Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sh!#ting on the Classics: An Open Letter to Tim Burton

Dear Timmy (Can I call you Timmy?)

We need to talk.
Tim, you may find this hard to believe, because I have shit on you before in this column (Nightmare Before Christmas, Unnecessary Remakes)....

...but I still believe in you.

No director who made Beetlejuice and Ed Wood could be all bad.

On a good day, perhaps with a few margaritas in my tummy, I will even defend your Batman Returns and Mars Attacks! to whoever will listen.

I even thought it was cool that between your two Batman movies, you made a small personal film for yourself, Edward Scissorhands. Quite frankly, after the Brinks extra wide money truck drove up to the studio and dropped off your Batman profits, a grateful Warner Brothers would have allowed you to film your foot for an hour and a half. (FADE IN on quirky, misunderstood foot in black-and-white striped sock. CUE the wheezing strains of Danny Elfman’s monotonous, cacophonous bombast.)

Lately, however, your films have (to put it gently) sucked ass. Not only are they soulless and overblown, but they also target pieces of my childhood. Now, Timmy, this is the straw that broke the quirky, misunderstood camel’s back: the other day I saw your Dark Shadows trailer.

What. The. Fuck. Dude.

Tim, Dark Shadows was a seminal part of my childhood. I was quite young when it premiered, but I remember scurrying home from grammar school to watch it. It was on right when I got home on ABC, Channel 7. The gothic and psychedelic opening weirded me out, man.

Dark Shadows concerned a family of rich vampires, witches, and werewolves living in a big house in New England. My lifelong love of monsters might just have sprung from this afternoon soap opera, and NOT the classic Universal Horror Series as I have always assumed. The most important thing about Dark Shadows, though, was that they played it STRAIGHT.

At first, the thought of you, Timmy, bringing Dark Shadows to the screen filled me with joy and anticipation. Needless to say I was shocked and saddened when I saw that you have made a mockery of it. It is all there in the title, Timmy: Dark Shadows, not Crazy Disco Shadows.

Why would you do this? From the evidence in the trailer, you are taking the easy, shopworn, Brady Bunch Movie approach: treating the original source material as high camp, and contrasting it with “normal” surroundings and situations. “Hey, remember that thing you loved? It was stupid then, and it is stupider now! You were stupid to love it! Sucker!”
This seems like the perfect time to market a STRAIGHT version of Dark Shadows. You remember straight, Timmy: you (and Depp) did it with Sleepy Hollow, which I loved. No irony. No misplaced laughs. No cheap shots, just a classic story with a very real darkness.

Twilight and True Blood are both fantastically popular -- why not feed into that zeitgeist? Why not pull off the ultimate remake coup, taking a musty, creepy, old gothic soap opera from the sixties and making it relevant to today’s young people with no condescension or inherent ridicule?

For once, let Johnny Depp go back to playing it straight -- you remember, what Depp used to do before the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels taught him to go broad and phone it in. I want the opposite of the knowing, “meta,” smirking yet joyless characters he gave us in Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. These are not human beings -- they are just Depp’s fevered attempts to out-odd himself.

I am convinced a modern gothic horror film can play it straight. Witness the recent The Woman in Black. Terrifying and wonderful.

But you are taking the easy route again, Timmy. I was thinking back (against my better judgment) and remembering your track record of adapting beloved source material. It is a miserable record.

A few months ago, I floated the tenuous theory that you secretly hate all the things of your childhood, and are therefore trying to ruin them for the rest of us.

Your remake of Planet of the Apes was jaw-dropping awful and almost blasphemous. I do not use this adjective to describe many movies, but I will use it to describe this one -- unwatchable.

Your remake of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was a soulless, heartless hallucination. Tim, that film took my very real affection for the original film and anally raped it, not metaphorically but literally, taking my affection to the handicapped stall in the theater’s least used restroom during one of the new, souped-up, CGI Oompa-Loompa production numbers and bending it over a toilet.

Since I saw your remake, Tim, my affection for the Gene Wilder version can no longer look me in the eyes. It just stares out the window for days at a time and sometimes sighs. Sometimes I hear my affection for the original, locked upstairs in its room, quietly sobbing. I am thinking of getting my affection some professional help.

You are going to have a lot to answer for in heaven, Timmy.

Perhaps it is not all your fault. I note with disdain that the screenwriters on Dark Shadows -- this send-up, this assault on both my childhood and all things holy -- are Seth Grahame-Smith and John August. The former has only worked in television; the latter “wrote” the Charlie’s Angels movies... and... Wait for it... your Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!!!

Oh, my.

So, I have decided NOT to see your Dark Shadows. (I wish I could afford the new 131 disc boxed set of the original television program, but there you go. It has already sold out its limited edition.) In the words of former President Bush, "Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."

better be great, Tim.


  1. First, CONGRATULATIONS 'F THIS MOVIE.' This is the 70th post/article of 2012, which matches the TOTAL number of posts in 2010. It took you eight months to post in 2010 the number of articles you guys have made in 2012 in 3 1/3 months. And it took you until May 16th of 2011 (the 'Bridesmaids' podcast) to get to your 70th article of that year, something you've done already by early April. You gents are cooking with gas.

    JB, I saw Burton's "Ed Wood" for the first time over the weekend (Saturday morning actually) and it literally blew my mind. I had read the bio info on Wood and his associates/movies, so nothing in the movie actually came as a surprise (except the parts the writers enhanced/made-up/omitted for dramatic purposes). What completely won me over the movie was precisely what you claim Burton has lost in his most recent, more financially succesful movies: THE LOVE. I could literally feel coming through my HDTV the actual love that Burton and his crew of actors and crew (many of them as tight with Burton as Wood was with his cast/crew) felt for their subject matter. From Bill Murray's portrayal of Bunny Beckenridge to that scene of Lisa Marie in Vampira outfit taking the bus to the set of the "Plan 9" movie (who hasn't ever felt like that woman felt at that moment in our lives at one point?) to Howard Shore's amazing theremin-sounding score, Burton pours into his biopic of Ed Wood the same love and dedication (with more resources and talent) that the real Ed put into his movies.

    I've been unapologetic in my bashing of Wood on this blogspot. While I can honestly say I don't like the movies Ed Wood made (and you can't hold it against someone that doesn't appreciate the same kind of movies you do if they don't like Ed's imperfect body of work) the Burton biopic crystalized and made me realize that it's possible for cinephiles to love something imperfect IF they can feel the love and dedication that came through in the making of that imperfect movie. I AM TRULY AND DEEPLY SORRY if I have offended or insulted you and Patrick in the past for liking Ed Wood's movies (particularly "Plan 9") I considered inferior and beneath the podcast. If it's any consolation I watched the "MST3K" episode with "Bride of the Monster" soon after seeing "Ed Wood" and, what do you know, an episode that I previously found just hilarious became both less-hilarious and a lot more poignant. I couldn't watch the silly octopus scene without thinking of Burton's magnificent shot of the reflection on the car windshield of Bela tapping his vein before going to shoot that scene at 4AM.

    You're right in your column that the Burton of "Ed Wood" and "Batman Returns" (his favorite movie of mine) could do stuff like these, changing a person's perception of a director's body of work or touch them deeply, that the money-making Burton of 2012 either doesn't have anymore or doesn't care to explore. Burton and Depp used to do a few blockbusters and then the intimate and weird one-off flick (like "Ed Wood") to feed their inner artist trying to say something. Depp is still doing that ("The Rum Diaries") but Tim seems to have given up which is a shame. Every time Depp and Martin Landau had a scene together in "Ed Wood" I was literally crying. I've had a chance to meet face-to-face and talk with a few of my personal idols (both celebrities and behind-the-scenes TV people). To see Depp-as-Wood literally implode of joy at befriending Bela Lugosi took me back when I was talking, hanging out and/or learning from the people that inspired me to get into my line of work. These are human emotions, and humanity more than anything is what Burton seems to have discarded for the sake of a profitable career. More power to Tim, but as "Ed Wood" proves Hollywood, USA is worse because of it.

  2. Luckily, my childhood did NOT take the candy Mr. Burton offered it and promptly blew the whistle rather loudly so the whole neighborhood could hear BEFORE he could get his hands on Superman and drive it off in a windowless van. Phew!

  3. J.B.

    While I'll admit that the "Dark Shadows" trailer is horrendous and it looks like it's going to be more of a campy comedy than a loving tribute, I don't feel the simmering rage and disgust a lot of people feel about his later remakes or reimaginings.

    Granted, "Planet of the Apes" is a bad, bad movie(bad script, miscast actors, clumsy editing, etc.). But I don't have the burning hate of a thousand suns that people have for it. And while flawed, I actually like "Charlie" and "Alice" for what they are. Then again I don't have the glowing admiration for "Willy Wonka" that a lot of people have, sorry. But I'll admit that Burton has grown a bit lazy and I wish I saw more of the talented filmmaker from "Edward Scissorhands" and "Beetlejuice" and less from the filmmaker making "Dark Shadows".

    Side note: John August also wrote the screenplay for "Big Fish", a movie that moved me and also wrote and directed "The Nines", a flawed but highly original film. But yeah, I don't understand "Charlie's Angels", ha ha.

  4. I'm just happy to see someone acknowledge Ed Wood as one of the better Burton films. The guy can do comedy well and his appreciation for outsiders is a wonderful quality even in his worst movies, but you've nailed JB. Burton has sucked royal ass lately. How can the director of Big Fish and Beetlejuice turn out such a soulless product like Alice in Wonderland or Charlie in the Chocolate Factory? I

    1. ... Claudius? ...object? ...recuse myself? ;-P

    2. I looked at my computer screen for a good ten minutes, trying to decipher your post before it dawned me. Very funny, smart ass ;)

    3. ^^^ Takes one to know one Fred! :-P

  5. Alice scarred me more than Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. But then I only saw Willy Wonka as an adult and don't have the same affection for it as you do. I even kinda like Burton's version. It's not great but it's not as terrible as Planet Of The Apes or Alice. I have zero knowledge of the original Dark Shadows and I still think the movie looks terrible. Sweeney Todd made me think that Burton still had it but I think it was a fluke, he's totally lost it.

  6. Yes to everything you've said,JB.

    This was Burton's chance to revive DS on a grand scale,and do it right. (While I did love the 1991 version with Joanna Going and the hunky Ben Cross? Still a low budget affair. At least we were spared the WB's failed revival.)
    The Brady Bunch Movie joke was shopworn in 1995,and still is. Give me a blood soaked,romantic bodice ripper instead of a camp fest.
    Heck,hand the series over to Peter Jackson.

    I guess I need to start saving up for the Dark Shadows complete series collection. Sigh.

  7. I loved it, but that might just be the show. It certainly has some of Soundheim's most beautiful melodies. I actually preferred the stylization of the original Broadway production to the movie's Nightmare Before Christmas aesthetic.

  8. I think this column is great. I try to avoid trailers, but I do love Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and Dark Shadows, and was weak and watched it. I'm desperately hoping that the movie has been grossly mismarketed and can't be as bad as it looks, especially since directors aren't usually involved in trailers (are they?) but the fact is that all the footage in that trailer does exist and has been shot and does speak for itself. Maybe it will have the reverse effect of Wrath of the Titans and be a crappy trailer but a good movie. I'm sure I'll be eating these words soon.

    I also wish I could afford that new Dark Shadows megaset, but I did read somewhere that (from what I understand) the old DVD box sets are going to be put back into circulation this year for those who can't afford this gigantic coffin set. I hope that turns out to be true.

  9. I vaguely remember going to see TB's Planet of the Apes in the theatre and not hating it - the kicker here being that I had never seen the original. I have since seen the original a couple times and I'm a big fan - a couple weeks ago I DVR'd the TB version and started watching it - went something like this: Okay, Marky Mark, fine I guess, he's not the worst; different kind of setup to the story, whatever I can get over that; hey, the ape makeup is pretty good actually - zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz - and to be clear, that's me snoring, not unzipping my pants for a simian Helena Bonham-Carter. God, what a boring, soulless piece of crap. I'm not sure if there's a modern-day equivalent of Charlton Heston (whose performance in the original I find incredibly interesting to watch) but Marky Mark ain't it! Such an odd casting decision, especially considering Tim Burton made it.

    I have really enjoyed some Tim Burton movies in the past (I'll be sure to check out Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow) but he's definitely lost me this past decade or so - most of his movies seem to have become parodies of themselves. He needs to be more like Quentin Tarantino, who manages to instil a recognizable flavour in all of his movies without ever feeling repetitive or too "Hey look at me! I'm a Tarantino movie!"