In my previous entry (The Films of Tim Burton Part Two), I covered Batman and Edward Scissorhands.
Next up is 1992’s Batman Returns. I had seen most of it on cable growing up, but it wasn’t until the Museum of the Moving Image’s Tim Burton retrospective in 2003 that I was finally able to see it completely and on the big screen. With more creative control, Tim Burton went in a darker direction with the sequel to 1989’s Batman. Born Oswald Cobblepot, the Penguin (portrayed by a brilliant Danny DeVito) in this film is such a unique creature. Although he is one of the villains and while most of his actions are despicable, he’s still a very sympathetic character (at least to me). As a baby, he was abandoned by his wealthy parents and left to die. No matter who you are, that is a horrible thing to do to a child.
I believe that the Penguin did want to be part of a real family and that his search in the Hall of Records served two purposes (one sinister, one personal). Running for mayor in a recall election wasn’t even his idea, but Max Shreck’s (the other villain, portrayed by the excellent Christopher Walken). The Penguin only agreed to it because he really thought it would bring him love and acceptance, and that he may finally feel human. He is ultimately betrayed by his own dirty tactics and Max, who turns on him when the people of Gotham do. The tragedy of the Penguin is completed with his death. Even in his final moment, I could not help but pity him. Danny Elfman wrote an incredible sequel score, nearing operatic levels. His music for the Penguin’s death scene is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard. Anytime I hear that piece I close my eyes and can easily picture the little penguins dragging his corpse into the water.
Moving on to Bruce Wayne, I felt really bad for him, too. Brilliantly played again by Michael Keaton, Bruce Wayne finds a kindred spirit in Selina Kyle (the terrific Michelle Pfeiffer) only to discover too late her dual identity in an excellent ballroom scene. In regards to the Penguin, he was sympathetic towards the Penguin when the Penguin first appeared and wanted to find his parents. His suspicions about him would soon be proven correct when his detective work uncovered the Penguin’s whereabouts over a number of years. It is a shame that Bruce Wayne/Batman’s detective work is something I don’t really hear about whenever this film is talked about. He not only investigates the Penguin but also Max Shreck, leading Bruce to not do business with him while still keeping an eye on him.
Batman Returns is such an underrated film. It is my favorite of the two Tim Burton-directed Batman films (he was a producer for 1995’s Batman Forever). I feel that the Penguin represents my deepest fears about what I might have become if I had let them come to fruition. Imagine a creature hell-bent on exacting revenge for all the wrongs committed against him and having the means to do so. It’s almost like looking in a mirror, but one that is cracked to the point where you can barely recognize yourself. That’s what I see in the Penguin, and I am thankful that I turned out differently. Also, if this film’s Selina Kyle was able to live with herself and commit to a relationship, I could see myself in a long-term relationship with a woman like her.
Next up is 1994’s Ed Wood. I had seen most of this film on cable, but I didn’t get to see it completely and on the big screen until the Tim Burton retrospective at the Museum of the Moving Image nine years ago. This film differed from Burton’s other films only slightly. This film was shot in black-and-white, was a bio-pic on a real-life person, and was the first of only two Burton-directed films to not feature any Danny Elfman music (Elfman and Burton had taken a temporary break from working with each other). Howard Shore was the lucky composer to get to work on the music for Ed Wood, and he delivered the goods. As the title indicates, the film is about filmmaker Edward D. Wood Jr. (portrayed by the excellent Johnny Depp), who is pretty much known as one of the worst filmmakers of all time. While this film does resonate with me, I want to be clear that the cross-dressing and any of Ed’s other weird fetishes do not resonate with me.
What I’ve always found fascinating is the father-son relationship that develops between Ed and Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau in an incredible Oscar-winning performance). I’ve always longed for that kind of relationship with a father figure, but then again, we can’t always get what we want. What really resonates with me is Ed’s passion for making films. Like him, I also enjoy making films, but unlike him, I can tell whether what I’ve written is any good or not. Tim Burton’s Ed Wood is more like Orson Welles without the talent. I greatly admire Ed’s enthusiasm, but he was very misguided about not paying attention to the little details. In having a passion for filmmaking, I understand that not only are the little details important, but also having a solid story and characters. They must always come first, otherwise you’re just wasting your time.
COMING SOON: The Films of Tim Burton Part Four