When I watch a movie with the intention of reviewing it, I always hope that it will be good, that there will be something that I can rave about and praise. And when the movie is over and I sit down at my computer to write that review, I struggle and rack my brain to find just the right words to yield that praise, but alas, today I review Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS, so I sit at my computer and I do not need to struggle, because there are no words of praise for this movie. There is no justification to rave over this movie, only to rant. In fact, I don’t need to rack my brain at all to come up the words to best describe Tim Burrton’s DARK SHADOWS; the words, terrible, awful, putrid and abomination, come to mind with great ease and fluidity.
Having established that DARK SHADOWS is a bad movie, I would like to explore the question of “why” it was a bad movie. There may be many reasons why this movie was the aforementioned, terrible, awful, putrid and abomination, but I am only going to focus on what I consider the main three:
- Never should have been a comedy
- Not funny
- Wrong director
Right up front, this movie should never have been made into a comedy; that was a poor decision. I would go even as far as to call it a stupid decision. With some properties there is room to poke fun at them and go comedic, but in the case of DARK SHADOWS, there was no room. Within its fan circles, for that time, ie, pre-making of the movie, or pre-Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, DARK SHADOWS had a considerably large fan base, ranging in the upper tens of thousands, if not the upper hundreds of thousands, but still, compared to a worldwide demographic it would be considered a low number, but still high enough that you want to nurture it and hopefully increase it. You never want to irritate or alinate your pre-existing audience. That’s exactly what Tim Burton and Johnny Depp did when they decided to make it a comedy; the fans didn’t want a comedy. They didn’t want the show they loved, mocked and ridiculed. They had been wanting and hoping for a big screen adaptation for years and with the news that Johnny Depp obtained the copyrights they thought they had it, to their dismay, they were wrong. Keep in mind as well, that the fact that this movie was a comedy, did not come to light until shortly before its release. In my case, I think I saw the trailer on youtube a day or two before it opened and I remember saying to myself, “They made it a comedy!” And then I read the fan comments and they were all negative; a few people said, they wouldn’t go to see it. But the most telling point, I think is that in every interview Johnny Depp gave on DARK SHADOWS, prior to its release, is that he never once said that it would be a comedy; in fact, he said words to the effect of; and bare in mind that these are not quotes, I am merely paraphrasing, Dark Shadows is iconic. Jonathan Frid’s portrayal of Barnabas Collins was flawless. We will remain true to the original. Again, not quotes, but that essentially is what Depp said. Well, Dark Shadows is iconic; he was right, there. And when something is iconic, you don’t tamper with it, you keep it the same, or as near as possible. There’s always some changes made when remaking a movie, otherwise there would be no point in remaking it, just reshow the same movie. And in spite of the many on air flubs, done by the whole cast, and not just Frid, Jonathan Frid’s portrayal was flawless; here Depp was right, again. And when a portrayal is flawless, you honor it and you respect it, you don’t mock it. And the words remain true usually means, to keep the same. Well, pretty much the only thing that was kept the same between the 1960’s TV series and the 2012 movie was Barnabas Collins’ hairline.
Secondly, deciding to go the comedic route with DARK SHADOWS was a risky decision, at best; and in my personal opinion, as a fan of DARK SHADOWS, and my professional opinion, as an unpublished writer of horror fiction, a bad decision, but once made, they had to make sure it was a damn good comedy. It wasn’t funny. It was a one joke movie, and it wasn’t even a good joke. I’m two hundred year old, I’m dead and I’m hiding it very poorly, and somehow no one knows it. The only joke I found slightly humorous was when Barnabas said, referring to Alice Cooper, “That’s the ugliest woman I ever saw.” The biggest sin a comic, or in this case, a comedy movie, can commit is to not be funny. DARK SHADOWS, under the guidance of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, was not funny. A major reason for the lack of humor was the lack of a good script. The witch, Angelique, becomes a fishing mogul, ruining the Collins family fishing business, and upon his release from his coffin, Barnabas vows to ruin her and restore the family business. From what I read at the time, it took months, maybe even a year, if not longer, before they felt they had the right script; they fired one writer in the process, I seem to remember hearing. That was the right script? Not in this reviewer’s opinion. The plot was juvenile, inane and just plain pointless.
Lastly, the aforementioned two reasons for the movie’s failure gives testimony to, and, I think, concretely support the third reason, which is that Tim Burton was the wrong director.
It is the director who decides what direction the movie should go in, ie, straight horror or comedy. True, Johnny Depp and Burton probably discussed it first and maybe it was a joint decision, with both parties agreeing, but ultimately it is the director who makes the final decision. The decision being made to make DARK SHADOWS a comedy, which was also the decision to cast aside the legions of DARK SHADOWS fans, and show blatant disrespect to Dan Curtis, the show’s creator, it needs to be the best damn comedy it can be, so you pick up enough new fans to replace the old fans, you, meaning, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, pretty much, threw in the trashcan, which it was not. Script approval; who is hired as the script writer and the decision to go comedic are all decisions that fall upon the director to make and in each case they were the wrong decisions. All that being said, and it’s reason enough, that is not why I think Tim Burton was the wrong director. Tim Burton brings to a movie what he brings to every movie, his creative vision, and that vision is usually a dark one, which would have been the wrong decision in the case of DARK SHADOWS. Fortunately, Tim Burton didn’t pursue that vision; unfortunately he pursued a comedic one, which as I have been saying throughout this whole review, was the wrong decision. Furthermore, I think you have to look at Tim Burton’s track-record with remakes and I don’t think Tim Burton has a good one at all. Three remakes or remake related movies by Tim Burton that should have been good, but were not, are:
- BATMAN RETURNS
- CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLAE FACTORY
- PLANET OF THE APES
BATMAN RETURNS isn’t a remake; it’s the sequel to the 1989 BATMAN movie, which is considered a remake of the 1966 BATMAN TV series, which it actually wasn’t; it was a retelling of the early BATMAN comics, and it was a good movie, but the same can’t be said for the sequel, BATMAN RETURNS. BATMAN RETURNS was a box-office disaster. It was too dark. Tim Burton’s vision for BATMAN RETURNS was to go darker than he did in BATMAN, which was pretty dark already, but in that case, it worked. In the case of BATMAN RETURNS, it did not; and if you peruse over the plot you will see why, which basically was this; The Penguin hates kids, so he tries to kill the children of Gotham City. This is the plot of a BATMAN movie; a movie you expect kids to go and see, or think their parents will let them see?! Tim Burton did. In fact, he intended to make the third movie even darker; and when the studio told him no, that they wanted a lighter movie, Tim Burton quit the BATMAN movie series, as director and apparently, Michael Keaton agreed with him, because he left the movie series, too.
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY is another stunning example of Tim Burton’s inability to make a decent remake. He took a beloved, Gene Wilder classic and remade it into something unworthy for a dog to crap on. CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, is too dark, (a Tim Burton hallmark), it wreaks of depravity, it’s an attack on children, and the mere mention of cannibalism pertaining to a child is in mind numbing and stomach turning bad taste. Another kids movie made totally inappropriate for kids, by Tim Burton.
In the case of the 2001 PLANET OF THE APES, I must give Tim Burton credit for making a valiant effort at remaking the 1968 classic, but I’m afraid the movie totally missed the mark, resulting in another Tim Burton remake failure. There were too many scenes that took place at night, making it difficult to make things out at times, it was boring in places, it wasn’t plot-driven, and there wasn’t any character development. Add on to all that, the most absurd climax, followed, by, what Tim Burton was, no doubt, hoping would be a surprise ending that rivaled the 1968 original, but instead was just plain too confusing.
In the opinion of this reviewer, these aforementioned reasons, coupled with his remake track record, prove beyond any doubt, that Tim Burton was the wrong choice for the director of DARK SHADOWS.
Having said all that I have in the negative, I don’t want to leave you, believing that I saw no good in DARK SHADOWS at all. The sets and the scenery were quite good, indeed. The town really looked like a 1970s town, not necessarily Collinsport, but a town from the 70s. I think Victoria Winters secretly being Maggie Evans and than, giving her the secret of being institutionalized as a child, because no one believed she saw ghosts, was a concept with great potential and a fantastic plot twist. I also loved the idea of Julia Hoffman’s experiments on Barnabas’ blood secretly being for the purposes of making herself youthful. And the idea of making Carolyn a she-wolf, great. But all these ideas went nowhere because they were within a comedy and not a serious horror drama.
One more thing must be noted, and that is, that we live in the age of the sequel and the movie series, and as a comedy, I just don’t see any sequel potential, even if it had been a success.
In good conscience, based on everything I just said in this review, I don’t think I can give this movie even one monster, but Tim Burton and Johnny Depp did get one thing right in this movie; they showed respect to four DARK SHADOWS greats; Jonathan Frid, David Selby, Lara Parker and Kathryn Leigh Scott, by giving them cameos, so I’ll cough up one monster.
In closing I would just like to make one more (pictorial) comment.
any day of the week!
Review by Paul Pappas
Question to my readers:
Johnny Depp is set to star in UNNIVERSAL remake of THE INVISIBLE MAN. What are your thoughts on it? I will be looking for your answers in the comments.