Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dark Shadows (2012) – Review

Review: Dark Shadows is funny and reasonably entertaining, but lacks good supporting characters and a clear tone. The film is about Barnabas Collins, a fisheries tycoon who is cursed by a witch for loving another woman. A curse that finds him turned into a vampire after failing to save his beloved. Trapped in a coffin for two hundred years by the townspeople, also turned against him by the witch, Barnabas is finally set free in 1972. Upon his release, he strives to return his family and family business to prominence, while adjusting to the times. Director Tim Burton and his films are chiefly known for their gothic visual style, which he mattes over every project, whether it is warranted or not. Dark Shadows lends itself nicely to the visual style of Burton, and is a good fit. Burton also has a definitive tone to his work, something like a playful macabre. Again, Dark Shadows is a good fit, as it has themes of both darkness and sort of a situational fish-out-of-water comedy to it. However, Burton has a little bit of trouble with the tone here. Yes, the film is funny, largely due to the antics of Barnabas, but Burton seems to uncharacteristically subdue the darkness. Barnabas, though a nice charming fellow who cares about his family above all else, is still a vampire, vicious and inherently evil. Yet, while Barnabas does kill innocents, Burton treats him as an affable hero, sweeping his crimes under the rug (blaming them merely on the nature of the beast). Much more interesting would have been the exploration of the duality of Barnabas – how do he and his family reconcile his good family acts with his seemingly unforgivable acts against humanity? Burton spends essentially no time addressing this issue – probably because this is supposedly a family film (though, honestly it would have worked better as an R-rated horror comedy). Thus, tonally, Dark Shadows is a mess. The audience is not quite sure how to feel about the characters. This is also compounded by Burton essentially not caring about any of the principal supporting characters, giving them all almost nothing to do in the film. It is the Barnabas Collins show, which is fine, but giving the other characters some narrative (dramatic) weight would have helped the audience fully connect to the story (something that does not seem to happen). The supporting characters just occupy space in relation to Barnabas. Even Angelique Bouchard, the co-lead and witch that curses Barnabas is never really fleshed out making her motives (and thereby the whole plot) fairly shallow. However, all that said, the film is still enjoyable on a comedy level, and because it is visually magnificent. The best Dark Shadows can hope for is to be remembered as a forgettable fun adventure/fantasy comedy, and at worst just another sad reminder of how much talent Burton use to have and how at present he seemingly has lost it all.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Tim Burton, save for Big Fish, has failed to make a single film on the same level of his early work (directing Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and producing The Nightmare Before Christmas) in over thirteen years. Even his most staunch advocates have started to back away. While Dark Shadows is disappointing, it is still a decent film, which is more than can be said for his three previous (which are all terrible): Corpse Bride, Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Alice in Wonderland. With Dark Shadows, Burton seems to only care about giving frequent collaborator Johnny Depp a platform to create yet another exaggerated character, nothing more. The film really offers nothing to take away from it. However, I will continue to hold out hope for Burton’s return to form (he still has some goodwill left from his early work). Another frequent collaborator, composer Danny Elfman contributes a great score (here is a suite). It is not his best work with Burton, but it is a strong score nonetheless, though somewhat overshadowed by the wonderful soundtrack (things like Donavan’s Season of the Witch or The Moody Blues’ Nights In White Satin). Maybe the best aspect of the film is its cinematography. Bruno Delbonnel’s style perfectly melds with Burton’s, creating the most beautifully shot film of 2012 to date (if only Burton could have employed more landscape shots). Production designer Rick Heinrichs is a great fit for a project such as Dark Shadows, and his wonderful design work is showcased throughout the film. Despite the fact that many of the supporting characters are merely there to occupy superficial roles that serve the plot (in a minor way in most cases), Michelle Pfeiffer, Jackie Earle Haley, Helena Bonham Carter, and Jonny Lee Miller give it their best (l particularly liked Miller and Haley in their small roles). Chloe Grace Moretz (who was the breakthrough actress of 2010 with Kick-Ass and Let Me In, and an actress I generally like) is fairly awful in this film, overacting terribly (making me think that either Burton directed her performance that way, or just did not bother to give her notes and bring it down a notch). Bella Heathcote stands out it her debut performance (at least in a principal role in a major release), harkening back to Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice or Edward Scissorhands a bit (I can see her working well again with Burton). Eva Green is also great as the witch Angelique. She is scorned yet playful enough to make it fun (now if only her scorn and motives were given a bit more real backstory and drama). Johnny Depp is the best part of the film. His Barnabas is fantastic – being both very funny and out-there, but drawn in enough for the audience to relate to his pain (but again, more drama would have been better – Burton just kept this film way too light). Depp’s great skill seems to be in creating characters that are over-the-top and yet still real and organically motivated.

Summary & score: Ultimately it is the lack of true dramatic weight and a mismatched tone that hold Dark Shadows back, and yet it is still funny and enjoyable in a summer blockbuster throwaway sort of way. 6/10

1 comment:

  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 Geoffrey.