** (out of 5)
May 11, 2012
Johnny Depp as BARNABAS COLLINS
Michelle Pfeiffer as ELIZABETH COLLINS STODDARD
Helena Bonham Carter as DR. JULIA HOFFMAN
Eva Green as ANGELIQUE BOUCHARD
Jackie Earle Haley as WILLIE LOOMIS
Johnny Lee Miller as ROGER COLLINS
Bella Heathcote as VICTORIA WINTERS/JOSETTE DUPRES
Chloë Grace Moretz as CAROLYN STODDARD
Directed by: Tim Burton
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
This is one of those reviews that start with a confessions (a practice that I’m finding myself doing more often): I like Tim Burton.
I’m not like many critics who have become bored with Burton’s distinctive yet repetitive production design. I’m not irritated that Johnny Depp seems to be his muse, even for parts that weren’t necessarily the best for him. I’m not bothered by the fact that almost everything he’s done over his nearly three decades as a feature film director has been an adaptation or a remake.
I like his films, from the brilliant and melancholy “Ed Wood,” to the critically reviled but box office smash “Alice in Wonderland.” I tend to give Burton the benefit of the doubt with his films.
And I did give him that benefit for “Dark Shadows.” However, even with a forgiving disposition, I found myself bored with this film.
Based on the daytime series from the 60s and 70s, “Dark Shadows” tells the story of Barnabas Collins (Depp), an heir to a fortune who is turned into a vampire by a jealous witch. After being buried for almost 200 years, Collins wakes up to find his family’s reputation and finances in ruins. He tries to revitalize his family’s name while seeking revenge on the witch who cursed him before.
Before watching “Dark Shadows,” I made a point to check out some of the old episodes, which are available on Netflix Instant. In retrospect, that was a mistake. While both Depp and Burton have talked at great lengths as to how much they used to love watching the show when they were younger, after watching the film, I have doubts as to whether either of them actually saw a single episode.
There are only a few moments in the film where it feels like there’s an attempt to emulate the original series. After all, the daytime soap opera “Dark Shadows” was not a comedy at all, any more than old videotaped episodes of “General Hospital” from the 60s were. Sure, you can make fun of them now, and they play as camp thanks to the trappings of the era, low budgets and limited sets. However, they were played straight rather than for laughs.
It seems that when a classic television show is adapted into a movie, the go-to position is to make a comedy, even if the original show wasn’t. Examples of this include “21 Jump Street” and “Starsky and Hutch.” Even adaptations like “The Brady Bunch,” which was originally a comedy, is turned into a spoof rather than a straightforward film.
This leads me to feel the most disappointing thing about “Dark Shadows” is what it could have been rather than anything we see on the screen. It’s a fantastic gothic set-up, and with a creepy director like Burton behind it, things could have been really powerful. At times, the movie threatens to go down that path, which made me curious as to what a serious horror director in love with the 70s could have done with it. Imagine a Ti West version of “Dark Shadows.” Even the worst result would have been better than this lackluster effort.
It all goes down to the writing, and frankly, I was bored with the characters. Burton oversexualizes the underage Chloë Grace Moretz in a way that would make Woody Allen blush. He casts Eva Green and Bella Heathcote, cookie-cutter retreads of ex-girlfriend Lisa Marie along current homewrecker squeeze Helena Bonham Carter. I’d love to see what a psychoanalyst would make of this film as a window into Burton’s mind.
It’s not that Burton doesn’t do some decent things with the movie. There are a few funny moments, and like any Tim Burton film, it looks gorgeous. Burton also manages in a few scenes to emulate the drawn-out, inane and melodramatic dialogue moments of the series, but if you haven’t actually watched any of the episodes, this nuance will be lost on you.
So much is thrown at the audience, especially in the last fifteen minutes, that the film loses cohesion and starts to come apart at the seams. This scattershot approach makes the movie feel like it was born in a giant brainstorm session and no idea was rejected.
Still, it probably won’t end up being the worst vampire movie released this year.