Dark Shadows Review
by Daniel Rester
The teaming of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp always makes for an interesting movie-going experience, though the overall results vary from time to time. Their latest collaboration is Dark Shadows, a film adaptation of a cult television show from the late-60s/early-70s.
Shadows tells the tale of Barnabas Collins (Depp), a wealthy man from Maine, circa 1760. In that era, Collins was caught in a love triangle and cursed by a witch, turning him into a blood-thirsty vampire. Collins was then locked away into a metal coffin—imprisoned in the claustrophobic setting for centuries to come. In 1972, a work crew digs up Collin’s coffin and he awakens from his sleep. From there, he decides to help the modern-day Collins family save the family fish canning business—while simultaneously confronting the witch who cursed him years before.
Like most other Burton films, the director offers a sumptuous visual display to go with a roundup of eccentric characters. With terrific production values (especially the costumes and set design) and creative camerawork, Burton delivers an effectively Gothic and gripping look to the film. There is also a dynamite score and soundtrack provided by Danny Elfman to help make the 70s going-ons feel more authentic. However, this visual treatment and Elfman’s music works like a glorious shell surrounding an empty inside.
The opening scene sets up the back story of Barnabas well. After that, though, no real story drive kicks into motion. Instead, Burton and writer Dan Curtis seem to just be interested in individual scenes and have nothing really significant to tell—or it all just became muddled in the process.
The creators also seem to struggle in finding the right balance of tone in the film, making for a messy mix of strange darkness and silly humor – with a soft romance tagging along to boot. Such a mix has worked for Burton in the past, but this time it doesn’t blend well seemingly due to the fact that the lead character is not always likable (he goes from making jokes to killing people in various scenes) and the supporting characters are undernourished. There are singular moments that are hilarious or dramatic, but nothing ever comes to match the visual greatness provided.
The cast cannot be faulted (except for Eva Green as the witch, who does well at times but is mostly over-the-top). Depp once again delivers a fantastic performance — putting aside his character’s dislikable moments. He is surrounded by top-notch actors such as Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Chloe Moretz, and Jackie Earle Haley. There is even a scene that has rocker Alice Cooper pop up. It’s too bad they all don’t have more to do; this all probably fared much better in the television show.
Burton has never made a terrible film (in my opinion), but the director often seems to struggle in balancing story and style. Shadows is no exception. The film is alternately dull and entertaining; bland in storytelling but rich in showiness. Dedicated Depp and Burton fans will likely be more forgivable, but others will want more to sink their teeth into (so to speak). Is Shadows a bad film? No. But it isn’t anything great, either. In the end, I would call it an average-to-good Burton film with great Burton visuals.
Rating: 2 ½ out of 4 stars.