Unlike Tim Burton’s previous film Alice in Wonderland, his next release, Dark Shadows, is a film that not too many people will have heard of. And who could blame them? Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, which will be released in December this year, already has its trailer displayed on every movie website in existence, whereas all Dark Shadows has to show in terms of publicity is three or four post-production stills. The question is: will the film sell? Will people who are not already fans of Burton’s previous work go and see this film or will it mirror the failure of his Planet of the Apes remake?
It’s not just the lack of publicity that’s worrying, it’s the content. Dark Shadows was originally a television show in the US that ran throughout the late ‘60s and early ‘70s and its plot centred on Collinwood house, a place full of witchcraft, vampires and ghosts. Think of it as a gothic soap opera – ‘The Addams Family’ meets ‘Eastenders’. The show rose in popularity after the character Barnabas Collins, a vampire trapped inside the family mausoleum, was introduced. Over the years ‘Dark Shadows’ gained a cult following and is now seen as a camp classic; it’s surprising Vincent Price wasn’t in it. The point is that the public, especially teenagers (who make up the majority of Burton’s fan base), will not have a clue what Dark Shadows is. There will of course be people who will flock to see any film that Tim Burton is involved with, but will it be enough to make Dark Shadows a success?
Aside from the two Batman films and Beetlejuice, Burton gained true recognition in 1990 with the release of Edward Scissorhands. Not only was he able to showcase his unique ability for storytelling, but he met the man who would help shape his future career and become godfather to his children: Johnny Depp. An unlikely choice at first, Depp already carried the reputation for being a teen sensation due to his appearances in Cry Baby and the TV show 21 Jump Street, but he portrayed the timid and misunderstood character of Edward so well that he immediately became Burton’s favourite performer.
The results have been bountiful. Drawing on Burton’s extravagant weirdness and Depp’s ability to mould himself into any role given to him, they have produced such films as Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow in the ‘90s, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in the following decade. Arguably, not one of their best collaborations, 2010’s Alice in Wonderland actually made just over $1billion – a couple of thousand more than The Dark Knight, making it one of the highest grossing films ever. With this statistic in mind, it’s hard to understand why there has been a lack of publicity for Dark Shadows. Perhaps the cast will speak for itself?
Apart from Johnny Depp (who plays the lead vampire Barnabas Collins), no Tim Burton film is complete without his ‘domestic partner’ Helena Bonham-Carter in some sort of demented or sexually charged role, for she has not only given Burton two children, but some brilliant performances in films such as Sweeney Todd, Corpse Bride and Big Fish. In Dark Shadows she plays Julia Hoffman, a woman deeply in love with Barnabas, so we can expect some of the gothic romance previously seen in Sweeney Todd and Corpse Bride. Other faces include Burton regulars Christopher Lee and Michelle Pfeiffer, and the not so regular faces of Eva Green and Chloe Moretz. Even Alice Cooper is set to make an appearance (as himself), so it’s not as though the cast is in any way unknown.
If you stand back, however, and look at what Tim Burton is capable of when motivated, Dark Shadows is no cause for concern. Consider the effort he put into writing and producing The Nightmare Before Christmas and the persistence he showed in his younger years, getting fired from Disney studios for ‘wasting their money’ by making the black and white short Frankenweenie. On top of that, both Burton and Depp are obsessive fans of the original TV show (Depp actually said in an interview that as a child he had wanted to be Barnabas Collins), so it looks like they’ll do all they can to do the film justice.
Dark Shadows isn’t the only film that Burton is involved in this year either. Aside from producing the upcoming Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Disney, rather ironically, are funding a full length version of Frankenweenie, an animated film in which a boy brings his dog back to life. There’s even talk of a Beetlejuice sequel being scripted at this very moment; does his imagination ever stop? I don’t think it does.