[Review] – Dark Shadows

23 May

Title: Dark Shadows
Year: 2012
Director: Tim Burton
Writer: Seth Grahame-Smith, based on a story by himself and John August, based on the television series by Dan Curtis
Starring: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller, Chloë Grace Moretz, Bella Heathcote
MPAA Rating: PG-13, comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking
Runtime: 113 min
IMDb Rating: 6.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 42%
Metacritic: 55

Starting with 1990’s Edward Scissorhands, Johnny Depp has collaborated with his close friend, director Tim Burton, on eight occasions. And I like the two quite a lot, and they certainly have made pretty great contributions to the modern cinematic canon together (one can’t argue the greatness of a film like Ed Wood), but I’m afraid that I’m left thinking that maybe they should put a temporary halt to these collaborations. It feels now that they’re collaborating just because they have fun working together, which is indeed a good reason, but it would be better if they spent just a little extra time getting the material ready for their tandem.

That’s not to say that their latest collaborative offering, Dark Shadows, is a really bad movie. It’s not, it’s somewhat salvageable, but that’s just it, it’s only an okay film, when I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing that these two would start churning out great flicks like they’ve had before. And it’s not as though it’s been that long since a Depp-Burton collaboration has been great, I personally loved 2007’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, but their last two (this one, and 2010’s Alice in Wonderland, which I gave a B to) left me wanting so much more.

It’s clear with this one, as it was with Alice in Wonderland, that both are super reverential of the source material, which in this case was a gothic soap opera from the late 60’s, but the fact is that the potential is not fully realized. In this particular instance my opinion is that it didn’t work as well as it could have because they tried too damn hard to make it a comedy. I remember thinking that this would be a thriller, a campy sort of scarefest that I could see myself absolutely loving, and I remember the disappointment when I saw the trailer and realized that they were going for a broader comedic approach to the material.

That’s definitely the big issue with Dark Shadows. I mean, the visuals are absolutely amazing, as you would expect from a Tim Burton film made with the likes of cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (a three-time Oscar nominee), art direction by Rick Heinrichs (who won an Oscar for the Depp-Burton collaboration that was Sleepy Hollow), and costumes by the great Colleen Atwood (a three-time Oscar winner, most recently for Alice in Wonderland). So, yes, visually it looks awesome, that’s mostly why I’m giving this one a recommending grade, but the fact is that Mr. Burton never really nails the right balance between the campy and the jokes and spooky stuff; this one mostly feels like it’s always one step in front or behind.

Hardcore fans of the Depp-Burton collaborations however, and there are quite a huge amount of those around, will, I believe, find more than a fair share of things to get excited for in this one. But to me it was just too incoherent, never really knowing exactly what it wanted to be, you get the sense that it was Tim Burton indulging himself with the splashy production values and just acting on impulse. On the one hand that’s kind of fun because you know that they were having fun and it’s nice to see a film in which the people that made it had a blast, but by the time it’s done throwing all these funny and spooky elements at us you’ll find that neither of them were all that effective.

For those not aware of what the film is about, here it goes: Mr. Depp plays Barnabas Collins, a wealthy playboy in the town of Collinsport, Maine in the middle of the eighteenth century, who makes the mistake of breaking the heart of one of his servants, Angelique, played by Eva Green. Mistake because Angelique happens to be a witch, and in a fit of jealousy curses his family, and turns Barnabas into a vampire only to then bury him alive in a coffin somewhere in the nearby woods.  He’s then mistakenly freed a couple of centuries later, in the middle of the 70’s, and returns to his mansion only to see it’s fallen, as well as his relatives who inhabit, on harsh times. So we’ll then get to see how he gets the culture shock of being transported to that era, as well as get to know his dysfunctional members of his family, and see how Barnabas tries to restore Collinwood Manor back to its former glory.

At first, this one actually worked for me really nicely, I could see myself giving it a strong B+ or something along those lines, because of how understated (by his standards) Mr. Depp’s performance was, and how visually rich and inventive the whole thing looked, with Mr. Burton giving us some shots that were obviously made to be reminiscent of the soap opera it was based on. But then we get around to the second half of the movie and that was just utterly unfortunate, with Mr. Burton relying too heavily on big action with special effects and stuff that never once do anything thrilling and instead make this one feel rather boring and generic; two words you would normally never associate with the director.

Dark Shadows has an attitude at first, it has a look, for sure, but by the time it gets going there’s really nothing there for us to really get into and love the movie. It starts off showing some awesome promise, and the scenes set two and a half centuries ago remind us why Tim Burton is such a masterful guy when it comes to evoking gothic sensibilities, but then it just starts feeling flat, a pity considering the cast this one had assembled included the other Tim Burton collaborator we all love, Helena Bonham Carter, as well as the great Chloë Grace Moretz. But yeah, as nicely as this one may start off, that second half just brought it way down, and even though I certainly do want to see Mr. Depp and Mr. Burton collaborate again, I hope it’s on something that gets their creative juices flowing again like they did in the nineties (and in Sweeney Todd).

Grade: B-

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