20 May 2012

Review: Dark Shadows

(Dir: Tim Burton, 2012)

Watching Dark Shadows has made me realise that Tim Burton hasn’t been doing himself any favours this century. He seems preoccupied with remaking / reinterpreting classic works (Planet Of the Apes, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, Alice In Wonderland and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street), or putting his efforts back into stop motion animation (Corpse Bride and Frankenweenie). It’s commendable to see this form of animation still used in this day and age, but I really would like to see him put some effort into coming up with something similarly original on the live action front, along the lines of Beetlejuice or Edward Scissorhands. Dark Shadows falls into this black hole of being just another bland remake / reinterpretation.

Based on a classic 1960’s tv show, Dark Shadows is about the Collins family and their crumbling small-town dynasty in Maine, who welcome back long lost relative Barnabus (Johnny Depp), who has long since been considered dead. For two centuries. Cursed by Angelique (Eva Green), a witch eternally in love with him, Barnabus was turned into a vampire, witnessed the death of his love and was imprisioned underground. By good fortune he is discovered in 1972, and returns to his old manner Collinswood to connect with his modern relatives and stop the witch who is still as beautiful and conniving as ever.

Dark Shadows starts well. The prologue in the eighteenth century is interesting and fits right in with Burton’s usual gothic style. This leads into the establishing of the seventies setting and Barnabus’ introduction to his family, along with plenty of fish-out-of-water comedy as he is confused by the modern world. But although this first half set-up bodes well, the second half falls into a monotony where the film feels flatly dull and the plot is just bland. It doesn’t care enough to do anything interesting with these characters, just play out a soapish story about rival businesses, the importance of family and witch hunts, with a gloss over everything that takes away any edge.

Depp is ok as Barnabus. He looks the part and plays it with conviction, but it seems we’re supposed to sympathise with him because he wants love and believes in family, yet he’s off happily killing strangers for their blood. Maybe this was how the character was in the tv show (I’ve never seen it so I don't know), but it's confused and doesn’t really work meaning I could only feel apathy towards his character as a result. I find myself getting quite bored of Depp lately as it’s some time since he pushed himself to do anything interesting, becoming constantly weighed down by Burton, Jack Sparrow or blandness such as The Tourist. Even The Rum Diary, his most recent attempt, was just a poor man’s Fear and Loathing... and not even half as good.

The rest of the film is cast well, with the female characters being the strongest. Green is sexy and engaging as the witch and it would be very easy to fall under her spell, whilst Michelle Pfeiffer and Chloe Gracë Moretz are both interesting as the Collins mother and daughter living in the house now and are given a bit more to do. Helena Bonham-Carter crops up as an alcoholic live-in shrink, she’s ok and fits the role well, but it’s an annoying character and a pointless role really, the same as Johnny Lee Miller’s character Roger. He serves no purpose to the story and is clearly only here because his character existed in the tv show. I did quite like Jackie Earle Haley’s caretaker however.

My issues with Dark Shadows ultimately come down to the direction and the story. No matter how well you cast a film, if this aspect isn’t up to scratch then it’s not going to matter. Which is a shame because the set-up and 70’s disco gothica mix is interesting, as are the production design and the music choices. It’s almost as if Burton has become lazy because he’s now so used to stories that have already been long mapped out, and it’s tiresome to see yet another one of his films starring both Depp and Bonham-Carter. I wish he would challenge himself to make something interesting without these safety nets to fall upon. If you’ve seen the trailer for Dark Shadows you’ve seen most of the laughs, but it's not that much of a comedy anyway. I enjoyed it to a point but then found myself getting bored. Really it could’ve been a hell of a lot better.

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