Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”
There are a great many movie-lovers for whom the phrase "a return to form for director Tim Burton" causes elation. Few American directors -- Spielberg and Shyamalan come to mind -- have achieved the kind of popular success and name recognition that Burton has while staying completely faithful to what interests them so personally. (Well, almost; there was that unfortunate "Planet of the Apes" business.) Those who have missed the old Tim Burton since "Ed Wood" will not be disappointed by this film, nor will those who, like me, appreciated the underrated work he did in the late nineties.
I find myself in agreement with the film's detractors over their main criticism, that the film values its visual splendor over characterization, but I differ on whether that is a flaw. This film was made for its particular visual inventions, and there's probably no one who could have pulled it off quite like Burton, cinematographer Philippe Rousselot, and their team of art directors. Besides, it gets the characterization right on the only two characters who are supposed to be three-dimensional, the father and son at the center of the story. Credit is due to the all of the actors in those parts, but in particular to Albert Finney, who must convey a lifetime of having been this idiosyncratic oddball.
Even my own personal gripe about the film, an anticlimactic ending after such a brilliant one was foreshadowed from the start, pales in consideration of the film's themes about the heavy price one pays to be an iconoclast and the unifying power of a family narrative. I wasn't just wowed by the film's images or drawn in by its characters, I was impressed with its thoughtfulness. This is a film to be seen and loved by all.