“They’re all brightly colored! They’re like Fruit Stripe Gum. They hit you and you’re like, “OOOOO!” and then after five seconds you’re like, “…aright? Is their anything else?” Flavors gone!
Thus are the words of my good friend, colleague, temporary roommate, and former writer of this very site, Kyle Martinak, on the nature of Tim Burton’s most resent works. Yup, the unfortunate reality of a director once revered for his craziness has been sadly underwhelming for almost a decade now. That said, 2012 announced a good handful of movies under Burton’s wing, whether directed or produced, that appeared promising enough to be the start of a comeback, including Frankenweenie, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, as well as the subject of today’s review, Dark Shadows. What makes many of these films so intriguing is how they appear to be provoking (or at least attempting to provoke) a sense of nostalgia for his earlier works. Simply put, these films look like the kind of films Tim Burton use to make back when he was at the top of his game.
As for whether or not they will ultimately succeed, that’s still up in the air, especially with the first contestant, Dark Shadows, turning out to be…barely lukewarm.
To get one small thing out of the way, while I am aware this film is based off a cult TV show, it was long before my time and I know nothing about it. As such I will not be commenting on this movie’s authenticity or how faithful of an adaptation it is, and more simply critiquing it on it’s own merits and how well it stands up in this day an age.
So to begin, we meet our protagonist Jack Spa—I mean Barnabas Collins, the son of a wealthy English family of fish marketers from 1752, who travel to America where they establish their new family empire off the coast Mane. Unfortunately, Edward Sic—I mean Barnabas’ fairy tale life is put to rest upon rejecting the love of one of his family maids. The maid in question, Angelique Bouchard, turns out to be a witch, whom does not take to getting spurned favorably, so she does what any obsessed woman in love would do: she murders his parents, his fiancé, turns him into a vampire, turns the entire town against him, and buries him alive. Nearly two hundred years pass, and Raoul Du—I mean Barney is accidentally dug up. It is now 1972, and Angel has spent the good part of two centuries using everything in her power to send his family estate and fishing business into shambles, and likewise for the Collins family itself. With his newfound vampire powers, can the Mad Hatter restore the honor of his family as well as their business, enact his revenge against the woman who cursed him, and ultimately win the love of the Collins family’s new doey-eyed, empty, personalityless governess because he’s apparently into that?
At face value, Dark Shadows is that kind of movie that simply taking one look at its poster will immediately identify it as a textbook Tim Burton film, and watching it does little to break it from that mold. All the classic Burtonisms are present and accounted for:
- Beautiful and intricate set design, check.
- Gothic undertones, check.
- “Average” human beings that act absolutely nothing like average human beings, check.
- Fashionably offbeat musical montages, check.
- Deceased/neglective/abusive/irresponsible fathers, check.
- Plot twists that make no sense, check
- Johnny Depp, check.
- Mrs. Helena Bonham Carter, check.
- Johnny Depp acting opposite young female love interests that are a good twenty years younger than him but nobody cares or even notices because he’s Johnny Depp and as Johnny Depp he is gifted with the miracle of eternal irresistible youth, guaranteeing his career as America’s Top Movie Star will last forever… you bet that’s a check.
To be fair, this movie is by no means terrible. For starters, let us not confuse the Collins family with the Cullen’s. You know, that family of poser wannabe vampires from Stephanie Meyers overrated series of abstinence porn fairy tales. When Barnabas Collins is turned into a vampire, he is an actual freakin vampire. He burns up in the sun, he has no reflection, hes got real fangs, he feeds on innocent hippies at the dead of night, and they throw in hypnotism powers just for a little extra fun. Barnabas himself is not exactly a heroic protagonist either. He’s selfish and he achieves his goals through unethical means, and it’s legitimately his own fault for the mess he’s in with spurning Angel after sleeping with her. And yet he means well just enough to remain likeable.
The down side is that while we all know Depp has enough shtick up his sleeves to last an eternity, it can get old fast if the rest of the cast does not bring something themselves to the table, and therein lies the main problem of this movie. Dark Shadows has an incredibly diverse and talented cast, and proceeds to do absolutely nothing with them. Michelle Pfeiffer is a family in-law/sort of caretaker, but doesn’t do anything apart from some dull exposition. Jackie Earle Haley, who is AWESOME by the way, is the family butler, but is only in for a few comedic bits that all fall flat. Christopher Lee, also awesome, shows up once for this really pointless cameo. Helena Bonham Carter plays the family shrink and… yeah that’s the whole joke. I did like both the kids in the movie (heck the girl is played by Chloe G. Moretz, who was Hit Girl in Kickass, and is…well, kickass), but I was kind of let down that Barnabas and the boy, David Collins, did not have enough screen time with just the two of them. In my own opinion, they had the best chemistry of the family.
The Governess, Victoria, played by Bella Heathcote, is almost set up to be the second main character. She’s given a whole intro of arriving at the estate, she has this magical gift and a tragic back-story (one that is actually much better handled than Barnabas’ annoying narration at the beginning of the movie), but her character is so bland and she never actually does anything interesting herself. She just turns out to be the prize Branabas has to protect from the wicked witch. Speaking of which, Eva Green is actually quite a bit of fun as Angel. She’s spunky, seductive, and makes a decent antagonist, but that just makes me more confused why Barney would choose this really dull uninteresting governess over her.
Dark Shadows does have its moments. Tim Burton films have always triumphed visually. The 70’s backdrop is definitely welcomed and there were actual sets and not a ton of CGI. I just wish the whole movie were a little more fun. Not his worst film, but definitely not his best. It’s just okay.
If you are already a part of the cult Tim Burton fan base that is into his style of making movies, you will probably like this movie just fine. For everyone else, I can’t say you will be missing much if you don’t rush to the theatre to catch it right away. You can go ahead and see The Avengers again. Or Cabin in the Woods if you haven’t yet. Or that new claymation Pirate movie. I hear that one’s actually a lot of fun.