Friday, July 6, 2012

For Dark Shadows, "dead" is relative

Since the relative failure of DARK SHADOWS at the box office this summer, a lot of people have been touting the death of the property. The reasoning, as far as I can tell, is if Johnny Depp and Tim Burton can't make Dark Shadows a success, then who can?

You have to overlook a lot of history in order for that argument to make sense. Dark Shadows has been living on borrowed time since it's debut in 1966, repeatedly proving itself to be a concept that defies the rules of traditional entertainment. Dark Shadows survived one attempt on its life by adding Barnabas Collins to the cast in 1967, and continued to evolve to meet the demands of the growing audience until it collapsed under its own weight in 1971. Even then, the original show managed to generate a second theatrical film in NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS the following year.

Dark Shadows surfaced a few more times in public television and syndication and, much like STAR TREK, didn't let a little thing like cancellation keep its fanbase from thriving. It returned to the air in 1991 with a new cast (and a primetime slot) for a few months, and the original show returned to daytime television again a few years later when the Sci-Fi Channel put two episodes a day in regular rotation.

In between these video highpoints were Dark Shadows books published by cast members Kathryn Leigh Scott and Lara Parker, comics, new soundtrack albums and dozens of fanzines. Dark Shadows has never let defeat stand in its way before, and I doubt a little thing like the middling box office returns of the 2012 Dark Shadows movie will prove to be much of an obstacle.

What's sad is that most of the people heralding the end of Dark Shadows are some of its most devoted fans. Things have gotten so nasty that many of us who run fanpages are hesitant to even mention the film. I've been put in the awkward position of defending a movie I clearly did not enjoy, not because I think it's especially worth defending, but because it's now part of Dark Shadows lore ... whether we like it or not.

More to the point, the movie has it's fans. Those of us still madly in love with the original Dark Shadows don't want to hear this, but it's true. But don't take my word for it ... visit Tumblr and see for yourself. The movie has its own distinct audience and we've nothing to gain by alienating them. Fandom can be reactionary and territorial (usually to its own detriment) and all of this bickering is getting boring.

Worse, it's sending a very clear message to younger fans who have discovered Dark Shadows through the Burton movie ... and that message is "You are not welcome here." If you're anxious to see Dark Shadows fade away into obscurity, alienating new fans is the way to go.

I don't know what's next for Dark Shadows. There's been a lot of chatter among fans of where the property will next take roost, but it's an impossible thing to predict. Movies and television shows are created and killed for the strangest reasons. ANGEL was cancelled by the WB to make room for a new Dark Shadows television show in 2004 because the network didn't want to air two vampire programs at once. HELLBOY 2 got made because Universal wanted to be in the Guillermo del Toro business. And SUPERMAN RETURNS got made because Warner Bros had spent more than a decade (and millions of dollars) trying to get a Superman movie off the ground, and needed a way to recoup some of those expenses.

In other words, the next time Dark Shadows is resurrected, it might not be for the reasons you expect. But I learned a long time ago never to bet against Barnabas Collins.


Will McKinley said...

Cuz - I don't think Tim Burton's movie can be considered a "relative failure" in a global sense. While its domestic box office performance (slightly under $80 million) was disappointing (but not disastrous), the film has grossed nearly TWICE that in international territories, for a total of $230 million-ish to date.

With an estimated budget of $150 million, the film is already close to in the black (factoring in "prints and advertising.") And when you add the Blu-ray release and ancillary channels, it will likely turn a respectable profit for Warner Bros.

While I think there are classic fans who would like to spin this as a financial failure, it really isn't. Creatively? That is up for debate. But I certainly agree that "any Dark Shadows is good Dark Shadows," for reasons I"ve already discussed on your blog.

Cousin Barnabas said...

That's what I meant by "relative failure." Financially, the movie isn't a disaster ... but it's not the franchise starter that WB was probably hoping for, either.

Had the film grossed $300 domestically, I doubt we'd have seen a sequel, anyway ... Tim Burton hasn't made a sequel since Batman Returns, and I doubt Depp would have come back without him.

"Dark Shadows was a failure" seems to be the running meme. As far as Depp/Burton collaborations, though, it's their fourth best-performing film.

Cousin Barnabas said...

It's still possible for Dark Shadows to get another life as a TV series. The name recognition of Dark Shadows is higher now than it's been in 20 years, which is incredibly valuable.

Will McKinley said...

I'd go with "minor success," rather than "relative failure." But that's semantics.

And we've talked about this before, but I think there very well may be a sequel (rather than a TV spinoff) with Caroline (Chloe Moretz) in the lead - and perhaps featuring a cameo by Depp to insure continuity. I'll bet you a beer at the Blue Whale that there's already a treatment for that, if not a script.

retzev said...

"Any Dark Shadows is good Dark Shadows"

I love that line. I feel the same way. DS12 isn't everything I'd hoped it would be, but I'll take my Dark Shadows any way I can get it.

DavidN said...

Depp Shadows pulled in $225 million worldwide, and it's not done yet. Hardly a failure.
DS books, comics and audio dramas are selling well.

DS is hardly dead!

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