypothesis, I think he won't do it. I personally think that Burton believes that conventional storytelling methods are old hat, and tries, actively, to ignore them. In his mind there is nothing artistic about playing by the established set of rules most screenwriters and directors work within, so why bother. What he hasn't figured out yet is that filmmakers use tools like the three act screenplay because they have proven effective methods of storytelling for thousands of years.

In "Frankenweeinie" the first two acts are the story of Victor and his dog, and the story of Victor and his Franken-dog, and the challenges that exist within that situation. The third act should have either had Victor loose the dog and find that it isn't OK to play god, or have everyone learn to love the new Sparky. Essentially the third act needs to tie the previous two acts together, show some character development, and drop the viewer off in a new place, better and wiser for the journey. Most importantly, the third act should have VIctor and Sparky bWhat we get with this film is a really good start, but we leave in exactly the same place as we began. We need that extra step at the end to make us feel like a story was worth hearing.

Here is something I will almost never do, let us consider the story of Jesus. The first two acts are Jesus's birth to his death. The thirds act is his resurrection. Without this act we just have a hippie walking around making wine appear and getting his feet washed. The third act is the most important act of a story, and Burton consistently forgoes it in favor of a elongated 2nd act. No one grows. Conclusions are not reached. The audience learns nothing. That is the problem with "Frankenweenie", when it ends you just feel like you have been watching a movie, not that you felt anything. It is poor storytelling.

As for the technical side of the movie, it is a really well made movie, and I do have to give Burton some props for still working in the realm of stop-motion animation, a field that is massively time consuming and very expensive as Mr. Dink would say. Everything looks great. The 3D looks fantastic, much like in "Coraline" the effect isn't used to have things jump out at you as much as it is used to create a feeling of depth, like you were watching a diorama. From a voice acting standpoint, we have Catherine O'Hara and Martin Short as Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein, Martin Landau as a science teacher (who gives one of the best speeches about science I have ever heard) and Tom Kenny as hundreds of voices. Winona Ryder is in there too, because when you think voice acting you think monotone, boring, and mumbly. But hey, she still looks like Robert Smith's...well, Robert Smith, so Tim Burton has to cast her.


So wait, I wasn't in "Mr. Deeds?" Since when?

Here's the thing, I am hard on this movie because I wanted it to be better, perhaps that is unfair. I want to like Tim Burton's work, he has a great eye, a great stye and could really make some great movies, if he would either grow as a writer or accept other people's help and just be a damn cinematographer or DP. "Frankeenweenie" starts out strong, which is all well and good except the parts that work are the parts that have been bouncing around Burton's head since 1984, it would be amazing if concepts that originated when "Ghostbusters" first came out haven't been refined since then, but it all falls apart at the end leaving a disjointed, emotionless shell of a movie, too dark for kids and too empty for adults. I want to like this movie, I can tell Mr. Burton feels passionately about it, and it almost, almost shows, but instead of Ritz, we were served Salteens, and I must review accordingly.

Rating B-




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