Why is master of the macabre Tim Burton in the VoH Lobby?

By most accounts, Tim Burton is one of the most accomplished directors working in Hollywood today. And this weekend, he releases his latest, Dark Shadows, an adaptation of the 1970’s gothic television soap opera. Starring Burton’s ace in the hole, Johnny Depp, as the patriarchal vampire Barnabas Collins, and featuring sexpot Eva Green as the witch who done him wrong, this film can’t help but be entertaining.

But will it qualify Burton as a visionary?

Tim Burton was a young animator working at Disney when he was “discovered” by Paul Reubens, back when Reubens’ “Pee-wee Herman” persona was on the rise. The result was Burton’s first feature, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985), a rollicking success for both young men, despite the fact that the movie was juvenile and unevenly paced, as this clip demonstrates:

For his second film, Burton teamed up with Michael Keaton to make Beetlejuice (1988), and the two re-teamed to resurrect the flawed comic hero Batman, with Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992). The astounding success of these films… Batman made more than any other film in 1989… set Burton firmly on Hollywood’s A-list of directors.

Yet here he sits, in the VOH Lobby. Truth be told, those Batman films, as well received as they were when released, seem pretty hokey by today’s standards, and Batman Returns might actually make an argument for hack status. Here’s the pivotal scene where Academy Award nominee Michelle Pfeiffer’s character becomes the Cat Woman in Batman Returns… pretty weak if you ask me:

It was in-between the Batman films that Burton first directed Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands (1990). Depp, like Reubens, was red-hot in Hollywood at the time for his television work (21 Jump Street), but had never headlined a film. Scissorhands solid box office performance put Johnny Depp on the A-list and kicked off a long-term partnership with Burton, a partnership which even earned Depp an Academy Award nomination (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street). Dark Shadows is their eighth feature film together.

There is no doubt that Burton makes successful, entertaining films, and the artistry of his productions has always been solid, if not spectacular at times. But there seems to be something missing, some element of his craft appears to be lacking in a way that makes it difficult for us to recognize him as a visionary. Perhaps there is such a thing as being too irreverent? If so, Burton’s status will not change because of Dark Shadows, which has every appearance of being just as irreverent of its source as any of his previous films:

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