Dark Shadows is full of wonderful characters imbued with dark, quirky goodness that you feel connected to because of all the care that is taken to ensure the audience relates – oh wait, no,sorry, that’s Edward Scissorhands. Never mind.
Dark Shadows is full of wonderful characters imbued with dark, quirky goodness that you feel connected to because of all the care that is taken to ensure the audience relates – oh wait, no,sorry, that’s Edward Scissorhands. Never mind. This is Dark Shadows, one of Tim Burton’s less inspired creations, despite a magnificent job by the Production Design team. Alas, it is a remake of the old late 1960’s Gothic soap opera of the same name, and we know what happens when Burton works from existing material. Generally, it just doesn’t go as well as his original material, to say the least.
The story, which is sort of an amalgam of story-lines from the original soap opera, is this: Barnabas Collins is cursed to be a vampire by jilted lover, and formidable witch, Angelique, and then entombed for 200 years. When he escapes, he returns to his ancestral home to find the remnants of the Collins family exceedingly apathetic and the family business shambles. Barnabas takes it upon himself to rebuild the Collins empire and make respectable people of his family.
First of all, this film has no identity. It doesn’t really know what it wants to be. It starts as light Gothic horror, setting a cool mood, yet with Johnny Depp narrating exactly the events you see onscreen. Stop that. Then it becomes this whole fish out of water comedy with Johnny Depp, as Barnabas Collins, obviously a 200 year old vampire in 1972. Awkward. And most of the jokes are, well, not funny. And then you really get tired of them trying. You can only take so many fish out of water jokes of this ilk. Strangely, though, the jokes are spread out and most of them are in the trailer that played incessantly for weeks prior. there are some others, but they aren’t that funny. The rest of the film is spent wobbling between subtle soap opera drama parody and, believe it or not, moments – glimmering jewels – of what could have been a good film.
Yes, there are times when I experienced fleeting moments of joy, as if maybe the lame jokey-jokes had stopped and they were going to stick to a creepy Gothic drama. But alas, those hopes were dashed a number of times. And if that weren’t bad enough, the pacing was so off that no one character really got any great development. Like they tried to make this a comedy about a vampire out of time, then tried to build extra story around it. In the end, you don’t really care about much of anyone.
Not that it’s the actors fault. They all did what they could with what they were given. Well, except for Chloe Grace Moretz. For as much as I like her, she wasn’t very good here. It was uncomfortable watching her in this. She won’t want to look back on this role often. And Johnny Depp is his usual excellent self as the creepy but ever so gentlemenly Barnabas Collins. But at the same time, he’s his usual self – which is what he does in so many Burton films it’s getting repetitive. Tim Burton needs some new acting blood in his films. I get it, you’re friends, you work well together, but c’mon, it’s like watching the same movie just with different sets.
However, that being said, the one consistent strong point is the production design. This movie looks gorgeous in every respect. Really can’t say enough about the visuals here, uh, except the fact that great production design won’t miraculously help your audience connect to your characters.
This really vexes me, too. Supposedly, both Johnny Depp and Tim Burton were great fans of the original show. Depp said in an article that as a boy, he’d come home form school to watch Dark Shadows and was enthralled by Jonathan Frid. Ok, and he did a fine job with the character, but what’s Burton’s excuse? This script wasn’t that good. How have you turned whatever amount of loving passion you have for this show, these characters, and accepted this script? If this is what he does now when there’s passion involved, I’d hate to see what he’d create with nothing but apathy. Oh, Planet of the Apes or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Right.
I won’t even elaborate greatly on the weirdness of Alice Cooper being in this as himself, performing his own songs from 1972, as his 64 year old self. This whole scene is weirdly unneccessary and feels like whorish product placement. And I had heard that the original Barnabas Collins, Jonathan Frid was getting a small part. Well, that part was small, alright; as a guest at this big party scene- he walks into the house without a word. Maybe he was too frail, I don’t know but it seems like a big “screw you” to me.
Has Tim Burton lost it? I don’t know. We could write an article of just that topic. Maybe he’s just gotten lazy. He is certainly more hit and miss now. He goes up to the year 2000 without making a significant flop, then suddenly directs the remake to Planet of the Apes and then it’s up and down since then. He’s made 3 good films and 4 not so good ones in 12 years. I’m not liking these odds.
Dark Shadows is beautiful to look at and only teases occasionally at being a good film. Not enough for three kittenhands. Only two. We’ll see how Frankenweenie is this Fall.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, afraid Tim Burton peaked 12 years ago.