Saturday, March 31, 2012


Bill Barnett, a friend and fellow movie aficionado asked me what I thought of the trailer for the upcoming DARK SHADOWS movie starring Johnny Depp. I told him that while it looked funny, I was sad that director Tim Burton chose to make it a farce and not be faithful to the more serious tones of its source material. The original 1960’s soap opera scared the bejeezus out of millions every afternoon for five years, including me, and I felt it was a shame that Burton and Depp weren’t being more reverent. Bill agreed and wondered why so many filmmakers today feel the need to snicker at the material they’re adapting. “I’d hate to think what some smart-aleck screenwriter will do some day to HILL STREET BLUES”, he sighed.
Johnny Depp as vampire Barnabas Collins in the big screen version of 1960's TV soap DARK SHADOWS.
Sigh indeed.  You can follow this link to see the trailer of the Burton and Depp version of DARK SHADOWS: If you don’t know the original show, you’ll surely laugh. If you do know the original soap, you may weep.

So, why are so many filmmakers adapting material for the big screen with nary a shred of reverence for the original material? Who are the folks in Hollywood who devote years to bringing something like STARSKY & HUTCH or CHARLIE’S ANGELS to the screen, only to snigger at it? Who in Hollywood said, “I love that old Stephen J. Cannell show 21 JUMP STREET so much and have to make it into a big screen adventure” but then chose to make it into a complete joke? Yes, the movie version of it this past month was quite funny, but why didn’t the filmmakers just do a straight version of it?  Why not show a little more respect for the material?
Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in the big screen version of 21 JUMP STREET
Christine Lynne, a filmmaker friend of mine in Hollywood who worked with Cannell for many years, surmised that it’s all about ensuring a built-in audience by creating works with a familiar name, and that the tone is probably irrelevant to most of the exec’s green-lighting such projects. She’s right, of course. Movie studios are interested in creating works that have instant audience relatability. That’s why there are so many remakes, reboots and blockbusters based on board games. Any project that comes down the pike that is a known entity makes studios drool because it’s pre-sold and a helluva lot easier to market. True, it’s called “show biz” not “show art”, but it takes a special kind of cynicism to stand idly by as filmmakers blatantly ridicule those ‘sure things.’

I wonder if it might also be due to the fact that there's always been a sense of superiority that the people who make films have taken towards those in television. (Wrongfully so, I might add.) Perhaps they're sneering or turning up their noses at TV adaptations here. But then why do a series adaptation in the first place? Why not write something original if you're only going to insult the tone of what the creators of the original TV source material were going for?

Johnny Depp has said he’s a huge fan of DARK SHADOWS, and he’s tried to bring it to the big screen for years, but is a farce what he had in mind? The powers that be who brought THE FUGITIVE and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE to the big screen stayed close to the source material, so why couldn’t DARK SHADOWS be like that and not seem like a warmed over version of THE ADDAMS FAMILY movies? Horror Hound magazine had the same question for Burton, asking him in an interview this month why he chose to make DARK SHADOWS into a Gothic comedy. He responded, “Any time I’m making something, I don’t know if it’s a drama, a comedy, whatever.” Really, Mr. Burton? Is that cynicism or ignorance? Either way, it’s unsettling considering when it’s so obvious that your trailer is played for laughs.
Quentin Collins (David Selby) and Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) in the original ABC soap DARK SHADOWS.

The truth is that the original DARK SHADOWS, created by the legendary Dan Curtis (THE NIGHT STALKER, THE WINDS OF WAR), was definitely not a Gothic comedy. It was fun to watch, yes, but it was a melodrama, striving for something serious, both in its scares and its romanticism. Its two leads, vampire Barnabas Collins and werewolf Quentin Collins, were tragic heroes. They were tortured men caught between two worlds: the modern day and their monstrous pasts. Where’s the humor in that? 
The cast of ABC's hit primetime soap REVENGE.

Perhaps Burton should have taken a look at the hit TV series REVENGE, currently garnering big ratings Wednesday nights on ABC. It too is a fun soap, but its makers treat their story with a sense of regard, not scorn. Not once have they ever stepped outside the genre to ridicule it. Granted, Burton and Depp have enough clout to do anything in Hollywood they want, but why take such an obvious and lazy route as another parody of horror? There’s way too much of that already glutting the screens. And besides, Depp has shown that he can laugh at genre and treat it with sincerity, parodying pirates (the Disney franchise) as well as treating them with respect (FINDING NEVERLAND). So why not strive for something more reverential here?

The 1995 movie adaptation of THE BRADY BUNCH may have set a dangerous precedent that Tinseltown is still avidly following. That movie adaptation lampooned its source material and became a sensation so perhaps that is why Burton, Depp and countless studios are going for laughs instead of something more genuine. Granted, the Brady family wasn’t any more realistic than creatures of the night, but I think DARK SHADOWS deserves a straighter take. We’ve already had so many funny vampires as of late, what with the likes of HBO’s series TRUE BLOOD and movies like FRIGHT NIGHT, so why not try for something scarier, even moving or truly haunting? In my humble opinion, a version like that would not only be fresher but also have a lot more teeth. 


  1. Aside from STAR TREK, THE SIMPSONS and THE FUGITIVE, when has Hollywood ever treated a television series with any degree of respect?

    I'm scratching my head.

  2. In addition to all the great points made so far, I would like to add the cliché that, well, times have changed. Particularly in terms of formality in the tone of entertainment.

    It’s quite obvious that many films and TV shows of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s have a slower, wordier and more deliberate look and feel than most of what is produced today. And that’s not to say that both ends of that spectrum can’t be great.

    Still, look at THE ARTIST as a case in point. As brilliant, funny, dramatic and Oscar-winning as it is, I am still amazed how often I’ve heard and read commentary like: “I couldn’t possibly sit through a black-and-white silent movie for an hour and a half.” As if it would be such an ordeal in our fast-paced lives today.

    The same goes for TV. Children’s shows like “Leave It To Beaver”, “Captain Kangaroo”, “Mister Rogers”, “Lost In Space”, “H.R. Pufnstuf”, even “The Brady Bunch”, could never be made today, regarded as quaint, slow, folksy, or hopelessly innocent throwbacks to “the olden days of our parents”.

    The more deliberate soap operas of that era, “All My Children”, “As The World Turns”, “One Life To Live”, and more, tried to evolve with the times. But eventually faded away, replaced by the more raucous and unrestrained “soaps” of today: “Jersey Shore”, “Big Brother” and “The Real Housewives of (fill in the blank)”.

    The same goes for that fiendishly popular, yet long-gone gothic soap “Dark Shadows”. The original is (unfortunately!) simply too slow, too thoughtful, and dare I say, too formal for today’s standards. Perhaps that explains the unrecognizable remake.

    The Times They Are a-Changin' still...

  3. Indeed Michael, there sure aren't too many good ones. At least not anymore.

  4. Thanks, Fan. It seems a lot of people, the studio exec's in Hollywood and the audiences throughout the nation, should up their OCD med's. It's a shame that the DARK SHADOWS movie couldn't have been made more in line with that slower, more thoughtful and formal tone of the original. I'm sure it will be entertaining, but will it truly honor the source material? Hardly, it seems to me.