‘Dark Shadows’ Score A Far Cry From Slapstick Trailer

Is Tim Burton's vampire flick darker than the campy trailer had us believe?
By John Mitchell

Johnny Depp in "Dark Shadows"
Photo: Warner Bros

So we've been talking a lot about that gonzo first trailer for "Dark Shadows." It's got its defenders and its detractors and that's all pretty well documented , so we're not going to spill any more ink on it. But now Warner Bros. has muddied the waters a bit by releasing Danny Elfman's full score for the film — and it's definitely not the score to a slapstick comedy.

First things first, the trailer unquestionably makes "Dark Shadows" seem like a farce. We've argued that's not necessarily a bad thing — sometimes a radical overhaul is what it takes to reinvent something old for modern audiences (see: "Charlie's Angels," "Mission Impossible") — but the tone set in the trailer is a complete departure from what everyone expected, while Elfman's score, which can be heard in its entirety on WB's Watertower Music , seems perfect for the film that fans of the TV show thought they were getting. Strange, right?

Elfan's score is rich, deep and dark. It is heavy on strings, ambient sounds and atmosphere. The drama factor is high and there's little evidence of slapstick. Tracks like "Killing Dr. Hoffman," "Deadly Handshake" and "Barnabas Collins Comes Home" have an almost menacing and methodic feel, and "Dumping the Body" and "Widow's Hill" are rife with shadowy action.

The music for the film is kind of amazing, actually. (Should Danny Elfman begin readying for his fifth Oscar nomination?) But what is most exceptional about it is how little it fits the film Burton had us expecting. There's been some indication from sources close to the film that the comedic elements were dialed up for the trailer. After its initial arrival and ensuing fan backlash, co-star Chloë Moretz's brother, Trevor Duke-Moretz, tweeted , "Fear not ppl, there is a lot of dark and creepy in #darkshadows, WB had to make a trailer that appealed widely, the film is brilliant."

Talking about the film late last year, Helena Bonham Carter told MTV News , "I love 'Dark Shadows.' It's very original. It's uncategorizable. It's a soap opera but it's very, very subtle. ... It's a ghost story, it's an unhappy vampire story, it's a mixture of so many things and a real ensemble piece. And, um, hopefully it will be funny."

Those don't sound like the words of someone who just got done filming a flat-out gonzo comedic reinterpretation of a cult soap opera. In the past, Tim Burton has been a master of mixing the wonderfully weird with the dark and sentimental, and it's difficult to convey a film's complexity in a two-minute advertisement. Is it possible he's really hiding a much more layered, horror-lite drama that includes moments of high comedy (almost all seemingly playing off Barnabas' trouble getting his footing in the modern world) behind a slapstick trailer, hoping to reach as wide an audience as possible?

A few scenes in the trailer have always felt a bit out of place if the film really is an all-out comedy. The bleakness of Barnabas' transition into a vampire at the bottom of Widow's Peak is one. The "fight on, Barnabas" scene between Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer is another. Perhaps rather than try to do something serious with the show's inherent camp, Burton and company decided to poke fun at it and move on? Maybe whatever consulting firm had its hands in cutting the trailer thought the one-liners would pull in more paying customers?

Who knows? But Elfman's dark and amazing score adds another layer to the mystery.

With just over one month left until our favorite vampire that doesn't sparkle in the sunshine hits theaters, do you think we're in for a very different film than the one we're expecting? Let us know in the comments below and tweet me at @JohnMitchell83 with your thoughts and suggestions for future columns!

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