Johnny Depp and Tim Burton working on a movie together feels as frequent as Christmas, which means that they like to spend time together. Add Burton’s wife Helena Bonham Carter and notable composer Danny Elfman to the mix, and you got yourself a regular Tim Burton movie. So why does ‘Dark Shadows’ not feel like a proper Tim Burton movie at all? Was it because there was more of a 1970’s soundtrack rather than a score? Was it because of how creepy the film got in its final act? To be honest I have no idea, but ‘Dark Shadows’ is not the film you may be expecting to see from the guy who directed movies like ‘Batman’ and most recently ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ The trailers for this film indicate that audiences will be buying a ticket for a fun comedy with a fantasy setting and Depp being a goofy vampire. Unfortunately they forgot to mention how creepy this movie gets about 70% in. I saw this movie at a screening with my family, because the film was being advertised as a fun movie to go to. Then the dark stuff occurred, and the movie just let itself go from there, which probably wasn’t a good thing. ‘Dark Shadows’ is not a normal Tim Burton movie at all. Because of that, this is a pretty disappointing film with a couple of laughs, (though you’ve seen them in the trailers already) some good special effects, and a decent cast. However this isn’t a film that you have to rush out to go see, unlike something like ‘Marvel’s The Avengers.’
Barnabas Collins as a child is sent with his family to the New World (America if you had no idea) so the Collins business name can further expand. The Collins family ends up residing in Maine and start a fishing company, which helps the Collins have the town they live in named after them. As an adult, Barnabas has a witch fall in love with him for which he cannot return the affection. Soon after that, Barnabas’s life flips in a 180 degree rotation, and all whom he loves are killed by the witch, Angelique. Just when you’d think that Angelique would kill Barnabas, she does the exact opposite: Angelique turns Barnabas into a vampire so he and his suffering can live on for eternity, and has the townspeople turn on him so he can be buried alive into a metal coffin. Two centuries past, and Barnabas through a series of events is freed from his prison and returns to his manor to meet the Collins family in the year 1972. Times have changed, and he’s trying to adapt. Unfortunately for him, Angelique is still alive, well, and won’t stop until Barnabas has her as his true love.
Johnny Depp is fantastic playing really odd and kooky characters, so it comes as no surprise that his portrayal of Barnabas is nothing short of great. Barnabas says some great lines in this movie, and even watching his reactions to the new world around him are pretty hysterical. I also liked how deep Barnabas got in some parts of the movie. Barnabas is the type of guy who is friendly, but he will unfortunately kill you if you either A.) lie to him or B.) are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Depp was really the only great performance in this movie. The others were either good or dismal. The best performance from the supporting cast easily came from Jackie Earle Haley as Willie, the drunken caretaker of Collinwood. The unfortunate thing about his performance is that sometimes you can’t tell whether he’s under the spell put on him by Barnabas, or just an idiot who is too drunk to think. Nevertheless, Haley was good. Chloe Moretz of ‘Hugo‘ fame is strange in this movie. Not exactly the good kind of strange to be honest. When you first meet her, she is this weird ass teen who almost seems a bit gothic and kind of like a spunkier Wednesday Addams from ‘The Addams Family.’ Then the second half comes into play and Moretz’s character has this bizarre twist that, while nobody saw coming, was just too dumb for my liking. Depp, Haley, and Moretz were probably the best actors in the film, even though that isn’t saying much.
Eva Green, whom I doubt younger audiences would know, plays the villain Angelique. Angelique is the type of woman who you’d probably never want to be with, because she is jealous, a bit horny, and just plain evil. I get that the character is supposed to be that way, but it seriously just got too over the top in a majority of the film. Sure she’s stunning to look at, but her villain portrayal was more cartoonish than frightening and believable. Helena Bonham Carter is also really insane in this movie. At first she just seems like a drunk doctor who is only in here for some dumb comedic laughs. Once you see what she’s really doing with Barnabas, it just gets crazy from there and the movie just gets really dark. The same thing goes for Jonny Lee Miller, who plays one of Barnabas’ relatives and just leaves half way into the movie for reasons I can’t say. Michelle Pfeiffer was playing a strict mom who’s trying to protect her children from Barnabas and the world from his secret. Like we haven’t seen this character a million times prior. Bella Heathcote is actually decent playing Victoria. Even though her acting is a bit wooden, her character is still interesting, but has a predictable outcome once you get to know her. Overall some of the cast is good, like Johnny Depp for example, and some of the cast is mediocre.
The main problem of the film is the lack of story development, along with character development. It seemed that Burton wanted to get so much into the movie that he didn’t have time to develop any other characters other than Barnabas. For example, Heathcote is the subject of the opening credits sequence and the five minutes after that. However once Barnabas comes into the picture, she is sort of forgotten and her story is told through bizarre and random spots in the film. Not only that, but her story is just plain predictable. Then there’s Chloe Moretz, who we first meet as being a weird spunky teen who dances to songs in such a weird way. Once her little twist is revealed, the audience is just sitting there saying to themselves “What the Hell?” Also, the movie dives not just into the love show between Depp and Green, but it also goes into sub plot stories regarding the characters, the family business, etc., and that felt a bit too much. Can’t films ever stick with just one sole story and not go into multiple sub plots? Hasn’t anyone ever thought of doing that anymore? Well, that’s Hollywood for you.
The film also changes genres pretty quickly as well. For the first half, it’s just the weird and somewhat quirky fantasy film. When the second half approaches, the film flips 180 degrees to become this freak show horror flick with a very dark tone to it. That’s probably not the greatest movie to see with your 11 year old sister who gets scared pretty easily after all. Maybe if they didn’t try to advertise the film as a comedy and showed it’s dark tone a bit then maybe I might have enjoyed it more. Just know this: ‘Dark Shadows’ is far from being a comedy at all. If you have kids 11 and under who want to see it, seriously do not take them to see this unless you don’t mind your kids watching a finale filled with homages to films like ‘The Exorcist’ and any other type of classic horror film that you wouldn’t let your kids see.
‘Dark Shadows’ may be the first big disappointment of the summer 2012 season. Sure ‘Battleship’ is getting mixed reviews overseas, but people sort of want a movie based on a board game about aliens to be a mediocre movie. People including myself were really looking forward to this film, hoping that this could be like Burton’s ‘Beetlejuice’ for the modern era. The only difference there is that ‘Beetlejuice’ was smart enough to be funny, weird, and a little creepy. Saying that this film is PG-13 is just a mere understatement. The sexual content is charged up a few notches, the violence may be a bit intense for viewers, and the horror/dark tone of the film gets really amped up in the second half which could frighten younger viewers. It’s sad to see this film be a disappointment because of the people behind it.
Actors like Johnny Depp and Chloe Moretz are undeniably talented. Tim Burton is a weird but great director who has made some very notable movies on his own part. If only they did a better job at marketing this film, along with reduce on the story and character development. You can’t help it when actors aren’t good in a movie, because that is on the actor’s part. If someone really wants to see ‘Dark Shadows,’ then I would say find the cheapest show to go to on a weekend, perhaps an early morning show, and see it then. If you miss the film in theaters, the one thing that could be regretted is not experiencing the visuals on the big screen, which look really cool. ‘Dark Shadows’ could have been so much better, but in the end it was just a visually stunning, yet poorly developed and somewhat well-acted movie that actually drags on its 113 minute run time.