Dark Shadows Reviewed: Burton's Sacrificed Artistry For Financial Success

He did it with Planet Of The Apes, he did it with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he did it with Alice In Wonderland, and now he's done it with Dark Shadows. Fun? Sure. Timeless? Not even close.
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He did it with Planet Of The Apes, he did it with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he did it with Alice In Wonderland, and now he's done it with Dark Shadows. Fun? Sure. Timeless? Not even close.

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Watch the trailer to The Dark Knight Rises and then watch Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows trailer(s) and you will have an idea about how this version of the vampiric TV program has morphed into a from-yet-another-other-dimension Burton variation on a theme.

For those of us who immersed ourselves in the original Dark Shadows back in the 1960s, that theme was on a far off planet in a long-ago time.   With the 2012 target being today’s youth market this $150 million dollar film is more like Rocky Horror Picture Show meets The Addams Family only with the characters from Dark Shadows with Alice Cooper thrown in to boot.

Is it good?   Well, of course, it is marvelous filmmaking, but it will also outrage the purists, and here’s why…the creepy Dark Shadows music from the original TV show (and the films House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows) is replaced by…The Moody Blues “Nights in White Satin” over a superb shot of the railway train bringing Victoria Winters to Collinwood.

Go to YouTube and watch the quasi-Hitchcockian original episode of the series and watch the beauty of the low-budget yet high creativity moment that helped spawn the legend.  What Burton has done is sacrilege, no doubt, yet Burton brought in over a billion dollars worldwide with an Alice In Wonderland I couldn’t sit through…and his rather odd version of Batman brought in over four hundred million on a 35 million dollar budget.   So this is all about the money and having a good time, “fortune favoring the foolish” as William Shatner quotes a phrase from Roman times (in Star Trek, not this movie.)    The artistic license is actually so skewed and liberally sprinkled here that an appearance by Mr. Spock or Captain Kirk would fit into Burton’s many delusions.   Keep in mind, it took another director, Christopher Nolan, to repair and reactivate the Batman franchise after Burton led it down a bizarre path …the opportunity is now there for another visionary to do the same and take us back to the future with Dark Shadows.

The artistic license is actually so skewed and liberally sprinkled here that an appearance by Mr. Spock or Captain Kirk would fit into Burton’s many delusions.

That being said, this is entertaining, if a bit unsettling for Barnabas Collins AND Alice Cooper fans.   You have to look really hard to see if you can find the original show tv stars in their cameos - Quentin David Selby, Jonathan Frid and others in the Alice Cooper party scene…and with all the heavy makeup on Clarney you won’t be able to tell if it is Christopher Lee or Vincent Furnier (Alice Cooper) playing the character (it’s Lee as Clarney). Johnny Depp’s makeup resembles Michael Jackson more than  Jonathan Frid’s Barnabas character this is supposed to be all about  while Michele Pfeiffer steals the show.  She’s perfect…not Joan Bennett (the wonderful actress who played Elizabeth Collins Stoddard in the 60s/70s TV series) but a droll Collins-Stoddard with a distinctive drawl.   The overacting Pfeiffer displayed (for a reported 3 million bucks!) in Batman Returns (1992) is far more refined as she reunites with Tim Burton 20 years later.  The Director’s penchant for taking essential art from the past like Batman, Planet of the Apes and now Dark Shadows is akin to the Taliban finding it necessary to blow up the statues of the Buddah - archaeological terrorism.  USA Today’s reporting on the Taliban  destroying all ancient sculptures is a warning that this director ignored.   Tim Burton finds more pleasure in maliciously desecrating the tone set by House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows with a mockery that would make Julie Taymor blush, and he embraces that turmoil with the same affection Jack Nicholson displayed in Burton’s Batman. Rather than go all-out camp and make a travesty of Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Munsters, parodying the parody, Burton splashes paint on precious memories and replaces them with his penchant for reinvention.   Problem is, it is financially successful while artistically missing the mark.

The late Jimmy Miller, Rolling Stones producer, would call it standing in the way of important art…or take it to the next level – murdering important art.   But the new wave of cinema is all about the blockbuster and a blockbuster this shall be.

It entertains with its gross distortions and…the good news…unlike our inability to resurrect the old Buddahs after the Taliban engaged their wrecking crew and demolished the place, we can find a Christopher Nolan or a Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet Of The Apes in 2011 after Tim Burton’s 2011 parallel universe http://www.tmrzoo.com/2012/34423) to afford us the opportunity to indulge in this guilty pleasure and await some logical genius filmmaker to understand the original is still the greatest and remake and remodel House of Dark Shadows.  Until then, keep hitting BoxOfficeMojo and see how much Burton’s delirium benefits the cash register.

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