Thursday, May 10, 2012

'Dark Shadows' Review - A Misguided Fan Tribute That Doesn't Quite Know What It Wants to Be

I've always been a fan of 'Dark Shadows', ever since I was young and sci-fi channel would air reruns of the cult soap opera from the 1970s. It was something I really looked forward to watching whenever it was on, and while cheesy now, it still had great storytelling and fantastic characters, especially in the late Johnathon Frid's Barnabus Collins, who would go on to become what the show was best known for. There have been two tries at bringing back the franchise since it went off the air, neither of which gained any traction. One of them, the series from the nineties even featured a young Joseph Gordon Levitt as the young David Collins. But some things are just better left alone, and sadly, the same can be said about this newest try at recreating the cult favorite. This time, we have Tim Burton at the helm, with a script written by Seth Grahame-Smith, and starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, and Jackie Earl Haley. The formula sounds like it should be a real winner, but needless to say, the film feels more like a mediocre fan film with a big budget than the great adaptation that it could have been. 

Barnabus Collins (Johnny Depp) is a young playboy with no cares in the world. Coming from a wealthy family that started a fishing company that made their town grow, with the town eventually becoming known as Collinsport, Maine. Barnabus begins having a relationship with one of his families maids, Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), but when he breaks her heart because he doesn't love her, he doesn't realize he is about to unleash the power of a witch. She kills Barnabus' parents and his new love, Josette du Pres, and then curses him to spend the rest of his life as a vampire. Turning the towns people against him, they bury him alive. Two centuries pass and the Collins family has faded into obscurity. But when a group of construction workers unwittingly uncover Barnabus' grave, they unleash the vampire from his resting place, and he looks to bring back his family's name, and bring down Angelique for what she did, once and for all.

With Depp and Burton being huge fans of the series, I didn't worry too much about them taking a shot at bringing it back. In fact, I thought it had the chance to be something really special. I thought Burton was the perfect person to tackle the material, or at least the Tim Burton of the 80s and 90s. But unfortunately, the movie just doesn't work as well as I think everyone involved was hoping. There are definitely some brights spots in the movie, particularly from the cast. Depp is actually quite good as Barnabus Collins, which was a nice surprise. He actually pays nice homage to Johnathon Frid, and it wasn't the Jack Sparrow act that it could have become. Depp loves the character, so he really went out of the way to make sure he didn't phone it in, so I'm glad to see he's turned out a performance that was actually different, and on top of that good, compared to some of his recent output. And a hero is only as good its villain, and thankfully Eva Green delivers in spades, even if she isn't given the best material to work with. I really liked her in the role of Angelique, and she really pulled off off the insane, broken hearted, vengeful witch well. She has great chemistry with Depp on screen, and it was fun watching them together on screen. But the standout for me is Michelle Pfeiffer as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, the family matriarch. She is the brightest spot of the movie, playing as our eyes into this crazy and twister world. I haven't seen her in much recently, but having her back on screen was just so much fun to watch, and she excels as Elizabeth. A scene towards the end of the movie has her wielding a shotgun as she comes down the stairs of the mansion is one of my favorite scenes in the movie, and the way she plays it is perfect. She's probably my favorite part of the entire movie, and I'm hoping we see her back on screen again soon. 

But for those three great cast members, the others are all terribly underused and really hold no barring on the proceedings. People like Jackie Earle Haley, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Helena Bonham Carter pop in and out of the movie, for no reason really, other than being a big name in the grand scheme of things. But their characters are never developed, and they really feel unneeded. Unfortunately, that isn't the worst of the movies problems. The biggest problem is that the movie doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. Does it want to be a serious version of the series, or does it want to be more of a tongue and cheek version with a lot of comedy? I couldn't tell you, because the movie tries to play both parts and it hurts it terribly. The tone of the movie is all over the place, and after starting incredibly serious, it deviates into a tongue and cheek, Tim Burton style dark comedy, only before going back to more serious waters by the end of the film. Because the tone doesn't know it wants to be, the story falters as well. We are given no time to develop any of the characters, and there are many scenes that frankly, just don't need to be in the movie. It almost feels as if the script was only half complete when it went into production. I couldn't tell you what the story was supposed to be, or who we were supposed to care about, because the movie doesn't really tell us that. It just rockets along from random scene to random scene, hoping that the audiences will buy into it without a strong narrative. I'm honestly shocked because Seth Grahame-Smith's book 'Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter' doesn't have any of the same problems with characters, plot, or tone that this has.

The comedy, at times, works in the movies favor, but at other times falls completely flat. The movie is set during the 1970s, so a lot of the humor comes at the expense of the decade. But some of the other jokes feel far too modern and don't fit in the movie, making the joke falter, garnering almost no laughs. The second act is the one that is hindered the most by this when the Collins family begins to make their movie back to the public eye. There are a few more serious, dramatic, and "scary" moments scattered throughout the second act that really shine, but when thinking about how bogged down it becomes, it's a bit hard to appreciated. Those serious times really are the best part of the film, especially a scene when Barnabus discovers someone in the family has betrayed him. The scene plays out exactly as the type of thing I'd expect to see from the series, and it really worked in the movie. But sadly, these scenes are just to far and between to elevate the movie. By the time the movie gets to its third act, it goes completely off the rails with an ending so incredibly anticlimactic that I couldn't believe what was happening. A last minute, out of left field revelation of one of the characters falls completely flat, and they rush towards and ending that ends with hopes of a sequel. Honestly, with the quality of the movie, I really don't see a sequel being necessary, unless it's a major step up from what we were given this time. Also,Danny Elfman scored the movie, but I honestly don't remember the music, meaning it was incredibly unmemorable. The only music I remember from the movie was the great 70s soundtrack they played throughout the movie. That's one of the shining aspects of the movie, featuring music from Alice Cooper, The Carpenters, and so much more, and they all work great in the scenes they're in. 

It honestly feels if Burton just didn't know what he wanted to do with the movie. I'd love to see what the script looked like just to see where the problem truly lies within the film. I truly wanted to love this movie, but unfortunately because of a rocky story, a tone that was all over the place, and characters that I could honestly care less about, the movie falters. It doesn't know what it wants to be, and frankly, Burton doesn't seem to know, or care, either. The final version of this movie feels like a rough cut of the film, and there is a great movie underneath all its problems. But sadly, we'll probably never see it. This is was a misguided work of love that turned out to be nothing more than a big budget fan film. I wish I had better news, but unfortunately I don't. I'll just let 'Dark Shadows' live on in my life as the original TV series, and this new movie version will just be another failed attempt at recapturing the series' original magic. 

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  1. I don't know what it was about this flick, but it just didn't do much for me. Sure, it was funny and had moments that seemed like Burton was having some fun, but then he would just totally let loose of that comedic side to him and get too dark and serious. Just should have stayed with that goofy, fish-out-of-water comedy idea that it originally had because it worked very well. Good review Patrick.

    1. Thanks, dtmmr. Yeah, you weren't alone, it left me confused and cold. It wasn't a terrible movie, but it was far from good. It had the chance to be great, but Burton just dropped the ball. I really wanted to love it. But it just didn't work. Sad...

      Thanks for reading my review!

  2. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.