Dark Shadows – Movie Review
Everyone knows that the relationship between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp is one of the longest-running collaborations between filmmakers. Starting with Edward Scissorhands in 1990, Johnny Depp have now worked on a total of eight films together, including from the Oscar-winning Ed Wood, Sleepy Hallow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd, and most recently in Alice in Wonderland. Now, they are here to present to Dark Shadows, which is an adaptation of the cult supernatural soap opera from the 60s and 70s. Apparently both Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have been huge fans since childhood, so when I had read this online I had hoped that their take on the show would be good. However, is this film going to live on in glory, or shall Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows be forever doomed to suffer just like Barnabas Collins?
In the 1760s, the Collins family migrated from England to the Americas (present-day Maine, to be exact) in order to expand their very successful fishing business. Within a year of arrival, a port town named Collinsport was built and bustled with activity while the family lived comfortably in their hilltop mansion known as Collinwood. In the years that followed, the young Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) faced a romantic dilemma. The young servant of the household, Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) had fallen madly in love with Barnabas, but unfortunately he did not share the same affection, for instead he had fallen in love with a woman named Josette du Pres (Bella Heathcote). This of course greatly angered Angelique, who is incidentally a witch, and then she inflicted a great curse upon the Collins family. First, she managed to commit secondhand murder against Barnabas’ parents. Secondly, Josette became compelled to jump off a very high cliff and commit suicide, and in his grief, Barnabas also leapt off to kill himself and live on in the afterlife with his dear love. But this led to his realization of the third part of the initial curse: Angelique had turned him into a vampire in order to experience eternal suffering and anguish. The town was soon turned against him by Angelique, and he was subsequently buried in the ground alive (well, he’s undead, but you know what I mean) until he emerged from his “grave” nearly two hundred years later. In this new time period (1972), he discovers that Angelique has since developed her own fishing empire that has risen high above the Collins’ family business. In response, he plans to reunite his dysfunctional descendants that now reside in Collinwood, restore the family business to its former glory, and of course exact revenge on the witch who had cursed him for eternity.
Going into Dark Shadows, I had no clue whether or not I would like it. I had read reviews that had very mixed and even negative tones, but I thought to myself, “it’s a Johnny Depp and Tim Burton film, so can it really be that bad?” Unfortunately, that really is the case. Don’t get me wrong, I thought that it started off very well. Burton and his creative team managed to craft a prologue that set a great tone for the rest of the film, and it’s excellent how the back stories of Barnabas and Angelique are told to the audience. The scenes in which we are introduced to the residents of Collinwood also work well, and for a while I thought I would be introduced to a story that focused on the whole family and that would involve the repairing of the Collins household. However, after a while we are introduced back to Barnabas as he enters into the world of 1972, and here things start to go bad. The main issue is the floundering of the characters, but I’ll get to that in the next paragraph. A major problem with why the story doesn’t work is because although the tone in the beginning is absolutely brilliant, Dark Shadows soon tries to shift to horror comedy as soon as Barnabas reenters the story. Beforehand, there was decent drama going on between the dysfunctional Collins family, but then as Barnabas comes in we are forced to sit through repetitious jokes about how he is a vampire stuck in a world entirely different from the one he is used to. Literally, the only real comedy in this film is centered on Barnabas trying to grasp the huge changes that occurred over the course of two centuries; it’s kind of funny in the beginning, but after a while the jokes become tired, cliché and just plain boring. For a film that makes a dramatic shift towards being a comedy, Dark Shadows is remarkably unfunny. As for the horror aspect, I’m not even sure if the writers were trying to scare the audience, but I was never frightened at all (the final battle hardly has any dramatic tension, although it is cool). Truthfully, Dark Shadows is at its best when it’s a somewhat lighthearted drama, but sadly we don’t see enough of that throughout the film’s runtime.
Yes, I believe that the main problem associated with the film is the fact that the characters make the story fail. As much as I love the character of Barnabas, he does not fit well with the Collins family in terms of story focus and balance. Some of the best scenes in the whole film are those between Barnabas and Angelique; this may be because Johnny Depp and Eva Green give two of the best performances in the whole film, and their individual story should have been the focus of Dark Shadows. However, the subplots involving the modern Collins family actually throw the story off-balance rather than reinforce it. I’m not saying that the Collins are bad characters, but they are indeed undeveloped ones. Basically, writer Seth Grahame-Smith (screenwriter of the upcoming Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) throws out a lot of great ideas and setups for each of the characters that mostly don’t get explored in favor of devoting almost of all of the screentime to Johnny Depp. As a result, only a couple of the major supporting characters play a decent role in the story or actually have a story arc, and then we are left with disappointingly undeveloped characters. On top of that, most of these characters only have maybe a few minutes of screentime to boot, and oftentimes they are useless and boring (there are scenes I watched in this film in which characters rambled and then I didn’t remember a single thing they talked about a couple of minutes later). In summation, the beginning of Dark Shadows is brilliant and the story arc of Barnabas and Angelique is great, but everything else begins to fall apart in the middle and leads to the story becoming a train wreck.
Acting is actually one of the strong points of Dark Shadows, especially in regards to Johnny Depp. Now, let’s just say that I really like watching Johnny Depp – I can usually anticipate what kind of performance he will be giving in a film, but even so he feels like a natural fit for Barnabas Collins. He offers that same genuine, oddball behavior that is synonymous with the characters he always plays, and throughout he lends the right balance of vengeful thinking, the feeling of being lost in another world and the hunger for blood to his character. Most importantly, he is the most fun aspect of Dark Shadows, despite that this movie as a whole is not really fun at all. Eva Green is also a perfect fit for her character, and although some of her lines are a little uneven she is still very convincing as Angelique. I think she is drop dead gorgeous, so that alone was enough to believe her anguish and confusion over Barnabas not loving her, although she puts forth her best effort to deliver a memorable experience. For that, her performance is a great balance between sexy, evil and cunning, as her character should be after what happened to her in the beginning of the film. Of course, the members of the rest of the supporting cast are decent in their individual roles, but not as memorable as those of Depp and Green. As much as I enjoyed Chloe Moretz in Hugo, I actually didn’t appreciate her character in this film (she plays Caroline), who she portrays a sexed-up hippie teenager. Yes folks, I know about what she did with Hit Girl two years ago, but even so I still didn’t like her in this film. Helena Bonham Carter and Bella Heathcoate are the standout supporters, for their roles are more central to the story and they do well to address that in their performances (even though Heathcoate is stiffer than Carter). In short, the acting is much better than the story, with Johnny Depp being the top performer as expected (he is quite literally the saving grace of an otherwise forgettable supernatural horror dramedy).
As expected from a Tim Burton film, the visuals are spectacular. When I was researching the production team for this review, I found out that the same cinematographer who worked on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince also contributed to Dark Shadows, and it shows. The cinematography is absolutely fantastic, and as a result I have no complaints regarding any of the shots in Dark Shadows. The same goes for visual effects in this film, for although they are not quite on par with Avatar in terms of technicality, the artistic design of this film is absolutely staggering. From Collinwood to the town, everything is well-designed and looks great. It also seems that this film was a party for anyone that loves to do costume design and makeup, for as usual in a Tim Burton, everything regarding those two things are ridiculously good. Danny Elfman once again returns to score for Tim Burton, and although his music in Dark Shadows is decent, I didn’t find it to be that memorable at all. Coinciding with the issue of Tim Burton’s failure to find the proper tone in Dark Shadows, the musical score sometimes doesn’t set the right tone for certain scenes that may be more intense than others or are supposed to be comedic (I remember hearing characters saying some intentionally funny lines while suspenseful music was being played).
It’s no wonder that The Avengers, Battleship and The Dictator kicked this film’s butt at the box office, because Tim Burton’s adaptation of the beloved cult soap opera is nothing short of a disappointment. What started off as a seemingly Shakespearean, supernatural romantic tragedy eventually unfolded as a train wreck of a horrific comedy. So yes, if you are a fan of the original soap opera or just appreciate well-made film, Dark Shadows is not the one to see. However, Johnny Depp and Eva Green are more than good enough in this film to warrant the price of admission if that’s mainly why you are going to see this film. Also, visuals are top-notch and imaginative (as one might expect from a Tim Burton film). Nonetheless, I can almost guarantee that you will not be entertained that much in the second half, so don’t say that I didn’t warn you when the story eventually falls apart. Dark Shadows has shown us that perhaps the time has come for the Burton-Depp relationship should be laid to eternal rest, just like Barnabas Collins.
[easyreview title=”Dark Shadows – Final Score” cat1title=”Summary” cat1detail=”Johnny Depp is fantastic as Barnabas Collins and the visuals are some of the best I’ve seen in a Tim Burton movie. Nevertheless, not even the great Johnny Depp could save Dark Shadows from its disappointing story.” cat1rating=”2.0″ summary=”2/5 Poor”]