Dark Shadows

 Tim Burton’s career started out like a dream.
 
Sponsored by Disney to learn animation, he moved on to make his own small animated films when he worked out that his style did not suit Disney’s big features like The Fox and the Hound or Tron. No kidding – Tim Burton worked on the original Tron movie as an animator! Is that something to be proud of? I can’t be sure.
 
Anyway, it turned out to be beloved children’s entertainer, Pee-Wee Herman that gave Burton his big break by asking him to direct Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. And with every ensuing step, Burton solidified himself as a modern auteur director – someone who style is so distinct you can smell it from five miles away. It’s made him a powerful man – millions of teen goths decked out in Jack Skellington tights will flock to the cinema to see anything even remotely related to him. Hello merchandise!
 
But ay, there’s the rub – he has effectively cemented himself into a statue of what used to make him so unique. Heightened acting, Johnny Depp in pallid make-up, curly architecture, Danny Elfman score, darkness OMG! – it has become a formulaic list I can count off on one hand.
 
Do you remember Alice In Wonderland and what a misfire that was? He’d gone too far into mental and I’d had enough. I even considered writing him a letter to say “Maybe you should have a bit of Francis-Ford-break and rediscover your roots, eh, Tim? You do remember that character development is just as important as CGI cinching your girlfriend’s waist?”
 
So, you can imagine my surprise when I found a relatively subdued tone to Dark Shadows. My goodness, he’s letting his actors prove their worth! And it’s packed with a groovy 1970s soundtrack! This is almost… good.
 
Based on a cult television series from the 60s, the story is about Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), who finds himself turned into a vampire and his family cursed – all because he won’t say he loves a local, powerful witch named Angelique (Eva Green). Jealous and scorned, Angelique buries him alive in a coffin – until 200 years later he is released into the 1970s. He meets up with the remaining Collinses, headed by the ever-feisty Michelle Pfeiffer, and works to rebuild the family business. But that pesky witch is still hanging about, getting in the way.
 
I was quite happy to find Dark Shadows to be a more entertaining movie than he has delivered in years – but it is still filled with flaws that leave a lot to be desired.
 
Number one: Chloë Moretz. I can’t stand her. I’m sorry; I know life is tough for a child actor – but she was irritating in 500 Days of Summer, cloying in Hugo and a part of the dumbest and most entirely unnecessary plot twist in Dark Shadows. So, she’s really not helping her case with me. Prove me wrong, young upstart.
 
Alright, now I have that out of the way – the main issue with this film is that there were too many things to pay attention to, but we were not given the chance to focus on any of them. Should I be caring about evil Angelique’s scheming to either destroy Barnabas or obtain his love? Or what about the little boy and his ghost mother? What is Helena Bonham Carter up to? And what on earth is going on with that governess character?
 
Because of this, the tone is confusing and all over the place. And I’ve already mentioned the awful Chloë Moretz plot twist – if the movie hadn’t gone too far before it, the film would have definitely jumped the shark then. Never fear, they have an opening at the end for a sequel! Huzzah.
 
However, there is a reason Burton continues to work with Depp – he is an alabaster beacon of light that pulls this film out of the muddy Deppths of inanity (pun not initially intended, but embraced). He has the adorable monster/outsider thing down to an art form. The film’s best moments come from him interacting with the new modern world and the cynical character-filled family – highlighting why Depp and Burton’s work together was so popular in the first place.
 
Dark Shadows has its moments. It is definitely a step up from Tim Burton’s recent work, but it is absolutely ludicrous. If you plan on wandering out to see this one, just set your expectations low. Then you’ll be pleasantly surprised like I was.
 
Dark Shadows was directed by Tim Burton, written by Seth Grahame-Smith and John August, and stars Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Michelle Pfeiffer and Jackie “I wish I hadn’t ruined the Rorschach character” Earle Haley. 
 
by Jenni Townsend
Check out Arts Mitten for more reviews and arts interviews

May 31st 2012
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