Monday, February 25, 2013

"Dark Shadows"...The Movie...

(Johnny Depp as "Barnabas Collins"; Michelle Pfeiffer as "Elizabeth Collins Stoddard")
Ya know, there are some movies that I am critical of before I even see them. Most of them are the films based on television shows that are already established and successful in their own right.  TV series that, however outdated and flawed, have a fan base to this day. I have already written a post or two about this particular TV show to film translation. Now available on DVD, I finally viewed the movie…Tim Burton’s production of “Dark Shadows”.

From the get-go, I saw the use of creative license. Granted, the opening credits did say the film was based on “Dark Shadows” created by Dan Curtis. The first glaring use of creative control was with the characters of Maggie and Victoria. In this film adaptation, they are one in the same person. On the train to Collinsport, Maine, Maggie Evans decides to change her name to Victoria Winters. That change is small beans compared to many of the happenings through the course of the film.

In no way can I color myself surprised that the movie was a big goose egg. Did it have the patent look of a Tim Burton production? Yes. Did it star Burton’s two staple actors, pal Johnny Depp, and longtime ‘significant other’ Helena Bonham Carter? Yep. Was it over the top to the point of camp and beyond? Uh-huh. I’m a Burton fan, as well as a Depp and Bonham Carter fan. I also appreciate a bit of the ‘over the top’ and the camp. But…

Have you ever watched a production, whether it be stage, television or screen, where the jokes fall extremely flat even though the actors are giving it their all? I have no doubt that there are a group of people who laughed their proverbial asses off at this movie. That group is made up of everyone attached to the production itself. While I forged ahead on watching it in its entirety, I had visions of the cast and Burton sitting around a table having their first read through. I could see them laughing raucously at each other as they delivered their lines, totally in on the “joke(s)” at hand. My thought was, “I bet they thought this was outrageously funny, but did they really think about how it would translate to the audience? To the people who weren’t in on the initial joke?” It doesn’t seem to me that they did.

("Barnabas" tries to catch a nap...)
(Top Left:  Chloe Grace Moretz as "Carolyn Stoddard; Top Right:  Bella Heathcote as "Maggie Evans/Victoria Winters";
Bottom: Jonny Lee Miller as "Roger Collins", Helena Bonham Carter as "Dr. Julia Hoffman)
("Elizabeth Collins Stoddard" gets her Ma Barker on...)
As for comparisons between this remake and the original, I can’t help but make them as I am a die-hard fan of the "Dark Shadows" of the 1960’s. I’m sure Burton and Depp (a producer on the 2012 project) might say that comparing the two is pointless since they didn’t intend to keep the original elements intact. To take the overall story where they did, I agree. But to make Maggie and Victoria one in the same bugged me…both are important characters in their own right. They could have easily taken Maggie out of the picture altogether. As the film progressed, we would learn that Maggie/Victoria/Josette (Bella Heathcote) was disowned and put in a mental institution at a young age because she ‘could see dead people.’ Then there’s the character of Carolyn Stoddard (Chloe Grace Moretz) who is 15 years old, and a werewolf.  Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller) is portrayed as a womanizer, theif, and terrible role model for son David, and is basically banished from Collinwood by Barnabas…he is hardly present in the film and could have easily been left out. I could go on, but you get the picture. Most of the characters of the ensemble don’t compare much to the originals (which is actually pretty criminal considering the cast Burton had).  The whole film doesn’t really compare. Aside from character and place names, it wasn’t really “Dark Shadows”.

What did make the “Dark Shadows” of 2012 truly unmemorable was the script. It was the flat jokes that beat the audience over the head. Depp is fine as Barnabas, but he lacks the presence of the original Barnabas Collins, Jonathan Frid. Surprisingly, really. Depp is an accomplished actor, and known to be a huge fan of Frid's Barnabas. Yes, in the scope of the newer production, Barnabas is presented in a more anachronistic fashion. His old ways are primary fodder for the joke writing pen. Sadly, it is ink wasted as most jokes illicit an eye roll and/or a groan…if even that. There is a section of the story where Barnabas holds a grand Ball and invites the whole town to Collinwood. At Carolyn’s sarcastic suggestion, Barnabas gets Alice Cooper to headline. The ‘my what an ugly woman’ jokes proceeded to bash me over the head. Yes! Okay! I heard you the first time! Such a waste of a fine actor such as Depp…but then he is a producer…he obviously approved.

(Original Cast Members:  Lara Parker~"Angelique", Jonathan Frid~"Barnabas Collins",
David Selby~"Quentin Collins", Kathryn Lee Scott~"Maggie Evans"; and Johnny Depp as "Barnabas Collins" 2012)
(Kathryn Lee Scott, Michelle Pfeiffer as "Elizabeth Collins Stoddard" 2012, David Selby, and Lara Parker)
As a rule I avoid reviews of movies I plan to see. Many times I disagree with them, liking that which has been panned, and vice versa. “Dark Shadows” was no exception, and I stayed away from its reviews. There was one tidbit of info I did get while it was still in production, and that was the appearance of surviving members of the original cast in a cameo. I thought that was pretty cool, and looked forward to seeing them after all these years. Actually, a chance to see them in the film made me stick with it to view it in its entirety. I watched, and watched………and watched. Then the end credits began to role. What the…? I sat through every frame and didn’t notice them at all. Did it not happen after all? I hopped on the computer to Google about it, and there it was. A still frame of the original cast members. They were presented entering Collinwood to attend the ball. There was also apparently a quick flash of them chatting with Collins family matriarch, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer). The two moments were such throwaways; if you blinked you would miss them. Christopher Lee had a longer appearance as a boat captain (another one of Burton’s staple actors). If Burton was going to give the original actors and production a nod, he should have given them a nod. Not the feeble onscreen flashes they got.

(Alice at the Ball...)
No, I wasn’t expecting much when I pressed the ‘Play’ button on the remote. Optimistic I wasn’t. However, there was a tiny molecule of ‘I hope I’m wrong’ in there. But I wasn’t wrong. Burton’s batting average hasn’t been that great in recent years. “Sweeney Todd” is brilliant, but Sondheim was involved…he is known to be a stickler and I doubt he would have allowed the movie to be less than superb. On the other hand, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was awful. Another remake that flunked…and Burton was quite outspoken about how he was going to do the book justice, as the Gene Wilder “Willy Wonka” was crap.  

By what I have said in this post it may not seem that it pains me to give such a review, but it does. I’m a Burton fan. Have been for years. I have great appreciation for his artistic attention to detail, and for his original works. If I could give Tim some advice it would be to stick to his own original brain children, and stay away from reworking already established productions that have solid cult followings. That’s seriously shaky ground that he’s fallen on more than once.

I decided to skip my usual Readers’ Digest breakdown of this film. I’ll save the time for a movie I do like. Do I recommend “Dark Shadows” the movie? In the broad sense…not really. Burton fans will see it anyway as that’s what fans do. I did. I can’t say, “You must see it to see how plodding and disappointing it is.” I can say, “If you’re at home with nothing better to do, and can see it for free then by all means do.” 

Now, THIS...

...THIS has interesting possibilities...

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