Directed by: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jackie Earle Haley, Bella Heathcote
Running Time: 1 hr 53 mins
Release Date: May 11, 2012
PLOT: Barnabas Collins (Depp) is a vampire from the 1770s set free in the 1970s. As he try to restore his family to power in the seafood business, he faces competition from the seductive witch who originally cursed him (Green).
WHO’S IT FOR?: If you have a Tim Burton-like crush on Johnny Depp, and would watch him caress a light switch for two hours, you’ll be happy to know that Depp is indeed in this movie. Also, if you were a fan of the original series that this movie is based on, you might owe it to all of those weekday afternoons just to see how another Burton/Depp flick was made out of 1,225 episodes. If neither Depp nor the original source entice you, you can wish you were seeing The Avengers again at home instead.
EXPECTATIONS: I was hoping that this movie would give me some reason to not consider Tim Burton one of the most boring pop directors working today. With no experience watching the TV show, I was curious to see how this movie would sell a Gothic story to general moviegoers.
Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins: Ever Burton’s favorite hammy showman, Depp plays Dark Shadows as if the entire thing were his performance piece (apparently this is something the actor has wanted to do for a long time). Barnabas is embodied with the same snark that Depp has put into previously adored performances; he’s a proper and flamboyant klutz who stands out in an already fantastical environment. Both giggling to himself about Barnabas’ nature of being old school and embracing it with freakishly large hands (that no one in the movie questions), it’s hard to discern just how serious Depp is with the bleak silliness of this entire movie. Watching Depp is like listening to the soundtrack for A Mighty Wind – except it’s nowhere near as spectacular.
Eva Green as Angelique: The captivating actress you might recognize from Casino Royale (or Bertolucci forbid, The Dreamers), Green is a sleek fit for this character. In a manner that doesn’t flirt with pretentiousness, Green delightfully chews on Burton’s mood and plays her silly character with full grasp of both her light and dark moments.
Rest of Cast: In some joke that I don’t get, Michelle Pfeiffer is seen descending the Collinswood stairs at least four times. Chloe Grace Moretz plays another catty rebellious teen (this time with a stupid secret revealed randomly in the third act), and Jackie Earle Haley is a slouchy servant with a couple crowd-pleasing lines that he says under his breath. Bella Heathcote is a whimsical bore in the movie, and is too inconsistently used by the script to have us care about her importance to the larger picture of this story’s arc. As for Helena Bonham Carter, I’m not really sure what purpose she serves in this movie, but maybe Burton knows.
TALKING: A narration by Depp that introduces us to the back-story of Dark Shadows is long winded, in a sequence that should have been reduced in the scripting stage. The rest of the dialogue is weakened by its taste for the anachronistic, proving that this movie would be even less without its humor related to the time.
SIGHTS: Dark Shadows uses a heavy mixing of unsaturated colors and dabs of bright color to create a visual sense that you can’t look away from, mostly because the colors are so polarizing. However, this finesse loses its charm when it becomes obvious as to its meaning — the bright objects are always items that are “new,” or unnatural to the movie’s gloomy atmosphere, especially in the Collins’ mansion. With all of this being said, I can’t imagine what would make any of this movie worth seeing in IMAX.
SOUNDS: Keeping with the ’70s period, the Dark Shadows soundtrack features appearances by Donovan, Iggy Pop, The Carpenters, Black Sabbath, and more. Alice Cooper makes a cameo in the film to play himself for two songs. A cover of The Raspberries’ catchy tune “Go All the Way” performed by the Killers is played during the credits.
BEST SCENE: Though no moment made me laugh in Dark Shadows, the scene in which Barnabas trolls around Collinsport like he’s still celebrating Halloween on November 2 is amusing, if only for projecting how Burton probably thinks he looks to the rest of the world.
ENDING: Dark Shadows leaves the opportunity open for a sequel, in the “closed eyes open suddenly” kind of way.
QUESTIONS: How much of this project came to fruition simply because Depp was involved? Has Burton seen all 1,225 episodes of this show? How about his writer, Seth Grahame-Smith? Is it a coincidence that the first “I love you” from “Nights in White Satin” by The Moody Blues is accompanied by Depp’s name being shown on screen? It can’t be, right?
REWATCHABILITY: A second round of Dark Shadows would be even slower than before, there’s no doubt that the humor would be even less funny.
Tim Burton, everyone’s favorite eternal high school goth, has finally been out-dulled by somebody else — his writers, Seth Grahame-Smith (who wrote the book “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”), and John August (whom Burton has collaborated with two times before).
Dark Shadows is cursed by its humdrum script, one that stumbles on many accounts to assist the millions of outsiders to this inside joke of getting a richer picture of an unusual world. Members of the film’s center family are very underdeveloped, with the only color going towards the characters played by Depp and Green. Such weakness in the story undermines the potential of the movie’s odd humor, which is overwrought from the beginning. This is one dark comedy that can’t get away with its campy nature. “Hey men and women, remember the ’70s? LO-Lava lamp!” The cracking of vampire-related humor just makes it all worse.
Standing out from this story’s gray canvas are the blotches of color thrown in by Burton’s visuals, which catch our eyes like when a single table lamp lights up a dark room. But … that’s it. Dark Shadows shows us that de-saturation eventually does lend itself to a strong dullness. And also, that Tim Burton is still a boring dude.
FINAL SCORE: 4/10