Keep Tim Burton’s ‘Dark Shadows’ Out of the Light

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Rating: 2.5/5.0

CHICAGO – Tim Burton’s “Dark Shadows” is one of the most inconsistent and frustrating major films in a long time. There are elements here and there that work but Burton and writer Seth Grahame-Smith seem incapable of figuring out how to wrangle them into a coherent, successful film. I like Johnny Depp and Eva Green’s performances and Colleen Atwood’s costumes are typically fantastic but rarely has a film more aptly proven the “more is less” theory – part comedy, part horror, part ‘70s spoof, part soap opera. And yet none of the genres in this mash-up are the least bit successful.

Depp plays the legendary Barnabas Collins, an eighteenth century son of a tycoon big enough that the town of Collinsport is named after him. Collins falls for the lovely Josette (stunning newcomer Bella Heathcote) but this infuriates the witch Angelique Bouchard (Green), who happens to be in love with the mysterious Barney. To punish him, she sends Josette hurtling off the cliff at Widow’s Peak and turns Barnabas into a vampire so he will suffer the pain of his loved one’s death for eternity. Then she locks him in a box, which remains buried two hundred years.

Dark Shadows
Dark Shadows
Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Flash forward to the 1970s. The Collins family is nowhere near the power clan they were when Barnabas became a bloodsucker. When construction unearths the vampire, he returns to a mansion in physical and familial disarray. Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) is trying to keep up appearances but Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller) is kind of a scumbag, Carolyn Stoddard (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a surly teen, and young David Collins (Gulliver McGrath) talks to the ghost of his dead mother (something that Helena Bonham Carter’s Dr. Julia Hoffman is trying to cure). Into this odd dynamic enters both a revived Barnabas and Victoria Winters (Heathcote), the mirror image of Josette who has been drawn to the Collins estate for reasons unknown.

Of course, if the lovely ancestor of Josette is to return to Barnabas, so must the other corner of this love triangle. It turns out that Angelique has been living in Collinsport all this time and she’s ready to either win back or destroy Barnabas. Jackie Early Haley co-stars as the caretaker of the mansion and Christopher Lee and Alice Cooper make cameos.

Dark Shadows
Dark Shadows
Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Depp and Green are having a blast here but the fact is that Burton has completely lost his touch with this kind of material. Most notably, there’s none of the quirky personality he used to bring to films like “Beetlejuice” and “Edward Scissorhands.” This is going to sound ridiculous to some, but “Dark Shadows” looks too good. There’s no grit. There are no rough edges. There’s no personality. Much of it might as well as have been made by a machine. Where’s the camp needed for a film like this to work? Where’s the joke or character quirk that feels original? Where’s the twist that seems inspired by the Burton who used to scribble on his desk in class and not the one who counts his money before going through the motions? I can say this as a HUGE fan of his early work, rarely has a filmmaker disappointed me more with the second half of his career. “Dark Shadows” may not be as soul-crushing as “Alice in Wonderland,” but it is similarly devoid of nearly everything that made Tim Burton one of the most interesting filmmakers of the ‘90s.

So why not completely dismiss it? Johnny Depp is clearly having a great time and his joy at sinking his fanged teeth into this character can be infectious. His line delivery, even his gait and posture – he’s just about perfect. No one else would have been a better choice for the role. Same goes for Eva Green, who finds a way to be both absolutely gorgeous and kind of terrifying, often with the same expression. And Atwood’s design may seem like something trivial but so many of her choices with the Collins family are absolutely perfect. The movie can be a joy to look at.

Dark Shadows
Dark Shadows
Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Sadly, it’s rarely a joy in any other way. And that’s what’s missing. Where’s the glee? Where’s the fun? To be blunt, WAY too much of “Dark Shadows” is boring. And it takes a special skill to take actors as charismatic as Moretz and Haley and give them SO little to do. Arguably the film’s greatest sin is to introduce a beautiful, charismatic newcomer like Heathcote and make her disappear for an hour. Hey, here’s someone who can really give this movie an anchor, a foundation for Depp and Green to play on — let’s forget she’s even in the movie.

There’s no urgency to the plot and so the melodrama (and there’s a lot more of it than the commercials would have you believe) has no stakes. I never gave a damn and the script definitely requires character investment that’s just not here. “Dark Shadows” delivers lowest common denominator. Burton and Grahame-Smith needed to pick a tone, pick a direction, pick a style, and go with it. Instead, they wanted it all and got nothing in return.

“Dark Shadows” stars Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Bella Heathcote, Jackie Earle Haley, Chloe Grace Moretz, Gulliver McGrath, and Jonny Lee Miller. It was adapted by Seth Grahame-Smith and directed by Tim Burton. It opens on May 11, 2012. content director Brian Tallerico

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Manny be down's picture

Dark Shdows

I though it was enjoyabe but its’ was not gr8

ziggy one of the best's picture


I like it and I thought John was quite funny

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