2/7/06 Edition

Aisle Seat February Chill Edition
andy reviews Tim Burton's CORPSE BRIDE


One of the great pleasures of watching a Tim Burton movie is that -- especially in this day and age of bland studio fare -- Burton brings a trademark style and approach to every project that is unmistakably his own.

After his 1993 stop-motion feature “The Nightmare Before Christmas” earned critical raves, a cult following, and solid -- if not spectacular -- box-office, Burton spent years looking for another story that would suit the visual trappings of “Nightmare.”

The resulting project was last year’s CORPSE BRIDE (**½, 77 mins., PG; Warner), an unfortunately slight and forgettable exercise from the auteur.

The not terribly compelling or appealing story revolves around a young man named Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp), who’s about to enter into an arranged marriage with a stuffy, obnoxious family named the Everglots. Their daughter Victoria (articulated by Emily Watson), however, is a sweet and quiet soul not unlike Victor’s somewhat timid hero, so all does not appear lost...at least not initially. While performing the wedding rehearsal, Victor walks outside into the cold, lonely forest, where he meets the spectral spirit of a young woman (vocal work by Helena Bonham Carter) who promptly agrees to be wed, and takes our protagonist into the decidedly more colorful underworld, where ghosts and ghouls gather for a swingin’ good time.

Visually “Corpse Bride” provides as much of a feast as “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” with the story’s two contrasting worlds being marked by the presence of color -- in Burton’s point of view, “reality” is grey, drab and de-saturated, while the supernatural realm is dominated by splashes of warm, primary hues. The character movements and camera work seem to be more complicated than those on-hand in “Nightmare,” and fans of the filmmaker will, at least, find plenty of Burton’s visual flair on-hand to sustain multiple viewing.

Regrettably, “Corpse Bride” otherwise ranks as a somewhat substantial disappointment. The John August-Caroline Thompson-Pamela Pettler screenplay does not present interesting characters or a developed enough story to sustain the movie’s 77 minutes. As much time is spent on detailing the machinations of Victor’s obnoxious in-laws as it is on our hero’s relationships with his future wife and the “Corpse Bride” -- perhaps the result of there being not enough material to carry the slim premise to “feature” length. Whatever the case may be, there’s just something cold and un-involving about the picture.

Also proving to be a letdown is the soundtrack: Danny Elfman’s unremarkable score is below-par for the composer’s standards, marked by forgettable songs that fail to move the plot forward the way his sprightly, memorable tunes from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” did. His melancholy theme for Victor (which the character performs on the piano early on) is poignant enough, but there simply aren’t enough of those moments in the soundtrack, while a pseudo-Gilbert & Sullivan tune starts the movie off on the wrong foot.

That, essentially, sums up “Corpse Bride.” The picture does boast a lovely ending -- along with sporadic touches of black comedy -- but its appeal may be limited to die-hard Burton aficionados, and even then, likely without the affection fans had for his earlier forays into stop-motion animation.

Warner’s DVD does look marvelous, however: the 1.85 widescreen transfer is every bit as razor sharp as you might expect. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is robust, and Elfman fans should be pleased with his score being isolated in 5.1 on a separate channel. Special features give an adequate overview of the production, touching upon the genesis of the project to Elfman’s score and the involvement of the actors who perform the voices for the characters (Bonham Carter, Watson, Depp, Albert Finney among them).

New From Paramount

It seems as if every few weeks we receive a new “Special Edition” re-issue of a movie that’s already been packaged at least once on DVD already.

Paramount’s “Bueller...Bueller..Edition” of John Hughes’ classic teen comedy FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (****, 102 mins., PG-13, 1986) is the latest such recipient of the “deluxe” treatment, not surprising since the movie is now celebrating its 20th annivesary (is that even possible?). Happily, unlike some other, so-called “Special” editions, Paramount’s DVD does contain new supplements of interest that ought to please fans of the movie.

The film itself obviously requires little introduction: Hughes’ seminal 1986 film offers Matthew Broderick in one of his quintessential roles as a high schooler who decides to take a day to enjoy the sights and sounds of Chicago, pair up with girlfriend Mia Sara, help his best friend (Alan Ruck) fight his disconnected parents, all the while avoiding his school principal (the marvelous Jeffrey Jones) and obnoxious sister (Jennifer Grey), each in hot pursuit.

Hughes’ film has endlessly quotable lines, hilarious moments, and sensational sequences from start ‘til end. Paramount’s previous DVD contained a sporadic commentary from Hughes (which has curiously not been retained for the new disc), but nothing in the way of Making Of material.

The “Bueller...Bueller...” edition rectifies that by adding four excellent featurettes which essentially comprise an hour-long documentary: “Getting the Class Together,” “The Making of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Who Is Ferris Bueller?” and “The World According To Ben Stein” offer fresh interviews with Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Jeffrey Jones, Jennifer Grey, Ben Stein, producer Tom Jacobson, co-star Edie McClurg and other supporting players, with vintage interviews of John Hughes and Mia Sara interspersed throughout.

These featurettes offer a delightful retrospective on the production of the movie and the often improvisational nature of Hughes’ style. Consequently, it’s refreshing (and deservedly so) to see as much attention here given to the “bit parts” that made “Ferris Bueller” a classic, from McClurg and Ben Stein to Richard Edson and Kristy Swanson, as opposed to stars like Broderick, Ruck and Jones.

Everyone discusses how quickly the film went into production, how fast Hughes worked on the script, and how willing the director was to let his cast take chances -- all of which paid off splendidly with a movie that remains a viewer favorite, now some two decades after its initial release (was I just out of 5th grade that long ago? Yikes!).

The DVD also offers “The Lost Tapes,” a series of videotaped 1986 interviews with the stars mostly in-character, in addition to taped footage of the dining room sequence -- noteworthy here because it contains dialogue which didn’t make it into the final cut. A photo gallery rounds out the disc, which sports the same 16:9 transfer (of the movie’s 2.35 theatrical ratio; Hughes shot the picture in Super 35) as the previous DVD, as well as its sometimes rollicking 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.

“Ferris Bueller” is one of a handful of fine John Hughes films that remain as current today as they were when initially released. Isn’t it a shame that we no longer see movies about adolescents made with not just the humor but the sincerity and energy that Hughes brought to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

New From Disney

BAMBI II (***, 2006). 73 mins., G, Disney. DVD FEATURES: Interactive games, Trivia track, Making Of featurette; 1.78 Widescreen (16:9), 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound.

Sincerely-produced, beautifully-designed sequel to one of Disney’s all-time classics ranks as the finest direct-to-video project in the studio’s history.

That’s not to say that “Bambi II” is a masterpiece like its predecessor -- the story is too straightforward and “small” in scope to garner a great emotional response -- but it’s certainly a surprising, robustly animated affair with gorgeous colors that should give hope for the future of direct-to-video productions yet. Credit has to be given here to director Brian Pimental and the Disney creative staff for producing a respectful, first-class small-screen production that ought to please children and adults alike.

The rather slim story follows Bambi’s coming of age as he’s raised in the forest by “The Great Prince” (voiced by Patrick Stewart) after the death of his mother, with appearances by all of the original characters (from Thumper and Flower to Owl) along the way.

“Bambi II” has a disadvantage right off the bat in that the original is one of the true treasures in the Disney canon, offering a timeless story that was quite economically told. Obviously, this being a “modern” piece, “Bambi II” has to offer a more contemporary musical accompaniment, in addition to developing themes (like becoming an adult) that are more explicitly conveyed than the thematic elements of its predecessor.

That all being said, the music -- from a score by Bruce Broughton (incorporating underscore from the original) to several pleasant songs written by Richard Marx among others -- works wonderfully well, the story is basic but isn’t pretentious at all, and the animation is glorious. The design of the natural environments and characters is right in-line with the original movie, and the depth of the animation is likely unsurpassed for a made-for-video project.

Disney’s DVD contains a smashing 16:9 transfer with a lyrical 5.1 DTS soundtrack that’s a feast for the ears as much as the picture is for the eyes. Extras are limited to a standard Making Of featurette, a trivia track, and several interactive games for the kids.

I’m sure that some hard-core Disney fans will find fault with “Bambi II,” particularly in that the story doesn’t have that “magical” feel that its predecessor did. Frankly, is there any way that a made-for-video project could have approximated the beauty and emotional response generations had to the original “Bambi”?

Taken on its own terms, “Bambi II” provides a slight but satisfying story that kids should find highly appealing, while the often-dazzling animation will be a happy surprise for adults accustomed to small-screen fare that’s usually anything but high-quality. Thankfully, “Bambi II” has raised the bar in regards to the latter, and comes strongly recommended for family audiences.

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