Wednesday, May 16, 2012

DARK SHADOWS: It's Open Season on Burton and Depp

I've come to feel a kind of connection with Tim Burton because he keeps reviving my childhood.  He directed the first big Batman movie, which I loved.  He remade Planet of the Apes, which I didn't like, but still.  He directed The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which was my favorite Disney cartoon as a boy.  And now, he's resurrected another childhood touchstone, Dark Shadows.  We're in the same age group and seem to have grown up being shaped by the same things.

Dawn and I seldom go to the movies these days, but saw Dark Shadows to celebrate our anniversary, and it was an enjoyable two hours.  But it sure has stirred up a shitstorm of Burton-bashing.  Reading the reviews, you'd think Burton was guilty of some kind of crime.

One review after another attacked Burton for repeating himself, for being a purveyor of style over substance, for wearing out his whole gothy schtick, for putting Johnny Depp in too many of his movies — essentially, they have attacked Tim Burton for ... being Tim Burton.

In his review for ABC News, David Blaustein writes, "It’s no surprise that Johnny Depp is fantastic as the anachronistic Barnabas, and much of the film’s fun comes from his struggle to relate to 1972 America."  Then, in the next paragraph, he writes, "Depp and Tim Burton once were like that fantastic young couple who couldn’t keep their hands off each other.  We looked at them and thought, 'Wow, those two are amazing together.'  After a while, though, their PDA grows predictable and unimpressive, to the point that you wish they’d just break up already."

Beth Accamando writes in a review for KPBS, "The film continues a run of disappointing Burton-Depp collaborations ... They have gotten so bad that I actually look to each of their new films together with a sense of dread rather than eager anticipation.

Many other reviews say basically the same things.  Is it time for us to turn on Burton now?  I guess I haven't been paying attention to the schedule.  I'll sit this celebrity take-down out, if you don't mind.  I still find Burton to be one of the most interesting directors working today.  I like some of his movies more than others — like I said, I didn't like Planet of the Apes, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory left me a little cold — but Burton's misses are usually more interesting these days than most of the directors out there at the top of their game.  I know that even if the new Burton movie turns out to be one of his lesser works, it's still going to be worth seeing simply because it's Burton and I like what he does, I enjoy his sensibilities.  It all comes down to personal taste, of course.  But it certainly does seem that a memo went out to movie critics notifying them that it's open season on Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, because most of the reviews of Dark Shadows are not really reviews of the movie but of Burton and Depp and their body of work together.

Dark Shadows is not Tim Burton's best movie, but it manages to gently spoof the beloved old '60s soap opera without disrespecting it, and most of all, the movie is rendered in Burton's distinctive visual style, which I always enjoy.  As I've said before, it would be next to impossible to make a serious adaptation of Dark Shadows these days because vampires and witches are ... well, come on, let's face it, they're a little silly.  A spoof was the only way to go, and I think Burton pulled it off delightfully.

It could not have a better cast.  Chloe Grace Moretz is hilarious as bratty teenager Carolyn Stoddard — she is a master of the disapproving sneer.  Helena Bonham Carter plays Dr. Julia Hoffman as a prickly drunk for whom nearly everything in life is an imposition.  Michelle Pfeiffer doesn't have a lot to do, but she looks great doing it.  Jackie Earl Haley gets some laughs as handyman Willie Loomis.  But it's Eva Green as the witch Angelique Bouchard and Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins who remain the focus of the film and they eat the movie up with abandon.

For my money, Tim Burton is one of very few directors who are able to capture those nonexistent worlds that lurk only in our dreams, nightmares and fantasies and put them on the screen in a way that looks — and, more importantly, feels — right, that makes us nod and say, "Yep, that's it!  He's got it!"  Also in that category are Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro.  So I'll keep seeing Burton's movies, even if he's passed his expiration date with the critics.

One of my favorite things about Dark Shadows is that at no point in the film do vehicles turn into giant, deafening robots.  No aliens blow up a city and no one dons a superhero costume and flies away to make the world safe for corporate America.  I did not have to take Dramamine before seeing the movie because there were no spastic hand-held cameras trying to convince me that the movie was made by amateurs under stressful conditions.  Given all that, the movie is almost subversive.

Dark Shadows is an amusing, silly trifle designed to entertain and make you smile, and that's all it's meant to be.  As far as I'm concerned, that's reason enough to recommend it.