Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Sh!#ting on the Classics: An Open Letter to Tim Burton
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!”
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!!!
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."
Frankenweenie better be great, Tim.