Dark Shadows Reviews
Cut to 1972. Barnabas is unearthed. Upon waking, he discovers that his family's empire and legacy are in ruins, and his remaining descendants are few in number and very dysfunctional. He finds himself determined to return the manor and empire to their former glory, fix his family, and break the curse. Only problem is, (not counting being a fish out of water) Angelique is still alive, and has taken control over the town and the Collins's business empire.
Ya know, I really liked this movie better when it was known as Blacula. Seriously. I mean, I know it's based on a cult melodramatic gothic TV soap opera, but it really feels like Blacula but with white people. The concept did, and still kinda does, have potential, but this film is instead a continuation of Burton stuck in a rut, and seemingly unable to break free from the web of failing to grow and change.
It's billed as a horror comedy, but it's not scary, and the humor is more miss than hit. This is a real mixed bag. The tone is all over the place, and the film has a hard time finding its identity, and instead is a big stew of confusion and stuff strung together. And some of it, like the stuff with Chloe, really stands out in a bad way.
It's more of the same, and yeah, it really is wearing thin with me. There's a good cast, but they're primarily familiar faces, and most of them seem to be honing it in. Green does admittedly do a good job, but I think she's too good for this movie. Depp is Depp, and, though Burton needs a new muse, it is nice seeing Carter make somewhat of a return to Marla Singer territory.
The technical stuff is what'd you expect, but many of the effects are probably too cheesy for their own good. The wooden snake is cool though. Elfman's score is really good, but the other music is a bit of an issue. Yeah, there's some good needle drops, but most of them are things we've heard way too many times before, are on the nose, and expected. I'd have been far happier had they included more deep cuts and obscure stuff instead of things that are played out.
All in all, I wanted to like this movie, but it's hard. Surprisingly, while this is a bad movie, it's still somehow watchable and mildly entertaining. Ultimately though, it's typical crap, which is sad given how great Burton and his cohorts used to be.
Sure, the film has style, and yes it has some very tongue in cheek lines - but just as with their other collaboration Alice In Wonderland - the film, just like the Vampire lore Shadows ascribes to - there is no soul.
I'm probably one of the few reviewers that can actually say watched the soap opera live back in the day - I remember rushing home from school, making it just in time to tune in to the haunting theme music. And it goes without saying that I saw the film in the theater when it was released (no cable TV or Netflix back then!). Therefore I can attest to the source material which moved too slowly (as they were writing the stuff on the spot, day by day), and yet had some very nice haunting moments of true gothic goodness (at least to a 12 year old).
For better or worse, the film attempts to emulate some of the campy creepiness of the source, and this is the first misstep. The opening scenes that tell the backstory all rush by way too quickly and are witness to some heartstopping bad dialog delivery. Bella Heathcote as Victoria Winters is especially guilty of said delivery, pairing well with her totally wooden performance.
Wasted in the film are the presence of Michelle Pfeiffer and long time Burton/Depp sidekick Helena Bonham Carter - the script simply doesn't give them much to do, or much to sink their fangs into (just couldn't resist the Vamp pun). Depp carries the film with yet another of his quirky character performances. He can deliver the corniest of lines with aplomb and make it seem effortless - thank goodness, for without his performance this one would be a real stinker, even considering the cinematic glossiness of the Burton production.
I'm not sure if the script was the culprit, or if the film was just conceptually wrong - it appeared as though Burton wanted to do this cool goth film, but then the humorous opportunities presented were just too good to pass up. So, a little jab at McDonalds draws a smile and the lovely throwaway scene with Depp, the Vampire, brushing his teeth/fangs, got a serious chuckle, but the references to birthing hips got overused - it was amusing the first time; the tenth not so much.
Mixed in for good measure is a rather pointed bit of pop music (Nights In White Satin!! And an amusing choice of The Carpenters' "On Top Of The World" all worked well - and of course, if you're going to do a goth film, you kind of have to include the de-facto king of goth Alice Cooper (and here's a bit of inside info - the musical score to the film was by Danny Elfman, who produced Alice's quasi musical "Welcome To My Nightmare").
But in the end it all boils down to the battle between Angelique the witch, and Depp's Vampire (with a totally ridiculous Werewolf thrown in, coming from god knows where). It is this part of the story that also doesn't wash - the spurned lover aspect just doesn't wash, or carry the required poignancy - since it ultimately gets played for laughs and/or a simple plot device - making the ending big confrontation seem endlessly boring, in spite of some Burton visual magic.
Good Movie! Tim Burton is probably one of the best choices to direct a Dark Shadows movie. He's always good at making Dark, Gothic films and everyone's expecting it to be something like Sweeney Todd and Sleepy Hollow. Instead, it has a hybrid of Corpse Bride and Beetlejuice. It begins with decent gloominess but the rest is scattered with groovy soundtrack and colorful images. But that may not be the problem. It's actually pretty good at recapturing the 70's. The main problem is the plot development. It's fun but also disappointing. Dark Shadows is undeniably entertaining and nothing else. There are things that could have been better. I don't think the colorful groovy look is the problem. It just needs a better ending that gives consistency to the story. People can still give it a try for its camp. There's a true vampire here that is nothing like our modern vampires. Dark Shadows is not bad. It's just unsatisfying. It has the color, life, and all but what's missing is a proper plot development.
In the year 1752, Joshua and Naomi Collins, with young son Barnabas, set sail from Liverpool, England to start a new life in America. But even an ocean was not enough to escape the mysterious curse that has plagued their family. Two decades pass and Barnabas (Johnny Depp) has the world at his feet-or at least the town of Collinsport, Maine. The master of Collinwood Manor, Barnabas is rich, powerful and an inveterate playboy...until he makes the grave mistake of breaking the heart of Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). A witch, in every sense of the word, Angelique dooms him to a fate worse than death: turning him into a vampire, and then burying him alive. Two centuries later, Barnabas is inadvertently freed from his tomb and emerges into the very changed world of 1972. He returns to Collinwood Manor to find that his once-grand estate has fallen into ruin. The dysfunctional remnants of the Collins family have fared little better, each harboring their own dark secrets. Matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) has called upon live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), to help with her family troubles.
There's no miracle that Tim Burton knows how to create dark cartoonish worlds in which wild colors and vivid characters battle for the enchanted ground of these fantastic universes. Dark Shadows is wild, goofy, and colorful but it kinda feels like an asthma crisis. You know you have this urgency and impatience to watch the next Tim Burton film but even as a fan of him it does nothing in the end but providing you sudden gasps time after time. It's an interesting thing because Burton films usually have a really well developed emotional core. Here he probably wanted to pay an expensive, comical, and glossy homage to the more classic TV show but he didn't manage to give the film it's own identity, it's own soul. Sure it looks fantastic but that's a really slutty compliment you can give Burton considering that he's a master of that and we're already used with his rich vision of the fantastic.
I admire Burton because I respect his guts and his obvious love for film. He's passionate, he's paying a lot of attention to details, and usually he delivers great films on their own. He has his misses like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Alice In Wonderland but you can't deny this guy's incredible taste for the mythical and the surreal. He's like the Mad Hatter of cinema. He does nothing short than record dreams on film.
Walking into Dark Shadows with high expectations was a bit disappointing not because the movie ended up being bad but because the movie failed to be a great Tim Burton film. If this film was directed by someone else it would have been probably praised for it's design and considered a decent tribute to a classic TV show. However, since we have to deal with the fact that this is a Tim Burton film, we also have to deal with the fact that we're expecting something a bit more different even if executed by the same recipe.
This is probably one of Burton's most lazy story executions and is not a great follow-up to Alice in Wonderland. Not only did he missed the soul in this film, he missed a great amount of the expected dark humor, he missed avoiding making the gothic cliches so obvious, he missed the excitement button, and on top of that he also missed a huge portion of the character development. The one character we should root for, Barnabas Collins, played in a goofy, spooky, but already tiresome manner by Johnny Depp, is not at all that accessible and pleasant. All the other characters are far more interesting than him. There's no awesomeness in his own senile and campy behavior. I found myself enjoying a lot more characters like the drunk and sleepy Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley), the stuck-up Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller) or the distressed, bored, and impatient doctor Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), and even Barnabas' nemesis, Angelique Bouchard, played in a very erotic but manly way by Eva Green. Michelle Pfeiffer as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard and Chloe Moretz as Carolyn Stoddard are the most forgettable characters in the film not only because of their irrelevant and unimportant actions, but also because of the less cartoonish approach. The contrast between these characters is way too broken and dispersed.
The concept behind this story of this cursed man to be a vampire, getting lost in time, and fighting love, adapting to new a new world and new situations is much bigger and interesting than it is presented here. We have a typical, really sketchy and kitschy "from A to B" way of storytelling. And it is wrong because it becomes not only predictable but stale and bland. Visual luxury is not a luxury in a Burton film anymore. We need much more than that. We need Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sweeney Todd or something completely different but don't treat your audience with the typical. The typical annoys us, frustrates us, and forces us to sigh instead of cheer.
The soundtrack is really great and matches a lot of the scenes and the aura of the '70s. It's one one of the things that I completely enjoyed in this film. Also the score provided by Danny Elfman, though not a standout, really subtle and well orchestrated. Burton does a pretty good job at this, making the transition from the gothic, old, rusty world to the fresh, modern, and hippy period of the '70s. The cinematography, the lightning, the set-design, the costume-design, the make-up, and everything else is top notch but that doesn't really count for a great experience. It's the heart and the bold attitude of a filmmaker that makes his film entertaining at a high value and today wasn't the best day for Burton.
Technical Execution: 9.1
Replay Value: 6.0
As usual the films visuals are the big draw and make the film completely. Burton doesn't disappoint his fans by bringing the perfect look to the vampire story in all its moonlit glory. He does actually stray ever so slightly from his usual themes, not that the gothic vampiric visuals are anything you wouldn't expect but you don't see any of the common Burton touches like his trademark black n white spirals or characters/creatures that look like they have come from the world of 'Oyster Boy'.
So looks and design are a big yes naturally but what about the rest?. Well its 50/50 for me, the period set vamp story is really cool but the 70's period story I didn't like. Its an odd blend of genres and I don't think they gel well a tall. I really did get the impression that Burton should of just made his own period set vampire flick and left this adaptation alone...or at least not set it in the 70's.
There is some adequate humour throughout the film, the culture shock for Depp's character is obviously the main funny stuff. Depp again pretty much does his now usual blockbuster type thing/character which grows tiresome. His quirky semi amusing characters were fun years ago but now after a good few run outs its no longer original. The rest of the cast are OK but nothing to shout about, I like how they all have typical Burton makeup designs. Bella Heathcote being made up to look like a live action version of a character from 'Corpse Bride' or various other Burton creations with her snow white face and big round white eyes surrounded by shadow.
Very much a 'Death Becomes Her' type flick with some fun ghoulish witch moments and lavish visuals for the mansion and vampire side of things. The rest of the plot set in the 70's just felt out of place and obviously dated but not in a good way, I don't wanna be watching films set in the 70's. A film of two halves, two halves that are a curious mix that for me didn't sit right. Add to that a tame loose plot, moments of soft horror and comedy in an uneasy balance and Depp...again!.
Primarily, I enjoyed the performance by Johnny Depp as Barnabas. His ceremonious demeanour, as in contrast to his modern surroundings, made it a fun watch throughout. Granted that he's just playing a variation of previous roles, but it was amusing nevertheless.
Even so, there are too many organs missing in its body (and some that don't even belong there) to save it from its plunge down the cliff. Much like the irreversible curse placed upon the unfortunate Barnabas, it's a movie that suffers from inconsistent dialogue, ridiculously shameless product placement and a story as hollow as Eva Green's porcelainic vixen.
I mean, where's the once-creative genius who gave us gothic gems like Sleepy Hollow, Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas? Perhaps the Depp-Burton collaboration is mainly at fault here. Like an old married couple, whom have long since lost their passion and commitment to keep things fresh.
I'd say it's time for them to spend some time apart, and maybe, just maybe, Burton will procure his mojo back and treat us to another classic. Despite the lack of magic though, I had a good time on the whole. It may be a "muggle" of an entertainer, but the atmosphere, humor and agreeable cast, makes it a solid enough diversion. 3 out of 5 nails in the casket.