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Has ‘Dark Shadows’ Killed a ‘Beetlejuice 2′?

Dark Shadows Beetlejuice
Warner Bros.

During ‘Dark Shadows‘ part of the Collinwood staircase turns into a serpentine creature and attacks Michelle Pfeiffer and at that point it became clear: ‘Dark Shadows’ is as much of a rehash of ‘Beetlejuice’ as we’ll ever need.
Tim Burton’s latest is really just another modern, non-original Tim Burton disappointment that wants to seem like his older, more revered films. There’s a lot to enjoy, mostly from the comedic breakout performance by Eva Green, but it also tries way too hard to be too many things. One of these is homage to those earlier Tim Burton movies, of which screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith is clearly a fan.

And now Grahame-Smith is working on a sequel to ‘Beetlejuice,’ a movie released when the writer was 12. He will probably approach the character and his world as someone with a very nostalgic love for the 1988 ghost comedy. In theory this seems okay and will result in a follow-up that’s faithful to the memory if not really true to the soul of the original. This sequel will probably be to ‘Beetlejuice’ what ‘The Muppets’ was to ‘The Muppet Movie.’

The only problem with that kind of film is that it’s really just feature-length fan fiction accepted as the real thing. Maybe this is just where we are right now as a culture (see the popularity of ‘50 Shades of Grey’), and you can’t argue against something if the people really want it. But ‘Beetlejuice 2’ shouldn’t be about the fans. It needs to be a good movie on its own. A fan-made sequel tends to be more introspectively for and about its nostalgic writer than either the audience or the beloved characters.

That was ‘The Muppets,’ and probably more reboots and remakes and late sequels to come. Part of the reason ‘Dark Shadows’ is such a mess is that it’s a mix of memories, from Johnny Depp’s admitted obsession with the show and character of Barnabas Collins, who he portrays in the adaptation, to Burton’s usual homage to Mario Bava, now combined with parody of the era of his early teens.

Fondness for early Burton is not limited to ‘Beetlejuice’ — much of Depp’s first dining scene with the Collins family is reminiscent of ‘Edward Scissorhands,’ only more talkative on the side of the stranger who has been welcomed in by the matriarch of the house — nor is it limited to the script, as Green’s Angelique seems inspired by Burton’s ex-wife Lisa Marie, specifically her performances in ‘Ed Wood’ and ‘Mars Attacks,’ whether this was intentional or not.

‘Beetlejuice’ is the movie to which ‘Dark Shadows’ can be best compared, however, with its visual nods to the white sheet ghost costume gag and the resurrection of Betelguise from his grave to that aforementioned staircase snake. Just imagine a remake of ‘Beetlejuice’ directed by the remake-happy Burton of today. That’s essentially what we’ve got here. Of course the plot isn’t exactly the same, and in the end Angelique takes over as the Betelguise surrogate that Barnabas had initially appeared to inhabit in the first half.

The sequel could very well be even more similar, as Grahame-Smith plans to bring Betelguise (again played by Michael Keaton) to the present, with the past 25 years having gone by like nothing to the Neitherworld-dweller. He’ll likely return to the world of the living and makes jokes about iPads and conjure up a monster-filled Lady Gaga concert.

Unfortunately, among those original ‘Beetlejuice’ talents who have passed on are first screenwriter Michael McDowell and rewrite Warren Skaaren, and it’s unclear if producer Larry Wilson, who also worked on some of the McDowell incarnation and later consulted on the ‘Beetlejuice’ cartoon, will be involved with the sequel to maintain the property’s integrity. Burton himself is also uncertain about coming back to direct the sequel.

Then again, people who worked on a movie 25 years ago might not know any better than a fan who was a preteen during the original production. Looking at ‘Dark Shadows,’ for example, there are all the tropes and themes that make it a sure thing for Burton as an auteur, and yet it comes across as more like “A Tim Burton Movie” than a real Tim Burton movie. Grahame-Smith may as well have written a meta movie in which he’s a Tim Burton fanboy who gets to meet and then work with the director on an attempted return to the old Burton magic he grew up on.

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