Was Tim Burton ever a good director?

With a title like that, I'm sure to get a lot of hate for even suggesting such a notion.

But here's the thing: I loved Tim Burton. He was my absolute favorite director until around 2001. The worlds he created held my attention in a deeper way than other filmmaker's. The oddball and macabre design, along with the melancholy atmosphere, were unlike anything I had seen in movies. It was as fantastical in imagination as any blockbuster, and it felt more ethereal and personal than the "Hollywood" spectacle of a Spielberg or Zemeckis film. He introduced me to ideas of retro kitsch, spooky fringe and proudly holding onto timeless obsessions of your youth.

Burton is one of those early influences in my life that made me become a passionate movie lover. I can catch "Beetlejuice" or "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" at any moment on TV and immediately get sucked back into them. Batman, Jack Skellington, Martians that explode at the sound of Slim Whitman -- I was (and still am) a head-over-heels fanboy for those cinematic adventures. But now I look at those movies and hold them in high regard in spite of Tim Burton.

Tim Burton is not the filmmaker he used to be. The haunting emotional resonance of an early project like "Edward Scissorhands" does not exist in something like 2010's "Alice in Wonderland," or the recently released "Dark Shadows." (And if you think it does, please feel free to explain.) Since 2001, he's been more content playing the Hollywood game: trying to sell the public on pre-packaged, risk-free commercial entertainment that looks pretty, has distinct colors, and usually features Johnny Depp exhibiting some kind of quirk for ninety-minutes. These projects are the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy: They're not meant to be "deep" or "profound," nor are they trying to use the artform of movie-making to uncover any new truths about the human condition. Their sole purpose is to get you to pay twelve dollars to laugh and be distracted from your life. It's as interchangeable and disposable as "Battleship" or those Geico commercials with the excited pig.

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