Monday, September 26, 2005

Why Not Wait for Halloween?

Although a memorable artistic triumph, Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride” features off-putting subject matter more appropriate for a Halloween release. And yet, this unique, quirky film also boasts a touching love story, catchy musical numbers and a haunting message about how dreary life (or death, for that matter) can become without romance.

Based on a Russian folk tale, the movie follows the adventures of Victor Van Dort (voiced by Johnny Depp), a shy and dreamy young man whose parents have betrothed him to Victoria Everglot (voiced by Emily Watson). Extremely nervous at the wedding rehearsal, he messes up the vows and is told to go away until he can say them right. While practicing in the woods, Victor places the ring on what he thinks is a scraggly branch. Oops! Not a branch at all. It’s the finger of a beautiful corpse (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter) who now believes she and Victor are man and wife. The Corpse Bride drags Victor to the Land of the Dead, where – surprisingly -- everything is considerably more lively and colorful than in the somber Land of the Living.

Meanwhile, Victoria, the woman Victor really loves, is being forced to marry another man, the mysterious and sinister Barkis Bittern (voiced by Richard E. Grant). Victor needs all the help he can get to find his way back to her in time.

The look of “Corpse Bride” is like nothing I’ve seen before. It’s done in stop-motion animation, which means a LOT of work went into creating the sets and puppets. Sometimes a crew had to work as many as twelve hours to come away with one or two seconds of usable footage. Many of sets and characters are elongated, which gives them a surreal appearance. Because of special lighting for the Corpse Bride in certain scenes, she glows with old-fashioned movie star glamour.

I know I’m not the least bit objective where Johnny Depp is concerned (be still my heart), but I think his voice was perfect for Victor – shy and halting plus barely recognizable as Depp’s own smooth, velvety tones. This is Depp’s first animated voiceover appearance, and he probably did “Corpse Bride” because it was Tim Burton’s project. “If Tim wanted to shoot 18 million feet of film of me staring into a light bulb and I couldn’t blink for three months, I’d do it,” Depp declares.

And I’d probably pay to see it.


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