A Charming Grave Fairy Tale
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Featuring the voices of: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Tracey Ullman Directed by: Tim Burton, Mike Johnson
Official Movie site
Tim Burton’s ‘Corpse Bride’ presents a morbid and romantic trip in between the cold dwelling of the living and the colorful underground world of the dead. Behind its eerie theme, it is fun, genial, expressive and charming. This semi-musical stop-motion animation celluloid baby is set at death’s door and salutes the liberating power of true love and sacrifice.
Tim Burton, along with co-director Mike Johnson, ventures into the world of stop-motion animation in this film – such a tedious job of hand-manipulating characters moving incrementally and shot frame-by-frame. For you to have an idea of how tedious the work is, may I share a bit of the technical side of doing it – a film as a moving picture. Each picture is shot. Each shot becomes 1 ‘frame.’ From 1 frame to another, the movements are incrementally shown over a certain period of time. For a television show, there are generally 30 fps (frames per second). In film, there are 24fps. Taking it from here, you can just imagine shooting each frame of the Corpse Bride: 24 shots to be done for a 1-second clip of the film, 48 shots for a 2-second clip, and so on. Each frame is carefully shot: human hands carefully moving the different parts of the body of each character as Victoria (voice of Helena Bonham-Carter) for 1 frame, then move all her body parts very incrementally to shoot the next frame and make sure it complements the previous movement. Come to think of it – the mere raising of her hands (which is worth 1 or 2 seconds of the entire film) pays a work for 24 or 48 frames each carefully shot by a certain type of camera and aided by dexterous hands moving the subject creatively and effectively (Trivia: According to IMDB.com, the filmmakers have used commercial digital still photography cameras – 31 Canon EOS-1D MARK 2 SLR cameras with Nikon Lenses – instead of film cameras in making this opus).
The story revolves around a young groom-to-be who mistakenly weds a girl from the grave and complicates his upcoming marriage to a woman he has just known. The directors paint death as a more colorful plane of existence than life as literally shown on the visuals: a bitterly cold presentation of the world of the living as compared to the colorful and musically vivid world of the rotting flesh. It turns out more life is there at the dead’s company… The engaging story, the expressionistic visuals and the heart for the very statement it wants to insinuate make an overall witty animated tale. It is whimsical yet eerie, funny but melancholic. In a light, side-splitting note, it promotes a necrophiliac entertainment which can find a good place on the hearts of people who like watching a pile of bones set in an ironic and animated piece – whether or not it is Halloween season.
The musical score by Danny Elfman (just like Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter who are considerably Burton’s faves) makes a delightful mix of flight of fancy for the film. A stylistic and touching moment to create a more human tone on the love story is shown in many ways as the accurately presented piano scene of Victor and the Corpse Bride. Overall, the musical parts are very flourishing. As usual, Burton’s team makes up a new world out of the dark and expressionistic style Burton is known for.
The story is not as refined as the usual art-house screenplays. But this film makes a poetic form out of what it has. Its minor flaws are quite overlooked as the eyes roll over the ‘Burtonesque’ style of storytelling. Its imaginatively done puppetry promotes a dark and grand fairy tale brimming with quirky characters and gothic sets.
This film is a darkly enchanting tale about the celebration of love that is told in a quirky, gothic and ironic style. It has the courage to address issues about love and sacrifice and life and death in a shadowy, poetic and creative way.