REVIEW: Tim Burton

Front cover of the book Tim Burton - The Iconic Filmmaker and his Work

Tim Burton may not be the first person that you think of when you say ‘UK Handmade’ (for a start he is American), but unlike many other directors he does have a tendendency to create his cinematic worlds with as much authenticity as possible, (okay, apart from Alice in Wonderland which was created entirely using CGI – but that shows he likes to try new things), going as far as using real squirrels in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, actual penguins in Batman Returns, and a real car in a tree in Big Fish. Although he appears happy to dabble in CGI he seems more comfortable raising giant sets, directing tiny mechanical models and watching his craft come alive literally before his eyes using more traditional methods. As you can probably tell, I’m also a big fan.

'Tim Burton: The iconic filmmaker and his work' discusses – somewhat briefly – each film that has been directed by Burton, beginning with Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, his first feature length film, right up to the present day with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Internal image taken from Tim Burton - The Iconic Filmmaker and his Work showing Burton with stop-motion figures
©The Kobal Collection/Touchstone/Elizabeth Aninas 

The introduction and first chapter take a look at Burton’s early life, upbringing and background in general. It also illustrates many of the things that influenced him growing up, especially horror and science fiction B-movies. The following chapters appear to be divided by theme such as, “Happy Horrors: Geeks and freaks” and “Drop-Dead Grogeous: The Stop Motions”, but they largely run in chronological order with only the animations coming together in a chapter out of timeline order. The chapter themes feel a little forced but do give a feel for the types of films that Burton has been drawn to over the years.

Internal image taken from Tim Burton - The Iconic Filmmaker and his Work showing Burton working on Ed Wood
©The Kobal Collection/Touchstone

The text is accompanied throughout by a selection of images ranging from old movie images and posters to film stills and photos from film sets, (I particularly enjoyed the two showing animators working with stop-motion figures). There is also a fold-out filmography, which I thought was a nice touch, it not only includes the films that Burton has directed but all the projects that he has contributed to in various capacities, whether that be as producer, writer, artist or development etc. The actual fold-out is placed rather awkwardly in the middle of the Batman Returns section, and I did wonder if it would have been possible to maybe move some of the content around so that it could sit somewhere a little more corrherent.

The book is unofficial and unauthorized, and in many ways you can tell, it reads very much like a media essay with every opinion and conclusion being backed up by a source (referred to in a list at the back of the book), but that’s not to say that is isn’t interesting. I’ve read a few books on Tim Burton, yet I still felt like I was reading new material that I hadn’t come across before. Ian Nathan has certainly done his research, the content feels very thorough, it’s just not as personal as “The Art of Tim Burton” for example, however it does give an excellent, solid overview of Burton’s career.

Internal image taken from Tim Burton - The Iconic Filmmaker and his Work showing Burton on the set of Sweeney Todd
©The Kobal Collection/Dreamworks/Warner Bros./Leah Gallo

Nathan refers to the term ‘Burtonesque’ frequently, and I think it is easy for us to conjure up visual tells that we immediately associate with Burton, something gothic, or quirky, something related to death or the undead, stop-motion, monochrome, bold stripes etc., but what this book does a great job of illustrating, by visiting each film individually, is that regardless of the themes or links, Burton continually challenges and develops himself by taking on new things. Just think of the type of films he has made his own: superhero, horror, children’s, stop-motion, sci-fi, sci-fi comedy, biopics, fantasy and musical. It seems Burton can turn his craft to absolutely anything.

Internal image taken from Tim Burton - The Iconic Filmmaker and his Work
©The Kobal Collection/Warner Bros./DC Comics

This is definitely a great book for anyone with an interest in Tim Burton. Although it doesn’t feel as personal as a biography it does offer wonderful snippets from life in film, illustrating how the industry works, highlighting the collaboration between a variety of people in order to not only make a film a success but to even get it made in the first place. It is crazy to think that before Burton came along, Batman had already seen ten different writers and ten different scripts come and go, and before Keaton was cast the likes of Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen and Bill Murray were all considered for the lead role. I also loved that Edward Scissorhands was largely kept a secret from the studio to prevent them from monopolising it, and that they took over a whole suburb for three months, moving the locals to motels and painting their houses with various pastel colours. It is those kind of details and stories that really bring this book to life and keep the reader (the fan) so engaged. Content aside this is also a really attractive book, the monochrome cover and matching slipcase make the book feel like something special, making it a great potential gift for the Burton fan in your life (and everyone has one of those right?).

Tim Burton: The iconic filmmaker and his work by Ian Nathan  
Published by Aurum Press
RRP: £25

ISBN-10: 1781315957
ISBN-13: 978-1781315958