The great Dark Shadows debate

Unfortunately, Dark Shadows didn’t do all that well at the box office this past weekend. 

Then again, many pundits had lowered expectations after seeing the trailer, which was much more slapstick than originally anticipated. 

But I had no idea the film doing a belly flop at the box office would kick off a whole debate about whether Johnny Depp and Tim Burton’s talents have outlasted their shelf life.

If you’re a Burton fan, you know that in many of Tim’s films his greatest strengths can be found in the realm of the visual rather than literal, with his best movies based on decent screenplays, like Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Big Fish, and Sweeney Todd. 

And indeed, his sense of humor does lean towards goofy and doofy. There is really nothing wrong with that, although sometimes it can be grating, especially in Tim’s Planet of the Apes remake, which was probably his most disappointing film. Even in Burton’s worst films there’s usually something interesting, but with Apes, the exact same movie could have been made by any other director.


So an opinion poll recently hit Moviefone: “Was Tim Burton Ever a Good Director?” This poll was launched by writer Eric Larnick, who explains, “I loved Tim Burton. He was my absolutely favorite director until around 2001,” but clarifies, “Tim Burton is not the filmmaker he used to be. The haunting emotional resonance of Edward Scissorhands does not exist in something like Alice in Wonderland or Dark Shadows. Since 2001, he’s been more content playing the Hollywood game.”


While I’m not the biggest Tim Burton fan in the world, I do like his work when he’s got a good story / script to work with, and there’s no question the guy absolutely has a unique vision. Burton certainly isn’t a hack, and I’d never put him in the same league as say someone like a Joel Schumacher or a Brett Ratner, but clearly the problem is he often gets in his own way as a filmmaker, yet he’s hardly the only one guilty of this. And also don’t forget – as far as playing the Hollywood game, Burton’s been doing big movies since practically day one with Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Batman.


A similar re-evaluation was also posed by the L.A. Times about Johnny Depp, with the headline, “Has America Fallen Out of Love With Johnny Depp?” Truthfully, I think the problem with Dark Shadows is the same with a lot of retro remakes. Today’s audiences often aren’t familiar with, or don’t care about, old TV shows and movies that are being remade, and Depp was never really a big box office star until the Pirates movies, which is why, as the Times put it, the actor’s “clearly making choices that international audiences are responding to a lot more than American ones.”


But that’s pretty obvious, because European audiences respond much better to smaller, more idiosyncratic tastes. And of course, let’s also not forget that Dark Shadows would have had a hard time going up against The Avengers no matter what, even in its second week of release.