May 13, 2012

Movie Review: Dark Shadows (2012)

I am not ashamed to admit to being a Tim Burton fan. The man has a incredible visual style and his films always tend to stand out from the crowd. At the same time, I am not so blind as to ignore the fact his recent output has been less than stellar. He may enjoy what he is doing but the end result has generally been rather underwhelming. I really hope he has some plan to get ack to some truly original inspiring work. With Dark Shadows we have material that seems to be right up his alley, too bad the execution is middling at best, right in line with his other recent films.



I cannot say that I went into Dark Shadows with the highest of expectations. The trailers just did not look all that good. It looked to be an overly comical satire rather than an adaptation of the old vampiric soap. Beyond the comedy element, it looked like lazy Burton and my hopes for its success were certainly low.

Now, having seen the film, my fears were partially realized. The movie is certainly enjoyable, but it is certainly lazy and not well thought out. There are plenty of shifts in tone, from camp horror to gothic melodrama to satire. It meet really settles on any one feel. On top of the tonal abnormalities there are a lot of story element crammed in with none given the time they deserve to develop properly.


Everything feels like a Tim Burton creation, it just isn't nearly as finely focused as those earlier in his career. Where he should have been taking cues from his early films like Sleepy Hollow and Beetlejuice, he looks more towards Alice in Wonderland. Now, it is not nearly as bad as that, but it still ranks as a lesser work.

Th story centers on Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), a wealthy young man cursed to be a vampire by a jilted love who also happens to be a witch, Angelique (Eva Green). She also casts a spell on Collins live, Josette, resulting in her plummet to her death. Barnabas is the trapped in a coffin and buried where he would remain for two centuries.

Collins is unearthed in 1972 and finds a very different world. The Collins fishing empire is all but gone, the manor is in a shambles, and the remaining Collins family members are as dysfunctional a bunch as you're ever going to see. It is also in this time that the story takes on a few different angles, you have Barnabas waiting to return the family to past glory, the discovery that Angelique is the competition, the arrival of a governess who is a dead ringer for Josette, a boy who sees ghosts, a brother who is more gold digger than anything else, and a doctor with an eye for eternal life.

Take all of those story threads and weave them around the fish out of water comedy bits and Burton's great eye for set design and you find a movie that just does not have room to support the narrative. The story is just really weak and leaves much of the talented cast with little to do. When all is said and done, the movie has a great look, is mildly entertaining but has a weak narrative, the story is just there to give us time to look at things on the screen.


It's kind of funny. When I walked out of the theater I did not think the movie was that bad, weak on the story, but still enjoyable. Now, as I sit here, I cannot think of all that much to say about it. The movie is unassuming, in your face at one moment, subtle the next, playing as a satire in one scene, and camp horror the next. It is all over the place. Still, not nearly as bad as I expected but nowhere near as good as it could have been.

This is yet another collaboration between Burton and Johnny Depp. It is clear they like working together, but it may be that there best work together is behind them. I like some of what he is doing here but the material lets him down. The supporting cast is filled who quality actors like Michelle Pfeiffer, Jackie Earle Haley, and Chloe Moretz, but there talents are wasted.

The bottom line is this movie is not nearly as bad as I feared. This is not to say it is good. What it is, is watchable with some good moments, some nice cinematography and set design, and a good score from Danny Elfman. It is far from a must see, but it made me smile.

Mildly Recommended.

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