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Dark Shadows Review, or Is There a Team Burton?


A lot of people who wish to sound smart will comment on the fact that director Tim Burton seems to be using the same actors over and over again. Well, yes he is. But you can't blame him for that. It saves thousands of dollars per movie, money which can be redirected to the other departments such as costumes and special effects. So if you're a director, it pays to marry and be best friends with great actors.

But going back to the topicis there a Team Burton? The answer is yes, there is definitely a Team Burton, and yes, that pun was forced. And I shall show you by analyzing the last five movies of Tim Burton, this film included. And those films are, in reverse order of chronology: Dark Shadows, Alice in Wonderland, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Corpse Bride, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

On the surface, the three actors common to all five films are:

Johnny Depp

Those finger extensions look fake
as well as horrendous.

Weird, oddball role: Check.
Weird, oddball acting: Check.

Helena Bonham Carter

"These glasses scream 'seventies!'"

American accent: Check.
Ginger hair: Um... okay, fine. Check.


Christopher Lee

"Do I have to talk?"

Old man role: Check.
Speaking role to maximize the use of his super masculine voice: Check.

The only exception is Christopher Lee, who did not star in Sweeney Todd. At first I thought it was because Lee doesn't do musicals, but the guy just released a metal album back in 2010, rendering my argument invalid.

Wait, that's only three people. That's not a proper team! This isn't half-court basketball!

Well it turns out the rest of Team Burton can be found behind the camera.

Danny Elfman
Original Music
"Here's me doing a Sith Lord lightning beam impression."

Danny Elfman did the music for all five films, except again for Sweeney Todd. It's most probably because  Sweeney Todd was a remake of a musical, meaning the music had already been written. Also, Elfman has been doing the music for all of Tim Burton's films since Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, with the exception of Ed Wood, the music of which was done by Howard Shore.

I don't know if it was also Elfman who was responsible for selecting the seventies songs for the soundtrack (high-five for alliteration!), but good job on including Alice Cooper and The Carpenters.

Chris Lebenzon
"No, I am not Tony Shalhoub."

Another regular staple of Team Burton, Chris Lebenzon has edited Burton's films since Batman Returns back in 1992. It actually seems that Lebenzon and Burton have fused together into one single entity, both of them seeing the same finished film in their heads, down to the last frame.

Susie Figgis
She actually looks too normal to be
working with Tim Burton.

Susie Figgis has served as Burton's casting director for the last five films except Corpse Bride, presumably because it's a stop-motion flick. Before that, she also did the casting for Sleepy Hollow back in 1999.

Basically, the casting director chooses who plays who. I think Ms. Figgis's casting template for Tim Burton films already includes the names of Bonham Carter, Depp, and Lee (also known as the Burton Trinity).

But apart from the Burton Trinity, Figgis does a good casting job here, notably with the witch Eva Green (with her bewitchingly beautiful smile), the awesome Jonny Lee Miller (who can do a decent American accent), and the awesome legs of Chloe Grace Moretz.

Colleen Atwood
Costume Design
Tim Burton has crazy hair.
Colleen Atwood has crazy eyes.

Technically speaking, Collen Atwood should have the highest market value in Team Burton, with three Academy Awards. She's been designing the costumes of Tim Burton films since Edward Scissorhands in 1990 (with the exception of Batman Returns and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). And she does a brilliant job here, combining the gothic visual style of Tim Burton with the psychedelic color palette of 1970s fashion. Johnny Depp's 18th century garb, while visually appealing, looks very out of place in 70s America. And that means the costumes worked.

Some of you may ask why Tim Burton (or directors in general) form their own filmmaking team. It's not because they want to save a couple of thousand dollars since their enterprise will now be based on friendship instead of money. It's because efficient workers in the film industry are hard to find. It's also hard to find artists who know exactly what the director wants, who can think the way the director thinks. Looking at Danny Elfman, it's not hard to imagine Tim Burton approaching him and saying, "Danny, I'm doing a remake of Dark Shadows. There'll be some 70s period music, and all the original music is yours." And they've worked together so long that changes and revisions, if any, are probably very minimal.

But this only begs the question: if Burton has indeed formed his own filmmaking dream team, why doesn't he have a cinematographer on the team? Or even a production designer? The answer is, I think, aesthetics. Burton wants his films to look different from each other. Using a different cinematographer and production designer for every film will ensure that at least on the visual level, this is not your typical Tim Burton film.

But as soon as the faces of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter grace the screen, you know that this is your typical Tim Burton film.

Dark Shadows. USA. 2012.

Rating: Seven and a half out of ten.
Chloe Grace Moretz's legs: Eight and a half out of ten.


Dan O. said...

Good review Sting. It has some real moments that made me laugh and had me enjoyed, but Burton starts to lose himself by the end, therefore, he lost me. Could have been so much better and the only reason it is as good as it is, is because of Depp’s insane performance. Just could have been so much better and less lazy with its approach.

I find myself agreeing with you, Dan O. Depp was great as usual, but it could've been so much better.

There's no "I" in "Tim".

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