Geeks of the Round Table

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Okay kids, today we're going to talk about the trope known as "Chekhov's Gun." Coined by Anton Chekhov in the early 1900's, the term is used to describe conservation of detail. In other words, one shouldn't bring up things that are in no way going to affect the story later on. The titular "chekhov's gun" is that if there is a loaded gun hung up the wall in the first chapter, it must go off at some point during the story. If the gun just hangs on the wall, it should never have been put there in the first place.

I tell you this because Frankenweenie, a stop-motion film by Tim Burton, seems entirely unaware of this basic principal of storytelling. If this movie were a room, its walls would be lined with guns. There would be guns of all shapes and sizes and calibers hanging every which way, and precisely zero of them would go off by the end.
Otter is disappoint.
Where do I even begin. Well, let's start off by trying to answer one simple question: what is the message? I have no idea.

The movie is about a friendless young boy named Victor Frankenstein (because Tim Burton lost the page in his dictionary that defined 'subtle') who loses his dog in a tragic accident at a baseball game, which Victor only played in because his father insisted he try sports instead of making home movies all day. Using the power of lightning, he brings his beloved dog back to life as a slap in the face of God and nature.

Meanwhile another group of kids who's names I can't remember, who I will refer to as Orlock, Gloop and Hirohito (I'll get to the Japanese one in a moment), want to know how to bring the dead to life so they can win an upcoming science fair.
"Just thought I'd remind you all, I'm Asian!"
MEANWHILE the school science teacher is under attack by the ignorant town, who view his enlightened way of thinking with contempt and fear.

MEANWHILE the evil, self-absorbed mayor is pressuring his niece into performing well at the "Dutch Day" celebration so that he doesn't find himself embarrassed (somehow).

MEANWHILE the writers wanted to cram in every single horror and monster reference they possibly could.

So yeah, that's a lot of ground to cover in a single movie, and a ton of plots to resolve. So how does the movie do it? Well, it goes the clever strategy of just not resolving the vast majority of them. The science fair never happens (it's not cancelled, it just never takes place), the mayor is never punished or defeated, the Dutch Day festival is a small footnote at best, Victor's bitterness towards his father for making him participate in the activity that cost him his dog fails to exist, Victor's hobby of film making is barely even mentioned after the opening, he never really makes friends with anyone...and the list just goes on and on.

So, we've ruled out defeating a villain, father/son conflict, or anything about competition, so what's left? Well, at first I thought the movie was going to be about letting go, that Victor's dog would die again by the end, but Victor will have learned to move on. SPOILERS: this is not the case.

Okay, so maybe it's about using science and knowledge for good rather than evil. I guess there's a stronger case for that, since the animals that Orlock, Gloop and Hirohito bring back are unholy abominations, but in this instance, "science" translates roughly into "lightning is magic and can do whatever we feel like to whatever we feel like it should do it to." There was a point where Victor discovers a group of mutated monster sea-monkeys (it kinda-maybe-not really makes sense in context) that are defeated when they eat salted popcorn, because freshwater animals can't handle salt. Okay, so maybe now Victor has to undo the evil creations by finding a unique biological weakness to each one.

Nope. He just hits the rest with more electricity. Not even kidding.

There is just so much that never comes to fruition, so much that is left unresolved, and so much that we aren't even told enough to care about that the end of this movie just feels like it sort of...stops. Even Tim Burton's characters, who are normally so exaggerated and memorable feel flat and lifeless here.

Was there anything good about it? Sure there was. I got a kick out of finding all the obscure movie references, and the science teacher and girl with the cat (you'll know which ones if you see it) are amusing enough. These, however, are by no means enough to save this movie.

Oh right, the Asian kid. How on EARTH did Burton, in this day and age, manage to make an Asian science-wiz fly a dragon shaped kite to harness the lightning that turns his turtle into Godzilla without someone pointing a finger at the racism? I don't even feel bad calling him Hirohito because his whole character is a stereotype.

Frankenweenie is the worst thing that a movie like this can possibly be: pointless and unfulfilling. Even a bad movie can have a message, or at least be memorable in some way. Frankenweenie just isn't. I won't say it's "Dark Shadows" levels of bad, but I'm not too optimistic about Burton's directing abilities anymore.