It seems like an eternity since I last stepped into a movie theater to review a film. Recently all of my writing has been dedicated to the music side of Lost in Reviews, so when I came to the decision to get back into the cinema I wanted to wait for a film that I was really excited to see. Something that had a bit of passion behind it, but rather than wait until the release of Moonrise Kingdom, I went to see Dark Shadows. While I can say I’m not disappointed with that decision, I can’t say that I am ecstatic with my choice. Dark Shadows falls somewhere in between.
The film is an adaptation of the 1966 and 1991 TV series as seen through the eyes of Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Batman Returns). It depicts the life of a restricted vampire that must find his way through a modern world and restore the influence that his family name once held. The last time Burton took on a re-imagining the audience was left with something that they hoped to soon forget. Like Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows was a passion project for Burton, as he has fought to bring Barnabas Collins to the silver screen for years. This time around I think Burton fans will be a little less disappointed, but shouldn’t expect more than a visual thrill.
Burton has a visual style that is uniquely his, and that ability to immerse a project in that style has become more of a trade mark than a form of expression. With this trademark he has created a sub genre in the Goth world and for some he is the reason the trend even exists. While I’m not a Burton worshiper I’m always intrigued by his form of visual expression, take one look at a Tim Burton film and within the first few minutes you will know who directed it. This is no different in Dark Shadows, but I think his fans will be surprised by what they see. Burton really let loose this time creating a film that looks like a live action Corpse Bride. The film is still entrenched with Burton’s Goth-Noir, but with added flair of color that rally pops out of the screen. Dark Shadows loses that once cookie cutter feeling, creating something new and engaging from the Burton camp. Now if writer Seth Grahame-Smith could have added as much detail to the script we could be talking about Burton’s next masterpiece.
Grahame-Smith is new to the film scene and was highly sought after in Hollywood because of his literary best sellers; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, but before that he spent much of his short career inking lines for TV series. This could be why he was sought after for Dark Shadows. Who better to write a TV series for the big screen than someone who came from the genre, right? Well it’s half right. I have a feeling that it was more of a deal to get Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter into production. That being said, the first hour of the film is great, the pacing is spot on, and it is a hysterical roller-coaster ride, but after that the story starts to interfere with the ride and the plot holes begin to grow. The truth is Dark Shadows is plagued by a mediocre and sloppy ending that stops the film in its tracks. Important plot details are thrown by the wayside, and in some instances shrugged off with a small smattering of dialog. Hopefully this lack in effort has not found its way into Grahame-Smith’s next two projects, but it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen a literary success burn out in Hollywood. I’m just hoping that burn out doesn’t come in the form of Beetlejuice 2.
As far as the script’s performance, I can’t imagine them doing much better than Johnny Depp (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Edward Scissorhands). Depp takes Barnabas and brings new life to the character, and you can see his passion for the source material in his performance. While I’ve always been a huge fan of Depp’s work his latest performances have felt a bit stale, but in Dark Shadows, Depp delivers a performance that is on par with his stellar capabilities. Without him this film may have been unwatchable. That isn’t saying the rest of the cast is bad, just that they all didn’t have much to work with. Barnabas is the main focus of the film and everything else just falls to the wayside. The viewer is just lucky that Johnny Depp knows how to handle that situation and does it well.
It is a shame that the other members of this terrific cast weren’t given more substantial roles to work with. Michelle Pfeiffer’s (Batman Returns) Elizabeth Collins Stoddard fells more like a bullet point than a character, given that her motives are only mentioned in passing conversations. With a little bit more development, her character could have really shined and added light to her once bright career. This lack of back story is also lost on Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass, Hugo), especially when her character Carolyn Stoddard faces a monumental change at the end of the film. With just a little more care in selecting the focus of the movie their development could have added more depth to a bi-polar story. Without these key plot points, the audience is left with a doll house of Burton’s visual play things, and not much more.
While I am disappointed with the film’s ultimate outcome, I don’t think it was a total disaster. Dark Shadows helps to put Burton back on track, but only disappoints when you think of what it could have been. For most this will be a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon, the film delivers in the laugh department and is visual eye candy, but for those looking for the next Edward Scissorhands, you’ll be left looking at your watch.
I give Dark Shadows 3 “Levitated Sex Acts” out of 5
By Ryan Davis