Thursday, May 17, 2012

Burton and Depp's "Dark Shadows": I Won't Ask For My Money Back...BUT...

I enjoyed director Tim Burton's feature film edition of Dark Shadows, starring Johnny Depp as the iconic Barnabas Collins, originally portrayed by the equally iconic actor Jonathan Frid in the original ABC classic 1960s gothic soap opera. (Ironically, Frid passed away only weeks before the new Shadowspremiered.)  But I enjoyed it for all the wrong reasons.

It was said that the original Shadows series was campy. This is not true. The show-runners simply did not have the extended funds to produce the show the way they really wanted to produce it, so it was perceived as campy.

            But the original production always played it straight, and took itself seriously. As a result, the audience respected the show's intentions.

            As to the big-screen Shadows, it was kind of like a Carol Burnett Show satire on the original series, instead of a feature film adaptation. And in the big picture scheme of things, that is not high praise...on many levels.

First of all, as wonderful as it was to see Michelle Pfeiffer back in theatres (and looking beautiful), she was one of too-many-blondes in this production.

Pfeiffer's Elizabeth Collins character was originally a brunette (as played by Joan Bennett in the original series, and by Jean Simmons in the 1991 NBC TV remake); but Pfeiffer was allowed to retain her fair-hair while playing Elizabeth.

            Not good; and inconsistent with the Shadows mythology.

            And that white make-up of Depp's? I realize he wanted to present a "realistic vampire," but did he have to look like that throughout the entire film? Couldn't he just have gone "all-white" whenever he went on the attack for blood, and retained his "regular" human form look at all other times?

            That was one of the things about Frid's original Barnabas: he was "every-vampire"...relatable. He was accessible to the viewers, who could, strangely enough, identify with him...because he made Barnabas human.

            Such is not the case with Depp's Barnabas. Depp, under Burton's guidance, made Barnabas a joke.

And although he script (by Seth Graham-Smith; story by John August) is compelling; the production design and cinematography is Executive Level A; the casting, pitch-perfect; and the original mythology is intact (thanks, in part, I'm sure to consultant Jim Pierson, right-hand man for years to Shadows creator, the late Dan Curtis), where the heck is the iconic opening theme sequences and music?

            And why in heaven's name couldn't they have upgraded the cameos of original Shadowsactors Frid, Lara Parker (the original witch Angelique; played in the film by Eva Green), Kathryn Leigh Scott (the original Josette DuPres/Maggie Evans-Victoria Winters, played in the new film by Bella Heathcote), and David Selby (seen on the original series as man/zombie Quentin Collins)? To have these legendary performers down-graded to glorified "extras" in a party scene is, well, purely insulting to the integrity of these beloved performers and their millions of fans.

Again, the big-screen Dark Shadows film is a fine production, but it could have been great - and it could have easily out-distanced at the box-office the Twilight franchise (which was inspired by it in the first place) if it just would have taken a step back and thought more productively about the main objective:

            To have a hit film.

            Burton/Depp would have met this objective if they would have just played it straight all the way through, been more respectful of the original Shadows actors, and had just a little bit more respect for the material all the way around - while still retaining nods to pop-culture and a sense of humor throughout the script.

            For example: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the TV series created by Joss Whedon, the new king of Hollywood (due to his super-performing superhero feature film, The Avengers). Buffy's scripts were top-notch and the performers were stellar. There were constant references to pop-culture and subtle winks to the audience, but the actors played it straight throughout.

            Second example: Whedon's The Avengers: The script is sprinkled with humor, and again, winks to the audience, but the actors play it straight throughout the entire production.

            This is not the case with Burton's Dark Shadows. Instead, he directs his actors to chew the scenery a little bit too much, and his pop-culture references (Depp's heart-brokenBarnabas reading Eric Segal's Love Story) are just a little bit too over the top.

            And the ending? I'm gonna spoil it here for those who don't like spoilers:

            Josette turned into a vampire?!

            Too bittersweet.

            Barnabas and everyone Angeliquecursed remains cursed even after her death??!!

            Doesn't make sense. No logic within the illogic. No consistency.

            Each and every one of Angelique's curses should have died with her.

            And then Barnabas burns a little bit when the sun touches him just a tad inside the Collinwood mansion…but he can still walk completely outside in the broad daylight and not even be tinged?

            Again, doesn't make sense.

            And would it have been such a terrible thing if Dark Shadows had a happy ending? Where Barnabas, finally vampire-free from Angelique's curse, just walked into the sunset with Josette, his dear-beloved for centuries?

            Doesn't anyone, much less Tim Burton, know how to end a movie anymore?

            Didn't he want his movie to be a hit? To have the audience walk out of the theatre with tears of joy, spreading the word, saying to everyone they know (Shadow-ites, and Dark novices, alike), "You HAVE to see this movie!"

            Wouldn't that have been great? For Dark Shadows have been able to become everything that a director like Burton and a star like Depp are capable of making it become?

            Instead, the movie has now become a passing fancy, ironically, campy, leaving the Dark Shadows franchise, like Barnabas Collins, to remain dead for another two hundred years.

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