When allowed to work within all of his contradictory comfort zones, Burton can deliver something shocking and sensational. This obvious homage to the Hammer films of Britain, as well as the introduction of CSI-style techniques to ancient detective work, walks a fine line between dread and dementia. The script by Se7en‘s Andrew Kevin Walker works to unleash both the paranormal and the practical, with Depp delightful as the policeman poised to turned Washington Irving’s legend into an early American bloodbath. Everything we expect from the pair appears front and center on the screen, from the desire to explore the outsider aspect of Ichabod to the brilliant art and set design.
Like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this was another obsessed over effort (the musical by Stephen Sondheim is a masterpiece) that many believed only Burton could properly present. When he decided to bring on Depp, as well as his gal pal Helena Bonham Carter, many feared their limited vocal skills would destroy the narrative’s operatic pitch. Instead, they brought the over the top material down to Earth, suggested the real sadness in the title character’s crimes. Overlooked at awards season (where it would have been bested by No Country for Old Men), it represents the ultimate expression of the Burton/Depp combo: dark, dangerous, and always taking risks.
A biopic of the worst director of all time (or, at least, that’s the overused opinion of a couple of misguided Medveds)? Deep cast as the talentless transvestite responsible for such cult travesties as Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 from Outer Space? While it seems like a long shot, the duo actually delivered in spry, satiric spades. By turning the tale of Edward D. Wood into a parallel piece about the discarded and disregarded in the often brutal town of Tinsel, Burton cast new light on the topic, as well as the last, lonely days of former fright icon Bela Lugosi. While not 100% factual, it’s 100% fantastic.
As perhaps the ultimate expression of Burton’s wounded soul, this movie has no equals. It’s melancholy, meaningful, and ultimately a masterpiece. It sees Depp actually diving into a role, hungry to prove his post-21 Jump Street appeal with a complementary cast willing to work with both artists to achieve their aims. From the moment we first lay eyes on the title character, we are fascinated. By the time his fate is determined, we are weeping. Whenever fans complain about the shortcuts taken by their later collaborations, it is most likely this initial pairing the provides the litmus test. A true piece of art.