Friday, August 18, 2006

Geeks and Freaks

It was confirmed this week that Tim Burton's next project will be a version of the musical Sweeney Todd with Johnny Depp. Though I'm not that familiar with the original story, I'm glad about this development for another reason: It will put off a planned Burton biopic of Robert L. Ripley that would star Jim Carrey. Why do I want this postponed? Read on:

"Carrey and Burton had ideas to change the script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski in ways significant enough to require rewrites by those screenwriters and a re-thinking of the f/x budget. The result would change the emphasis from Ripley to some of the wonders he uncovered for his 'Believe It or Not' column."
Some background is required before I get into this. One of the biggest perks to living in Jacksonville is that it is only 30 minutes north of St. Augustine, the oldest city in America and also one of the most fun. My parents and I went down there quite often and I pretty much saw every attraction down there at least twice.

One of my favorites was the Ripley's Believe it Or Not museum. Unlike the others I have seen over the years in San Francisco, Gatlinburg and Niagara Falls, The St. Augustine location was unique. First off, it's not dressed up like a Las Vegas circus that that the others resemble. It's located in a 1887 mansion named "Castle Warden", which had served as both a private residence and a hotel in it's history before being turned into the first Ripley's museum in 1950. The place has atmosphere in spades, and the exhibits were wonderful to study over and over again

Because of the effect the museum had on me, I read up on Ripley and found him to be a real interesting guy. His travels and discoveries were just part of his life, and there was plenty of story there to tell. So when this news came out and the manner in which they plan on handling the subject matter, I was disappointed. The last film I saw of Burton's was Big Fish, which was a fine film for what it was. The words they use to describe the Ripley pic sounds a lot like Big Fish, and that's not a good thing.

Big Fish concerned an old man and the tall tales he was fond of telling over the years. The movie ends up being very choppy and episodic because of this, but it works well enough to keep you interested. But with Ripley, we're not talking about tall tales. Furthermore, whereas the stories he told kind of defined the protagonist in Big Fish, Ripley was more than the sum of his bizarre parts. Though his name is well known today, the man himself is a mystery. Here we have a chance to show who he really was, and Tim Burton wants to put on a big screen version of the comic strip with lots of CGI. Bleech!

And apart from all this, I just don't know if I can accept Carrey as Ripley. I like Carrey as an actor and all, but I just don't know if this is the role for him. Of course, I'm at a loss to think of anyone else as a replacement, so I guess that criticism is not terribly helpful.

Ripley was one of the first national celebrities that didn't fit the matinee idol good looks that people normally responded well to. Maybe Burton will have a charge of heart during his making of Sweeney. We can only hope so. Because despite Ripley's claim to fame, his life was much more than just a freak show.

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