56 days from the film's release, the trailer for Tim Burton's Dark Shadows is here. Let's talk about what it isn't: it is not a straight adaptation of the series, instead taking the central premise of Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), recently resurrected vampire, into humorous (if somewhat obvious) Rip Van Winkle territory. The gags seem to work, although the trailer seems overeager to crowd a whole lot of them in.
But it also doesn't seem to be flat-out comedy, as the scenes of Barnabas' origin seem fairly straight-faced and operatic. This kind of juxtaposition is nothing new for Burton; nearly all his films have some blend of absurd humor and pathos, with wildly varying results. In that regard, the trailer offers no real surprises, but I like what I see so far, and if nothing else the trailer is a nice reminder of what damn stellar cast this movie has.
And it isn't light on plot; when you wait this long to release a trailer I suppose you've got to make up for lost time. The plot seems to follow the Barnabas Collins story arc from Dark Shadows fairly closely; awakened after 200 years, Barnabas returns to his ancestral home to reconnect with his highly dysfunctional descendants, and to battle Angelique (Eva Green), the century-hopping servant girl/witch whose jealous wrath landed him in a chained coffin as a cursed member of the undead. I like how appalled Depp's Barnabas seems to be by what a mess his family turned out to be, a wrinkle absent from the original series. And dropping him into the 70s seems a fun choice; Burton & Co. will get some extra laughs out of having the "future world" to which Barnabas awakens take place 40 years ago.
The big surprise for me has been reading reactions of some of the original show's die-hard fans, who are sort of tearing their hair out over the humor in the trailer, throwing around words like "betrayed" and "insulted", as if the universe (or maybe just Hollywood) has conspired to pull a cruel trick on them. As word of mouth began to leak in recent weeks, they've been clinging to offhand remarks by Burton (saying things like "it's news to me" when asked if the film is a comedy), and they can't get their heads around this trailer. Part of me thinks they're entitled to their outrage; someone has come along and reinvented their beloved (and no longer widely known) franchise, and are seemingly making a parody of it for mass consumption. To get a sense of their pain, imagine JJ Abrams doing Star Trek as a spoof.
On the other hand, it's an interesting lesson in how there isn't one "correct" way to enjoy a piece of entertainment. Some folks out there take the original series completely seriously as supernatural Gothic romance on the order of Twilight, some really embrace the campy side of the show, and I've met several lifelong female fans whose fondest memory of Dark Shadows was learning to masturbate while staring at Jonathan Frid's face on their TV. Are any of those ways of enjoying the show more legit than the other? (I mean, sure, you have to pull some serious "death of the author" shit to make that last example work, but I stand by it.) Everyone's got their thing; somewhere out there is a dyed-in-the-wool Johnny Depp fan so enraged by the 21 Jump Street movie that the only thing keeping them going is this film's promise of Depp as a prissy vampire.
Watching this trailer, I find myself completely connecting with how Burton and Depp have crafted a love letter to the Dark Shadows that lives in their memory. I've had an on-and-off relationship with the original series since I was 11. I loved watching it, I was caught up in the plot and characters and supernatural goings-on, but I also cracked up at the flubbed lines and the panic-stricken energy that was sometimes on display during the live-on-tape, one-take episodes. Grips are standing in the shot, boom shadows abound, gravestones are falling over, and two actors are standing in the middle of this low-budget maelstrom, going for broke and doing career-best work. I also absolutely love the singular, crazy edge of the show's energy, up to and including the bloopers and mishaps. (And if I were alone in that appreciation, there wouldn't be a DVD collecting nothing but bloopers from the show.) Those elements are inextricable from what I love about Dark Shadows, and it's why no attempt at remaking the show has ever gotten it "right" - not the 1970 feature film House of Dark Shadows, not the 1991 NBC reboot, and not the unaired 2004 WB pilot. The original series was a bizarre, special thing I've never seen anywhere else. I hope I'm not imagining it, but it feels like that's what Burton and Depp are going for here.
But the big question is: how will the non-fans perceive what's going on in that trailer? Fill me in below.