5 Directors Who Create The Best Fantastical Worlds
Not all directors have a signature style, but there are a select few whose fingerprints on a film are unmistakable. They don’t just tell stories, they create worlds full of bizarre creatures or bring modern/retro fantasies to life. They specialize in generating frenetic energy and painting each scene with deep splashes of color. They’re eccentrics, geniuses and brilliant oddballs who make the act of watching movies the true experience it was always meant to be.
Below I’ve listed the five directors whose fantastical worlds never fail to draw me in.
Tim Burton specializes in creating gothic masterpieces. His films are never truly nightmarish; instead they find the humanity in monsters and remove the horror from the horrific. Many of his films fixate on death and creating vivid underworlds. In the Corpse Bride, skeletons sing, drink and dance. In Beatlejuice, we meet a couple who don’t realize they’ve died and the freelance, mad man of a ghost sent to exorcize them. In his most frequent work, Frankenweenie, Burton explored the idea of bringing a beloved pet back from the dead and the consequences that follow.
His indisputable muse is Johnny Depp. The duo have collaborated on eight films together ranging from the cult classic Edward Scissorhands to the blockbuster Disney film Alice and Wonderland. Their outsider personalities almost always mesh together seamlessly to tell stories about unlikely characters both real (Ed Wood) and really terrifying (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street).
Occasionally, Burton’s motifs can become too familiar, but that’s a small quibble when faced with the director’s mountain of delightfully macabre work.
To say Wes Anderson is a quirky director is underselling Anderson’s style.
I’m not sure a word has yet been invented to truly describe the nostalgic, emotionally distant and vibrant worlds he creates. But you always know when you are watching an Anderson film. The colors, the antiquated set pieces, the odd, but captivating monotone of the actors’ line readings. I always think the combination shouldn’t work, but at the end of each of his films–the romantic Moonrise Kingdom, the existential The Darjeeling Limited, the eccentric family drama of The Royal Tenenbaums–I’m left awed, happy and always wistful for some bygone era that I fear only exists within Anderson’s mind.
Prior to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Michel Gondry directed music videos and commercials. Thank goodness his career path shifted to film. As a director, he has a preoccupation with memory. If we discount his foray into traditional Hollywood cinema with The Green Hornet, Gondry’s films always dive into the mind. Eternal Sunshine and The Science of Sleep both took a literal approach to the theme, taking us inside the protagonists’ inner worlds and showing us the twisty dreams and thoughts within. His visuals can make a viewer almost queasy just from the sheer dreaminess of the way he renders fantasies, thoughts and memories fractured by time.
Even Be Kind Rewind, a far less complex story, tackled the theme of nostalgia as a community came together to reenact their favorite film, creating passion plays not unlike the ones Gondry himself designs for our enjoyment.
French director Jean Pierre Jeunet is a master of fantasy worlds. Some are almost grounded in reality, like the romantic daydream brought to life that is Amélie, others are true nightmares with just enough touches of whimsey to keep us from fleeing (Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children). Like Anderson, his films often draw on the past, but its his particular mise en scène of rich colors and frenetic filming techniques that bind them together.
There’s a sense of madness lurking in his energetic shots and lonely characters bound together by the strangest of circumstances, but that’s what makes his stories special. He finds the beauty in places most storytellers never bother to look in the first place.
Pan’s Labyrinth haunted my dreams, the Hellboy franchise surprised me with its true comic book style and this summer, Guillermo del Toro revived the thrill of a good old-fashioned monster movie with Pacific Rim. As a director his specialty is breathing life into creatures. The fairy tale horrors of Pan’s Labyrinth only could only have emerged from his mind, just as only his deft touch could make the cartoonish Hellboy so unexpectedly rich and fun. What’s most exciting about del Toro is he’s only just getting started as a director. His directing credits aren’t extensive yet, but he has already developed an unmistakable touch that only makes me all the more excited to see what he does next.
Those are five of my favorite directors who create unusual and fantastic worlds onscreen, but they’re not alone. Which directors would make your list?
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