Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Dark Shadows (2012) - Movie Review

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp team up yet again to take on an old story about a vampire.  However, after watching Dark Shadows, maybe Depp and Burton should take a break from each other for a while.  Come back fresh after a few years.  At least it doesn't feature sparkling vampires...

In what seems to be an increasing trend for me this year, Dark Shadows is based off source material I have no familiarity with at all.  In this case, a daytime soap opera that ran for more than 1,000 episodes from 1966-1971.

Johnny Depp stars at Bananaboat Collins...wait a second, that can't be right.  Bonobo?  Oh, it's Barnabas!  Anyway, Barney is cursed by the witch, Angelique (Eva Green), after breaking her heart.  Hell hath no fury like a witch scorned!  First, she kills Barnabas' parents.  Then, she puts a spell on his lover (Bella Heathcote) and makes her throw herself off a cliff.  This was actually a scene that bugged me.  As Barnabas is running to stop her from throwing herself off the cliff, he stops not once, but twice, to shout her name (for dramatic effect).  Of course, he gets to her just a moment too late.  Hey, I can think of two moments you could have gotten back if you hadn't stopped running!  You can't shout someone's name and run at the same time?  Anyway, Barnabas falls off the cliff after his lover only to survive the fall and discover that he's been turned into a vampire by Angelique.  She's also able to get the town to capture and bury him alive in a coffin.

200 years later, Barnabas is freed and finds that his family's business, fortune and status are all but gone.  He returns to his run down mansion, and introduces himself to his descendants living there.  His town of Collinsport is now controlled by Angelique, who hasn't aged a day being a witch and all, and is responsible for the Collins' decline.  Barnabas decides to rebuild his family business.  Angelique, still crazy and hot for Barnabas, warns him to join with her or she'll make his family suffer.  You'd think after 200 years she'd be over him.  I guess time doesn't heal all wounds, if you're crazy.  Barnabus isn't interested in her though, as the Collins' newly hired governess has caught his eye, who happens to look like his former lover.

Dark Shadows is a very nice looking film, with much of Burton's trademark flair and style.  This is one time where all the gothic and dark themes he normally uses work really well.  I still felt it a little too dark at times, but that's just a personal preference.  My eyes don't always focus well on darker movies.

As you'd might expect, Johnny Depp is the best thing about Dark Shadows.  I read that he was a huge Dark Shadows fan as a kid and was obsessed with the Barnabas character, so you can see how he was heavily invested in the performance and how committed he was.   Roles like this are made for Depp.

Dark Shadows features a great supporting cast, but unfortunately I felt like they are all underwritten and underused.  Some characters disappear for long stretches, and you almost forget they are in the movie.  Initially, Michelle Pfeiffer starts out a stronger character as the matriarch of the modern Collins family, but she's not given much to do as the movie goes on.  The same goes for Chloë Grace Moretz.  Her character is the snarky teen and played with a weird, jailbait-vibe, but then they didn't know what to do with her.  This is really highlighted with what happens with her at the conclusion of the movie.  Jackie Earle Hayley and Helena Bohnam Carter have their moments, but again, both seem kind of thrown in and aren't much more than background characters.  Jonny Lee Miller is barely used and I even heard Johnny Depp made made him remove the 'h' from his name to prevent confusion on set.  What a prima donna!  I might have made up that last part.

Besides Depp, I really enjoyed Eva Green as Angelique.  I found her performance to be very sexy and I almost didn't recognize her as a blonde.  It felt like she was trying to have fun, but I think she played a much better version of the same character in the recent show Camelot.  I also really liked Bella Heathcote, but mainly because I simply like staring at a pretty face.  It's not like she has much to do either.  It's basically the Johnny Depp show.

There's an unevenness in tone throughout the film.  The original Dark Shadows was apparently super serious, but in the movie version they tried to lighten it up a little bit.  This wasn't a bad idea, but they don't commit to it.  You see all of these funny, 'fish out of water' moments in the trailer, but those are pretty much all you get.  It's yet another example of the trailer misrepresenting the movie.  If you were hoping for a comedy or something lighter in tone, you're going to be disappointed.  Because it can't commit to a theme, there's never any real tension, urgency or anything to care about. 

One of the fundamental issues is how you possibly hope to wrap up five years worth of a TV show in just under two hours?  It can't be done and I think it was too much story for writers John August and Seth Grahame-Smith to handle in a single film.  They setup a potential sequel at the end, but it didn't feel earned.  Plus, I doubt there's going to be a sequel at this point anyway.  I only think this would've worked if they had gone into it from the beginning as a planned trilogy or series of movies. 

Overall, Dark Shadows is a very middle of the road movie.  Not terrible, but not good either.  There are entertaining moments here and there, mostly provided by Johnny Depp, but otherwise it's very forgettable.  This is something I don't feel like I ever need to watch again, and I'm already straining to remember anything meaningful about it.  I really can only recommend this to the most diehard Johnny Depp or Tim Burton fans.  It's not a bad rental when it finally comes out on Blu-Ray though.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars


  1. It has some real moments that made me laugh and had me enjoyed, but Burton starts to lose himself by the end, therefore, he lost me. Could have been so much better and the only reason it is as good as it is, is because of Depp’s insane performance. Good review my main man.

  2. It's a shame that the bad couldn't outweigh the good here. Such a missed opportunity to do something fun.

    Thanks, Dan!