About a year ago, I put Dark Shadows in my Netflix queue. I always had a certain ambivalence towards the show. There are vampires, werewolves, witches, zombies and ghosts, how could I not love it. Oh, it’s soap opera, damn. With the exception of Soap, I’ve never enjoyed soap operas. But, I come across references to Barnabas Collins all of the time, and ultimately I felt that I should give the show a chance. In a year, I’ve watch about four episodes.
I haven’t really seen enough to know if the show is good or bad, but production values on a 1960’s black and white TV show are distracting. I don’t think anyone could watch the below scene, the introduction of Barnabas, and not laugh when the music plays dramatically at the reveal.
Keep in mind, the audience has already watched a scene where a man breaks into the coffin of Barnabas only to scream (hilariously) and have a hand grab his throat. The audience knows what exactly is going on, the reveal is not in any way surprising. I can’t help but feel this show, if not good, is at least fun in the MST3K kind of way.
You can all guess where this is going: I recently saw the preview for Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows. I’m actually surprised that I hadn’t already heard more about this film. I have a long relationship with Burton’s films. Batman Returns was the first Batman film I ever saw, and it led to me jumping on the bed while wearing a cheap plastic mask and brandishing my jump rope as whip (I was eight). If not for that film, I would’ve never read the Catwoman comics, which led to my current comic hording ways. I loved Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow and Big Fish. I even enjoyed Mars Attack!
Yet something happened with Burton’s films. I remember seeing Sweeney Todd and feeling that I should enjoy this film, but something about it felt off. I think that Burton, instead of trying something new, was just rehashing all the stylistic elements that worked in his earlier films. Burton was imitating himself. In Alice in Wonderland this became obvious (that is not to mention my literary-nerd rage at a heroes journey arch being forced onto Lewis Carroll’s characters). And now, Burton has made a Dark Shadows film
I suspect that actual fans of the original show could die from watching this preview. Remakes are a tricky business even if you’re staying within the original’s genre. Turning a gothic melodrama into a comedy is going to be even more tricky. I think that Dark Shadows does provide potential for comedy itself, but from the tropes the show actually uses. But, as my uncle pointed out, Burton’s film looks a lot like Austin Powers. There is time travel (trapped in coffin instead cryogenic freezing) and a fish out of water comedy (an eighteenth century vampire in the seventies instead of a sixties swinger in the nineties). I find it interesting that events from the show that took place in the sixties were moved to the seventies, and I suspect that was in part to avoid the Austin Powers comparison. And boy, don’t the seventies look more groovy or funky, or whatever the slang was at the time, than the actual decade was itself.
The truth of matter is a vampire as fish out water comedy could be fun, and if not for the connection to the earlier show I may have been more willing to approach the film as a guilty pleasure. However, when you remaking film you need to keep something of the original’s heart and soul intact. Remakes should be a love letter to the original material; they should make people interested in seeing the original. If your going to change so much that you alienate the fans of original to get an audience that does not or will not enjoy the source material, why not change the names, make it something different. Of course, I’m basing my judgment on a preview that maybe misrepresenting film, or maybe later on in the original show they started incorporating disco balls and lava lamps.