Monday, March 19, 2012

Seeing The Funny Side: The Dark Shadows Trailer


If, as Dark Shadows fans, we can agree on anything, it should surely be our inability to agree about nothing. Over the last few days, the reactions to the new Dark Shadows movie trailer have run the gamut – from excitement to outrage and everything in between. Warner Bros have chosen a deliberately provocative approach for the marketing, concentrating on audience-friendly comic moments and jaunty crooning from Barry White. It's not subtle, but having now clocked up 3.5 million views on YouTube, it's undeniably doing the job.

Now, I love Dark Shadows in pretty much all its forms, even the ones you're not supposed to. Be it the Leviathans, with their incomprehensible agenda and ever-changing goals; the Dan Ross novels with their hairy-palmed leading man and Scooby-Doo mysteries; or even the Gold Key comics, which portrayed our vampire hero as a gangly-legged caveman brandishing his cane like a club... I don't care – I love them. I can enjoy each on their own merits, excesses and all. They’re special because they are Dark Shadows stories and I've found something to cherish in every one of them. 

The original show was a genuine lightning-in-a-bottle phenomenon – a collision of luck, improvisation and hard work. There's nothing magical about its creation and, like the best happy accidents, the true secret of its success remains a mystery. Television of course has moved on, and the giddy hysteria of those primitive live-on-tape performances can never be recaptured. Short of making actors perform at gunpoint, it simply can't be done.

So Dark Shadows as we know and love it will forever be fleeting and lost. But even today, the characters and stories still burn brightly, and the possibilities of revisiting them are irresistible. However, times change, and Dark Shadows is no longer the bright new kid on the block. It might have pioneered its reluctant vampire, but it didn't trademark him. TV and film is now riddled with doleful bloodsuckers bemoaning their lot, so it’s understandable that the film’s producers have decided that Barnabas and the format need a new edge for the big screen. 

For me, the most fascinating aspect of Tim Burton's Dark Shadows so far is the way in which its 1970s setting – incidental in the original – has now been incorporated as an integral part of the storyline. There's something both whimsical and sad about Barnabas fumbling to catch up with a world that is already long since gone. The idea of Barnabas as a man adrift and out of his time was something that the original series simply sidestepped. Having introduced him as a temporary villain, the producers kept their vampire at arm's length, leaving the story of his reactions to the modern world untold. However, the original Barnabas would certainly have experienced all those things – seeing a television for the first time, encountering modern slang or rock music – and drawing on that disorientation and culture shock is a valid new direction for the character. Some may condemn this as betrayal or sacrilege, but to my mind, it's a bold and exciting approach, absolutely in-keeping with the show's creative heritage.

It's easily forgotten, but Dark Shadows relied heavily on gleeful reinterpretations of existing works. Mary Shelley might have cried foul had she lived to see Frankenstein ripped-off for a Dark Shadows B-plot, but one doubts that thought troubled the show's writing staff. Arguably creator Dan Curtis' greatest skill was as an editor, and during the five years of the show he brazenly stole from any literary source that took his fancy, reworking the stories into Dark Shadows plots with gusto and keen instinct. Were they respectful adaptations that honoured their source texts? Not at all, but Dan understood the power of a good story and how to make the material work to his own ends. 

What Tim Burton and his team have done is no different – they're simply taking hold of Dark Shadows and making it their own. It's a brave interpretation and I have high hopes. I'd like to think that the film will find some space between the jokes for a little more of the old show's romance and mystery, but if it isn't there, I shan't complain. I'm always surprised when people suggest the original episodes were never intentionally funny, because for this viewer, many of Dark Shadows' finest moments came when it dared the audience to laugh. The show’s occasional black humour often gave us glimpses of the characters at their most human and vulnerable, along with making Count Petofi such a memorable and disturbing villain.

The true measure of any classic is that it can withstand multiple interpretations, and I've no doubt that this will be the case for our little show. The new movie marks the fourth time the Dark Shadows story has been adapted for the screen, and each version has seen the situations and personalities evolve. It's a necessary and exciting part of the creative process, and most certainly not something to be feared. Good characters will always hold true in whatever dramatic situation they are placed in, and Dark Shadows boasts some of the very best.

In the meantime, our original show's reputation and legacy is assured. Having conquered every format from 8-Track to Netflix, Dark Shadows won't be erased from history by a two-hour film. The new movie will find an audience and, who knows, may even be lucky enough to be held dear by a fandom of its own in 40 years from now. And if that’s not to be, it will at least have made Barnabas and the world of Collinwood that little bit less obscure.

30 comments:

RetroWorld2000 said...

Thanks, Stuart, for articulating such a thoughtful response! I'm in 100% agreement, and glad to know there are others who share my view on the whole matter.

I think the film looks like a blast, even though its not at all what I would have imagined, but then, hey, I'm no Tim Burton... or John August or Seth Grahame-Smith who deserve their own kudos for the re-imagining.

Looks like a fresh, fun frolic!

- Alan L

Erica said...

(sigh) This is a very reasonable post, with an open mind for the new and respect for the old. I cannot dispute or argue with it.

That said, this trailer still makes me sad. I feel like something I love is being ridiculed. Barnabas Collins was a dignified character, tormented and conflicted, poignant, and most important, looked normal so that he could exist among others and hide his secret. As realized by Johnny Depp, he is now a buffoon with Michael Jackson makeup.

I'm not saying the show should have been remade to follow it exactly: Dark Shadows belongs to its time. But some classics need to be left alone. Would Tim Burton put Johnny Depp in a trench coat and prostethic buck teeth, and remake Casablanca as a corny comedy (with Helena Bonham Carter as Ilsa Laslow)?

Never mind; don't answer that. He probably would. :-(

Belle Dee said...

Well said! I've got to link this blog post to my blog when I post my thoughts on the trailer later today.

Bruce Miller said...

I was surprised at the comic twist in the trailer. But I liked it. The glimpses of Barnabus and Angelique looked like they conveyed the sense of the original: Angelique's insane, vengeful obsession, Barnabus never really able to shake her off. (I don't recall the original Angelique's tongue being quite so long ,,,) Works for me.

mrsxlovett said...

Stuart I can't tell you how much I appriciate you sharing your thoughts. I hope fans take them to heart.

Mark Rainey said...

Stuart—I very much appreciate your perpective, and like Erica, find it entirely reasonable, defensible, and ultimately logical. I rather loathed what I saw in the trailer, and I'll certainly make no apologies for that, either. I sense not a new play on DS but a lack of respect for the original property. However...and this is a -big- however...trailers can be deceptive. There are a few aspects of the production that look very enticing, (the sophomoric humor not among them). The trailer makes the movie look like a send-up of the original, a la THE BRADY BUNCH (which I loved, by the way), and while there may indeed be a place for such an animal...it's not one that appeals to me. Give me a film noir version. Give it to the Coen Brothers, for god sake, and give it the kind of respectful treatment they gave TRUE GRIT. Still...I intend to see the new DS, and lord knows, I may end up loving the thing. I have admired so much of what Burton and Depp have done together that I'm not about to write off the film before I've given it an absolute fair chance. I just wish the trailer had put such a miserable, horrible taste in my mouth early on.

Mike said...

You know, when I saw the Ellen presentation of the trailer in Standard Def, I HATED it! Long time, "run home from school" DS fan here.

Then, later that night, I downloaded the 1080p version from Apples site. I watched it and said: "This doesn't look so bad, but they sure are tweaking this trailer". With 1080p, you can REALLY see things impossible to see over other versions.

I then watched it quite a few more times, and even went through it frame by frame forward and backward. I saw a LOT more I liked then I had at first hated. I could see that the '70's trailer music was obviously NOT in the movie. I ended up REALLY liking it, and decided I'll still see the movie for sure.

There is however ONE scene that In my opinion absolutely should be cut for SURE: Angelique's LIZARD tongue scene after trashing the room. It DOESN'T FIT, (no WAY, NO HOW!) and really throws you out of the movie completely.

I'll see the movie even if that scene stays in, but I'll still believe 100% it should be removed until my dying day.

gpangel said...

I thought the same thing after seeing the trailer. The original Barnabas Collins adjusted without comment to the 1960's. That's pretty funny now that I think about it. This puts me in mind of Austin powers. He struggled with a new decade but still tried to be productive. That movie was a satire. Made fun of James bond type spy movies. I wasn't angry at all about that. I still love those old movies, but I laughed my head off at Austin powers. Just saying.

LdyAnne said...

Bravo!!!!

Nick Charles fan said...

This trailer makes me want to view House of DS again. When....WHEN...
will it be released on dvd?????

mombot said...

I truly enjoyed your comments about the trailer for DS. It does look like a lot of fun, sort of a drama with comic moments to lighten the mood. I'm counting the days until May 11th!

thegraveyardkey said...

I like your open minded thoughts on the matter. I think WB's scheme to shock the audience to get more views is more humorous than clever, but I still have a good felling about this movie. They put many of the funny parts in the trailer and the film is 2 hours long so i'm confident the serious and mysterious moments will definitely be there.

K.R. Morrison said...

Thank you Stuart!

Re how they portray Barnabas' looks: Who knows what a 200-year-old undead corpse would look like when exhumed? Not like the soap's Barnabas, nor like the Ben Cross one, I'm sure.

Also--glad that isn't the music they're using--I think Barry White's song came out in 1974.

LOVE the Alice Cooper bit!

Danny H. said...

Great post! I completely agree. The day-to-day disasters of live-to-tape filming made the show oddly endearing. The plots were outlandish, sometimes requiring a complete suspension of common sense. As audience members, we had to be active participants, just to make sense of what we were looking at. That's the weird magic that made us fall in love with the show -- that the melodrama was balanced by humor, both intentional and unintentional. That's what made it feel human.

The 1991 revival started out taking itself way too seriously -- they discovered a sense of humor once they got to 1795, but by then it was too late. I think the new movie is doing exactly the right thing by finding the humor inherent in the premise. I don't know if the promise of the trailer will be fulfilled, but I love the direction they're going in. I can't wait for the movie!

jason said...

don't forget we didn't know that barnabas was a vampire until he entered Maggie Evan's room and bared his fangs. I would think once Willie released him he probably asked him alot of questions. I don't recall on the original series anyone owning a television for Barnabas to experience. He also kept the old house in it's original condition. But yet Julia was able to have electricity in the basement.

Tracy said...

Stuart--wonderful blog post! We have much in common when it comes to DS fandom. Both too young to "run home from school" to see the show, we developed an intense love for it mch later on--and in ALL its incarnations. I even love the failed 2004 pilot for all its flaws. You have articulated my feelings completely and I have said much the same thing on many blogs and facebook pages over the past week, although I daresay you have said it better. Anyway, I just had to say thank you for this post and for your tireless enthusiasm for DS. Everything that YOU have contributed to the DS pantheon is, of course, part of my collecition as well. You've brought, and continue to bring the magic and mystique of DS the fans in so many ways these past few years!

Mark Rainey--you may remember me as a big fan of your DS novels and audioplays. We have conversed via email and Facebook before. Let me just say that I understand your initial reaction to the trailer, and I hope the final outcome DOES end up pleasing you. Your relationship with and contributions to the wonderful world of DS are not only essential pieces to the overall pie, they are breathtaking.

I think you're both brilliant!

One final thought, from someone who loves the trailer--I can't stop watching it over and over again! The stunningly beautiful look, settings and actors aside, I think it only gets more fun, scary, gothic, funny, sexy, kinky, touching, and downright enjoyable with each viewing! I can't wait!

dd said...

Fourth screen adaptation? I think I'm missing something. Anyone? I know about "House" and "Night," was there a third movie or planned project I haven't heard of?

StuartM said...

Yes, it's the fourth retelling of Barnabas' story, following on from House of Dark Shadows, the 1991 revival series and the 2004 pilot.

Ronda cat said...

I kind of agree with what Erica and Mark said, though completely understand the argument that was originally posed. I just think that there could of been more of a sense of paying tribute to the original and still making a fresh adaptation. What bothers me most is Johnny Depp's look as Barnabas. It's too outlandish for my taste. There is no mystery or allure. I simply don't care for it. It's what bothers me the most. I can understand that the trailer is perhaps a bit of bad marketing. however, the overly done fangs and claws really bother me! I am a huge fan of the original series and loved the revival series. I've always been curious about the 2004 version of it. Has anyone else been able to see the pilot, and if so where? I'm just curious. :D

Ryan said...

After seeing the trailer, no doubt, this film will be great. It will have a mix of horror and comedy. Hopfully, the film does well enough that Tim Burton & Johnny Depp do a sequel.

Melissa said...

This is exactly what I've been thinking, I wasn't sure how I felt about the trailer when I watched Ellen, but I watched it on IMDB, without the sound, and then again with the sound on, and I've grown to love it, the more I watch it the more I notice. I highly doubt that it was ever intended to do an remake that would be exactly like the original, how could you that spark that they had was their own and this will have their own, and this is just another way to get people to see the original show, and realize that there are other vampires out there that aren't sparkly.

Boodlums said...

I saw somewhere in the trailer where B proclaims that he is a vampire. It doesn't show when or to whom, but perhaps it is early on and the modern folk simply accept him as such? After all, it's not illegal to be a vampire. :)= And so if they know it, then there would be no issue of "why is he inhumanly pale?" because the question would already be answered. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

BTW, did anyone else notice one scene where his bangs are curled to the other direction?

Nathan Watson said...

Barnabas, in the original series, did his best to avoid the new century he was living in. He moved into the Old House and refused to have it modernized.

In the early episodes, he bemoaned not only his fate but that he was a man out of his time.

We didn't see his reactions to new things...we got the sense that he was trying to avoid the new century.

Then post 1795, that became pretty irrelevant

Great post, though, Stuart. Lots of food for thought. The Mary Shelley comparison was a good one. The only difference is that no one was alive in the 1960s who ever knew Mary Shelley. In 2012, many are still alive who knew Dan Curtis. Not sure that's relevant, but thought I'd throw it out there.

Mystery said...

I am with you Stuart. I LOVE the original and 1991 remake. I am hoping there is more scare and goth besides the humor but either way I am fine with it.

Trailers do not show all about a movie, so I am anxiously awaiting my chance to see the entire movie.

If nothing else, this has given me the chance to purchase a coffin filled with the original show on dvd for an extremely reasonable price. For that alone I am thankful to this movie and that makes it all worthwhile.

Taeylor said...

I came to DS through the 1991 revival. I was instantly hooked and fell in love with it. However, when I wrote to Kathy Resch she let me know that it was cancelled. I wrote her because I found her addy in The Dark Shadows Companion which I found and bought. I then immediately started watching the original and fell in love with it as well. I even like the Pilot for 2004 although it needed a few edits etc. to make it better. I am much like Stuart I pretty much love everything DS and so I on May 11 I will go into the theater with an open mind and open heart and embrace Dark Shadows 2012. I could have compared Joanna Going and Barbara Steele who I adored but I did not when I started watching the original. I opened my mind and heart up to the original as well and fell in love with Grayson and love her as much as Barbara.

My hope for this movie is that it will bring new fans to fandom. The 1991 version brought a lot of new fans into our fandom. I have been in fandom since I was 13 years old and now I am 34! I have meet some of my best friends in fandom and had some of my best times through fandom. I truly hope that a new generation gets the same wonderful times out of Dark Shadows 2012 as I have for almost 21 years. And hopefully they will embrace the old and 1991 versions as well. Long Live Dark Shadows...Great post Stuart!

JOEY said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chaven said...

Very well written Stuart. I'm glad to see someone else feels the same as me. I was a little disappointed that it wasn't more on the serious side but I do love me some good humor. As I told someone else when they said they would not go see it because it looked stupid, I told them my story of watching "Love at First Bite" when I was little and that is why I became such a big fan of anything Vampire or Dracula. The comedy of it made me see the funny side and I love it. I'm so glad to see your agree. I always say, once a fan always a fan no matter what. I can't believe people have such a closed mind to it. But I will go watch and enjoy and love it all the same.

Crystal

ffghtr49 said...

I, like many of you, came home after school and had eyes glued to the big console RCA, more than likly in B & W. From the trailer, it will bring me back to my childhood days, which like so many othersa, had few worries in life, except for getting passing grades in school. I loved the series and am equally looking forward to the movie. I appreciate your views on everything! I truly look forward each day to see what is new on the Blog!

ffghtr49 said...

I enjoyed the refreshing viewpoint as seeing the preview of the movie will un-doubtly take me back to the 60's. Being a kid in the 60's, coming home from school, and watching the "original" series, was enjoyable.

Now, I catch myself, returning to this website, for any and all info, pertaining to the series, as well as the upcoming movie. Thanks, for the time being taken, to keep each of us devoted fans informed. You do a Fantastic job!!

atangey said...

I enjoyed every word of your piece and do too look forward to the movie every bit as much as I did before the trailer. I trust Tim Burton. He has declared himeslf a fan, and has always played clean to those types of things. Look at "Ed Wood" for the finest example. I am sure in that biographical feature he took many liberties as is a directors porocative. In the end I see very few comical moments in the trailer, and more a very familiar sense through the rest. I don't think Barnabas is made to look like a "buffoon" at all as stated in an earlier post. And at the same time a concern that long bothered me is being addressed all be it in a houmorous way as you detected too, why did Barnabas never seem at a loss in modern times after being chained in a coffin for over 2 centuries? Thank you of saying what I so have wanted to say.