(Because of the difficulty of finding uploads of credits sequences for more recent films, this entry will skip more films than the previous entry)
Things get dicey after Mars Attacks. Opening a career with Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and Beetlejuice sets a very high bar in terms of energy and fresh ideas. Not only did Burton keep his momentum through the next batch of films he made, but he also seemed to be gaining confidence in his style. He continued to develop innovative projects and solidified his presence as a visual taste-maker with Nightmare Before Christmas (the most Tim Burtony movie to ever Tim Burton down Tim Burton Lane that was not actually directed by Tim Burton) and proved he had outstanding chops as a dramatic director with Ed Wood. The early promises of his career were being delivered in spades with increasingly challenging projects.
Then, something changed.
1999 - Sleepy Hollow
Here begins what I hope will, in time, be referred to as "mid-career Burton". This is the phase where quality dipped and Burton increasingly relied on computer animation and a weird/wacky Johnny Depp who had been blasted with pancake batter makeup instead of the organic creativity that makes his films so interesting.
The opening titles to Sleepy Hollow look fantastic, each shot being gorgeously composed and coloured. But, what's being shown has a much more workmanlike feel to it. We're given the information (very slowly) that Ichabod is traveling quite far from home. The town he arrives in is unwelcoming and mysterious. But, not mysterious in a unique way, just ... you know ... generally mysterious.
That said, the general workaday feel of the sequence is better that what was coming down the pike.
2005 - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The similarities between this sequence and Edward Scissorhands are plentiful and serve to highlight the differences. Both showcase the highly stylistic mechanised process of something that should be simple. Both shroud the world around the process in mystery, focusing on the machines. That's where the likenesses end. Gone is the subtlety, the mystery, the mood and (perhaps most importantly) the tangibility of something real. Instead, we're presented with a clanging, cartoonish CGI mess.
Burton is at his best when he's organic. The comedy in Beetlejuice works because the ghoulish effects have a cheesy, handmade quality. Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Nightmare Before Christmas, Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands ... They all work because everything you're seeing is there. No matter how strange the world is that he's building, it is grounded in reality because the things are real. The opening titles to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory don't feel real. Just loud.
2007 - Sweeney Todd
Here we go again with the same format. Foggy sky to mechanical process. Computer animation in place of anything real. And, blood that looks more like sweet succulent strawberry jam than anything that could come from a human.
The sequence is not without its touches of beauty. The passage of time implied by the dirtying of the wall as the camera moves past the portrait towards the beginning is as lovely and evocative as anything Burton has done. But, the rest has that same "let's just do this thing we've always done" vibe to it.
2012 - Dark Shadows
Back. On. Track.
The opening sequence plays perfectly to Burton's strength. From the start of his career, Burton films evoked not-long-gone times populated by not-quite-possible people. Burton is on when the world is slightly off.
Victoria is too perfectly manicured. She feels more like what the 70's thought a good girl in the 50's was probably like and the girl seems knowingly uncomfortable in her own clothing. The New England world she's traveling to is unwelcoming, as was Ichabod's in Sleepy Hollow, but this feels at once more authentic and more cartoonish. The police with their glasses seem to be more suspicious and threatening than anyone else in the station. The hippies that cloud around her are caricatures of hippies, clearly not the real deal. But, the comments they make are subversively invasive and off-putting. Are they openly mocking her or just so completely tone-deaf that they don't realise the discomfort they're creating?
The town is busy and populated by workers, all of whom clearly have no need for the pressed-and-dressed refinement that Victoria is bringing to town. Before she even gets to Spooky House and the end of Creepy Trees Lane, she's accepted her role as an unwelcome stranger.
2012 - Frankenweenie
The opening titles to Frankenweenie establish the time period while also cheekily commenting on the distance between now and then. The film, released theatrically in three crisp dimensions, features stop motion characters watching homemade stop motion while they try to work out their confusion regarding the 3D glasses. The cold open, in all its meta cardboard cutout glory, gives way to the title sequence proper. As a camera glides through Victor's world, we learn more about the time period and passions of the character. It's all presented in those same inky blacks we saw way back in Ed Wood.
Big Eyes, the inspiration for this pair of entries, opens in familiar territory—a macro study of the repetitive motions a machine makes while production is going full steam ahead. It's a rock solid return to form from a director who has always maintained ferocious visual ingenuity, even when the storytelling and conceptual creativity lagged. Big Eyes features a machine that actually exists and is actually producing something. The film that follows lives up marvellously to the tactile promises made in the opening titles. Hopefully, we'll all be able to look back and call Big Eyes the start of the triumphant "Late Burton" phase of his career.
Until then, let's just enjoy the credits where credit is due.