Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Beyond the Tweet: The curious creative decisions of Dark Shadows 1991/2012

In a post about the 1991 Dark Shadows “revival,” I compared the series to an ill-conceived cover song. I had this long diatribe planned that compared Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” to the odious cover by The Ataris as an example of how sentiment can be totally obliterated while still preserving structure, narrative and intent. But I scrapped that part of the piece for fear that someone would get the mistaken impression that I like Don Henley.

But the 1991 series is the equivalent of a bad cover song, and I’m beginning to wonder if the same can’t be said for the new Tim Burton movie, which appears to carry over some of the revival show’s curious creative decisions. Again, we’re introduced to Collinwood through governess Victoria Winters who, as in the 1991 series, was kinda/sorta the reincarnation of Josette DuPres. Willie Loomis has also been described as a “drunken handyman,” which sounds more like 1991 Willie Loomis than any character played by John Karlen on the original series.

I don’t want to be quick to judge a film I haven’t seen, but these decisions created serious problems in the original series, and I can’t help but believe they will serve the new film in a positive way.

Victoria Winters pushed Maggie Evans almost entirely out of the picture in the ’91 series, a decision prompted by one narrative goal: to bind the audience to a character who is equally new to the show’s concept. It’s a cheap way to buy an audience’s empathy, but it works. But it only worked for about 15 minutes, because the role served by Winters in the original story was much more complex: she was at the center of a mystery surrounding her identify.

You might even say that Dark Shadows, before Barnabas Collins arrived, was really about Victoria Winters' identity and her suggested blood ties to the Collins clan, with rest of the subplots merely orbiting this central mystery. When that element was removed in 1991, it not only robbed Victoria Winters of any meaning, but made the character of Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard inconsequential.

I also think that having the wealthy, entitled Josette reborn as a struggling waitress is a lot more interesting .

Willie Loomis, a character whose arc was about redemption in the original series, was mostly gutted in the revival series, too. When introduced, Willie was an aimless, violent dirtbag, but quickly turned into the show’s most interesting character when he put himself between Barnabas and his potential victims. As much as I love Jackie Earle Haley, I just haven’t been impressed by what little we’ve been shown of the character.

Maybe I’m expecting too much from a two-hour movie. As a comicbook fan, I’ve had to endure a lot of crummy Hollywood “interpretations” of characters over the years, so I’m a decorated fanboy veteran of these peculiar battles. But maybe it’s time we stopped looking at Hollywood to validate our passions, because it’s next to impossible for a two-hour film to present us with the same kind of experience we get from longform, serialized fiction (see From Hell, Fantastic Four, The X-Files, pretty much any Charles Dickens adaption, etc.) 

I know movies are “bigger” and “more expensive” projects, but usually they feel a little less than grand.

1 comment:

Erica said...

I will be seeing the movie when a friend and I attend the premiere party at the Vista on May 10. Honestly, my reasons for attending are to see House of Dark Shadows and to get my Return to Collinwood signed by Kathryn Leigh Scott, and I'd just as soon leave after that, but my friend insists we stay for the whole thing. I have zero expectations (except that I will pretty much despise it).

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