I feel like Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride doesn’t get nearly enough love and praise for what a wonderful film it is. The acclaim and lasting impression really stuck to Burton and Henry Selick’s A Nightmare Before Christmas and rightly so, but this is every bit as inspired, packed with catchy tunes, casted with beloved actors and filled with gorgeous stop motion splendour. Plus it’s the keystone Johnny Depp/Helena Bonham Carter outing for me because even though we only get their voices the animation is tailored to each respective essence and we feel their physical presences heavily in spirit.
Depp voices Victor Van Dort, a spindly, nervous creation who’s about to be pressured into one of those delightful old arranged Victorian marriages by his domineering parents (Tracey Ullman and Paul Whitehouse). The bride to be is Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson) and wouldn’t you know it they actually do fall in love despite circumstances, which is a nice subvert of the trope that I enjoyed. There’s always gotta be a third though and she arrives in the form of the titular Corpse Bride (Bonham Carter), a deceased girl brought back to life when Victor practices his vows in the local cemetery. This sets in motion a chain of fantastical, macabre, adorable and altogether brilliant set pieces, musical numbers, fight scenes, rich and thoughtful character relations and visual genius like a big old animated Halloween parade.
The cast is stacked too, full of beloved Burton regulars like Albert Finney and Joanna Lumley as Victoria’s crusty, aristocratic parents, Christopher Lee as a cantankerous undead vicar, Richard E. Grant, Michael Gough, Deep Roy and Danny Elfman himself as a rambunctious spooky skeleton called Bonejangles who fronts an undead jazz band. Hell there’s even a worm that looks and sound like the great Peter Lorre which I couldn’t tell if was done deliberately but if so bravo. This thing doesn’t even breach ninety minutes but it’s so full of life, death, colour, incident, song, music, dance and joy that it seems way longer than it actually is. It’s also got a grounded maturity in the way we see this completely ridiculous yet somehow very touching love triangle unfold, and by the end you really feel for Carter’s Corpse Bride and empathize with her situation. A technical marvel, a beautifully told tale and one of Burton’s very best.
Tim Burton’s Batman has to be of one of the most unique caped crusader films ever made. One villain, where in every other outing there’s a handful. A Prince soundtrack. The craziest gothic production design this side of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. It’s one of my least favourite in the string of cinematic Batman films, probably falling somewhere under Nolan’s efforts and Burton’s superior sequel Returns, but that doesn’t mean much because on it’s own terms, it’s really something special. The aesthetic employed here is important not just in comic book films but in the realm of special effects in general. Burton carefully composes a world that reminisces on the grainy Hammer horror movies of the 50’s and infuses that with the stark trench coat noir from 30’s gangster flicks. He’s a director who has always understood that atmosphere is key above most other things in a production and it’s thick as a fog bank here. Then there’s the casting of Michael Keaton, a physically unassuming choice for Batman who seized the moody aspects of the character and took them to new introspective heights, barely uttering three words as both Bruce and Bats. The hook of this film was obviously meant to be Jack Nicholson’s rowdy, boisterous Joker, so much so that he got billing above Keaton. In a subdued, musty Gotham city, he’s the one splash of psychotic colour that stands out, a relentlessly cartoonish yet very scary ignoramus who cements the aforementioned old school gangster vibe, especially in an origin prologue where he’s just Jack Nicholson sans makeup and fanfare, which is when we see some of his best work of the film no less. Kim Basinger feeds off of Bruce’s sullenness as Vicki Vale, a news reporter and obligatory love interest, but Basinger dodges the cliche a bit and simmers underneath the sex appeal, especially when she falls into the Joker’s clutches and we see past trauma burning in her eyes, whether it’s Vicki’s or Kim’s, we’ll probably never know. Robert Wuhl, Billy Dee Williams as a pre Two Face Harvey Dent, Pat Hingle, and Michael Gough all make vivid appearances, but I especially enjoyed Jack Palance as a nastily corrupt kingpin/politician who’s partly responsible for Nicholson’s epic caterpillar into sociopathic butterfly metamorphosis. The real star of the show here though is Gotham City itself, seemingly conjured up from the darkest shared dreams of Count Dracula and James Cagney. It’s a monumental achievement in set design that has influenced countless other projects since and serves as one of the textbook urban hellholes in cinema. This may not be my favourite Batman flick as it is for some, there’s a few things that stand out. The celebratory score by Danny Elfman, although brilliant in it’s own right, seems to clash a bit with the dingy, cobwebbed vibe of Gotham and I’m always curious how the atmosphere would have been if they went with something a bit darker. A minor quibble in an overall picture that’s a stroke of genius though. From that baroque Batmobile catching air through a giant waterfall to the inky black and deep purple silhouettes of Bats and Joker atop a cathedral loft, this film has since been engraved into legend and stands as one of the most iconic comic book flicks.
It’s true, Batman Forever is a silly, overblown, cartoonish riot of buffoonry. But so what? It’s also awesome in it’s own way, and inhabits a certain corner of the Batman culture, the side of things that is rooted in camp and unhinged wonderment. Now, there’s an important and discernable difference between taking things far and taking things too far. That difference is delineated on one side by a willingness to be goofy, colorful and not take this superhero stuff too seriously. The other side of that of course is a disregard for limits, throwing every ridiculous line, costume and awkward scene into it you can imagine. I’m referring to Joel Schumacher’s followup to this, Batman & Robin. Everything that is weird, wonderful and extravagant about Forever just revved up to much in Robin, resulting in a piss poor typhoon of mania and over acting. Not to say that Forever doesn’t have over acting. Ohhhh boy is there over acting. Between Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey, the thing is liable to give you epilipsy. But it somehow works despite its madness, a lucky stroke that Robin couldn’t have cared less about adhering to. Val Kilmer is the sedating antidote to Jones and Carrey, a remakably laid back Bats and a pretty solid casting choice, both as Brooding Bruce and Buttkicking Bats. Eternally broken up about the death of his patents, Bruce fights off Harvey Two Face Dent (Jones) in a garish, disarming Gotham City that resembles Mardi Gras in Dr. Seuss land. Jones’s Two Face is so far over the top, so rabid that it’s a wonder he didn’t give himself a bloody heart attack in the first take. Anyone who’s interested can read up on his performance, and how he pushed himself right to the heights of bombast in order to try and out-Carrey the Jim. Carrey, playing the Riddler, is a ball of twisted nerves himself, set loose on the wacky sets and basically given free reign to.. well.. go fucking nuts. It’s one of his most physical performances too, prancing around like a loon in green spandex that leaves nothing to the imagination. Aaron Eckhart’s Two Face may have had the edge for grit, but Jones has the rollicking clown version, and runs away to kookoo land with mannerisms that even call to mind The Joker in some scenes. The only thing I’ve seen him more hopped up in is Natural Born Killers, but shit man its hard to top his work in that. The story is all over the place, involving a nonsensical subplot with a mind control device, multiple elaborate set pieces, endless scenery chewing and the eventual arrival of Robin, played by Chris O’Donnell who is like the cinematic Buzz Killington. Michael Gough and Pat Hingle dutifully tag along as Alfred and Commissioner Gordon, both looking tired at this point. Debi Mazar and Drew Barrymore have amusing dual cameos as Two Face’s twin vixens, and Nicole Kidman does the slinky love interest shtick for Bruce as a sexy psychologist. Watch for an uncredited Ed Begley Jr. Too. There’s no denying the silliness, but one has to admit that the achievment in costume, production design and artistry are clear off the charts with this one, and visually it should be a legend in the franchise. Say what you will about it, I love the thing.