Dark Shadows Review (Matt Hodgson)

Dark Shadows (2012)

Starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Jackie Earl Haley, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Christopher Lee

Directed by Tim Burton


Tim Burton, the great visionary behind Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, and many other films is at the helm of an adaptation of one of the oddest soap operas of all-time, Dark Shadows. Burton’s entourage is also on the scene as Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter play central roles in the gothic, supernatural, horror-comedy. I had personally never seen an episode of Dark Shadows despite there being 1225 of them. One would think that I would have bumped into one on the telly by now, but I suppose the fact that I wasn’t alive when the show was airing from 1966 – 1971 might have had something do to with my unfamiliarity with the vampire Barnabas Collins (Depp) and the rest of  his equally enigmatic family.

I’m not sure what the story-arc is like in the television soap, but Dark Shadows the film follows the accidental discovery and releasing of Barnabas Collins, who like many vampires before him, has been cooped up in his coffin and buried underground for nearly 200 years by a witch. Well maybe not all vampires have received this cruel treatment, but at least upon being freed Barnabas can return to the Collins estate. After all, the Collins’ have always been one of the wealthiest families in Collinsport. However, Barnabas soon discovers how quickly the world has changed since the date of his original imprisionment, most importantly, the family fishing business has been all but replaced by competitors. After some interesting introductions to his living descendants, Barnabas makes it his top priority to restore the family business to its former glory, no matter what the costs.

Tim Burton has been in this territory before, and so has Johnny Depp. The characters of Edward Scissorhands and Barnabas Collins have a lot in common – extraordinarily strange men in a normal time (to us), which happens to be very difficult for them to adapt to or fit into. For this reason I expected that Dark Shadows would excel on the comedic side of things as Burton and Depp could draw on their previous experience. Also, the trailer for Dark Shadows was quite good, despite giving away nearly every scene and plot device in the film. Despite these encouraging signs going in, I’m sorry to say that Dark Shadows is one of the dullest films I’ve had to sit through in the past few years.

The movie starts off with a recap that would be much more appropriate preceding a television episode. Maybe this was a nod to the soap of the same name, but such heavy handed use of narration should be reserved for much less experienced filmmakers than Burton. It’s almost as if Burton forgot he was dealing with subject matter that oozes atmosphere. The only thing that could have destroyed that atmosphere was the voice of a narrator recapping events from 200 years ago.

The cast itself also seems much more appropriate for TV. The quality of the actors is quite high, but to feature them all in a two-hour film is ridiculous. Depp and Green are the only two who get enough screen time for actual character development, the rest feel cheap and quickly assembled. It seems like Burton simply expected the audience to accept who he said these characters were and move on to something more important. For example, Carter’s character has an alcoholic drink at the dinner table, she also has a hangover another morning – there’s your character development! She’s an alcoholic! The large cast would be much more appropriate for something like…I don’t know…maybe a 1225 episode soap opera…oh wait. The screen time given to Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote) is particularly ridiculous given that she is a central character. There must have been 20-minute stretches during which she didn’t even make an appearance or deliver a line of dialogue.

Finally, even though it’s a comedy, the plot behind Dark Shadows feels of miniscule importance. A vampire returns from a 200-year imprisonment and his goal is to get the family business back? Really? It may have worked with more whimsical and endearing characters, but not with the characters we watch onscreen. Sure Depp is good, but his eccentric characters are beginning to blur together for me. Perhaps it’s time for Burton and Depp to take a break from each other. I know that I’ll be taking a break from Burton.

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