jason stives sinks his teeth into the new burton/depp film…
When trailers first surfaced for Dark Shadows, Tim Burton’s film adaptation of the cult horror TV show that ran from 1966 to 1971, reaction was mixed to lukewarm. On one end the trailer showed an adaptation that in name and plot was derived exactly from the show with a Burton twist but also envisioned a more humorous approach a la the film version of another cult 60’s TV show, The Addams Family. The difference here is The Addams Family was always a comedy, where as Dark Shadows was basically a horror soap opera very aware of its melodramatic tone but still kept a flair for its scare factor. The show was a melodrama, not campy, and sadly, Dark Shadows the movie is nothing more than a campy, over indulgent take on a classic that holds no pivot of interest and sensibility than being another quirky Depp/Burton collaboration that fails to be original.
The initial set up has great hope and is given Burton’s brooding, strange world that invokes the tone and look of the original series. In 1761, the Collins family sails to America to set up a booming fish business off the shore of Maine in a town that is dubbed Collinsport, in name of its most successful residents. Barnabas Collins (Depp), the young heir to the family has a fleeting affair with the house maid Angelique (Eva Green) but holds his heart for a young woman named Josette (Bella Heathcote). Out of spite, it is revealed that Angelique is in fact a practicing witch and seeking revenge against Barnabas for turning away her love, she kills his parents and sends his beloved Josette over a cliff to her death. Her final blow to Barnabas turns him into a vampire and has him imprisoned in a casket for 200 years.
After workers building a McDonalds unearth the casket, Barnabas is set free in 1972, looking to return to his former home, which is now inhabited by his distant relatives who are the shame of the town. Living under the roof of the dusty old Collinswood Manor is Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her obnoxious teen daughter Carolyn (Chloe Moretz), Elizabeth’s thrifty brother Roger (Johnny Lee Miller, his deranged son David and his drunk, live in psychiatrist Dr. Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter). Barnabas hopes to restore the legacy of his family as well as confront the woman who cursed him in the first place, now the most recognized and respected person in Collinsport. Oh, and the Collins’ new governess, Victoria Winters, happens to resemble Josette, and Barnabas spends a portion of the film seeking her love.
Right off the bat, too many storylines are in place and the desire to feel for this strange love story doesn’t even fall into place. Victoria is barely in the film and due to her passing resemblance of Josette (both are played by Heathcote) the audience is expected to believe that Barnabas’ love for her is true. If Victoria had featured more and seemed more important than it might be believable but to believe that they meet purely by destiny’s sake is trashy dime store romance. Considering the melodramatic nature of the original series this should work but these stories were spread out over 1,000 episodes not in two hours which is what this tries to do. Depp himself is once again in his fish out of water, quirky character mode and once again it fails to impress. What happened to Johnny Depp? A great actor, indeed, but the roles he has done over the past 7 years or so save for Jack Sparrow and even Sweeney Todd have all been meandering copy cats of each other, with a strange nobility and pension for prêt falls. Understandably, he is playing someone who wakes up 200 years after his time and is confused by current technology and trends but its constant presence makes no mark on the audience and it plays more for kitsch reasons than laughter. The only thing that really saves his character is his interaction with Eva Green’s Angelique who is vivacious in appearance and creepy in personality. That part of the story is maybe 45 percent of the film and the rest involves tying in uninteresting characters into the strange happenings of this weird vampire.
The performances overall just scream over the top and every actor at some point is basically chewing the scenery for laughs. I have to say it’s quite a pleasure to see Michelle Pfeiffer back in a major role as Elizabeth (last time she teamed with Burton it was for Batman Returns 20 years ago!) but sadly, Elizabeth while being the compassionate holder of Barnabas’ secrets does more posing at the top of banisters than she does move any bit of the plot along. Same goes for poor Chloe Moretz who once again enforces her potential for box office poison (despite excellent roles in Kick Ass and Let Me In) as Carolyn, an unbearable teenager of the 70s who is moody, and constantly sneering at the camera (even the final twist of her character seems pointless and tacked on).
The trend as you can see here are poorly written and horribly performed characters. Tim Burton in the past decade, once revered for creating wonderfully written, original fantasy worlds has relegated himself to phoning in established characters and giving them very little dimension. The characters lack personality and are useless to the storyline, particularly Johnny Lee Miller as Roger, who reminds us once again that his role in Hackers was almost 20 years ago and we still don’t care. Surprisingly, considering how annoying and strange her roles tend to be, the only person who gets even a bit of laughs from this reviewer is Burton’s ever present wife Helena Bonham Carter as Doctor Hoffman who gives amusing drunk observations and a constant eulogy of her once beautiful good looks. There is also Jackie Earle Haley as the Collins family’s caretaker Willie Loomis but his presence is completely forgettable only there to be Barnabas’ possessed right hand man with a drinking problem. There are also a surprising number of cameos including Alice Cooper, horror legend Christopher Lee, and even several key cast members from the original series including the original Barnabas Collins, Jonathan Frid, who died this past April.
Even with these cameos, and some rich visuals of the town of Collinsport, the film can’t be saved from its devastatingly dull script. The lack of quality characters and a very cohesive story also holds a bit of worry for another film coming out this summer, the Burton produced Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The author of that book, Seth Grahame-Smith, wrote the screenplay for Dark Shadows as well as the screenplay for his own book’s adaptation so if this film is any indication, that film may sadly be doomed beyond its already strange plot. Characters fall in and out storylines, and with no real development the viewer could care less what happens to them and who they are. This sadly becomes the Johnny Depp show all over again and minus the already said screen chemistry of Depp and Green, nothing about this film is remotely, funny, interesting or frightening.
The big problem here beyond the script is it campy nature with an unintentionally cliché 1972 soundtrack, as if Burton is nudging the audience to remember the ’70s or make the younger audience believe that this is what that period was all about. Personal gripe: there is a modern cover of the Raspberries’ 1972 hit “Go All the Way” in the credits (as an uber fan of the power pop quartet this is a terrible sin).
Dark Shadows is truly a glossy mess, one that tries to keep the audience interested by name and by its visual tone but ultimately falls into the pit of being a genre less film that is neither horror nor comedy. Maybe it’s time Depp and Burton stop making films together, take a breather from each other and think about the good days of Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood and not the cash cow days of deplorable hits like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland. Maybe Burton got exactly what he wanted tone wise but for fans of the original series, this is an abysmal adaptation that lacks direction, consistent plot, and is just another paycheck for Depp and Burton.
Rating: 5 out of 10 (barely passable entertainment)