Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Dark Shadows

I don't necessarily consider myself a Tim Burton fan, but there are some of his movies that I really enjoy. In fact, one of his films is one of my absolute favorites ("Big Fish"). We all know he can be quirky, darkly comic, and slightly repetitive with his ideas. I've championed some of his more commercial-focused projects ("Alice in Wonderland"), but I have to admit that I was somewhat apprehensive when we sat down to watch "Dark Shadows". Maybe it's the fact that this is now the eighth collaboration between Burton and Johnny Depp, but this didn't seem as novel or interesting a concept as I was expecting. Nevertheless, I tried to watch the film with an open mind to see if there was something good I could latch on to.

The film tells the story of Barnabas Collins, a wealthy young man whose parents immigrated from Liverpool and established a fishing port in Maine. Barnabas later seduces the maid, who turns out to be a powerful and vengeful witch named Angelique, though he admits he doesn't love her. In a rage, she kills Barnabas's parents and bewitches his true love into throwing herself off a cliff. As Barnabas tries to follow her, however, he finds he's been cursed with immortality (in the form of a vampire). When the townspeople learn of his transformation, they bury him in a coffin, wrapped in chains. Almost two-hundred years pass before construction workers stumble upon the long-forgotten vampire and he attempts to re-acclimate himself with 1970's society. He isn't the only one who's survived to the twentieth century, as Angelique is still a prominent member of the small town, taking over the fishing industry and leaving the Collins family out in the cold. Barnabas decides to regain the family legacy, which he must do despite his past coming back to haunt him in the form of Angelique.

Dark Shadows is based on a gothic soap opera that aired in the late 60's, though I'm told the film itself shares little resemblance to the show. The story itself isn't all that complicated, but isn't exactly one that lends itself to a tale about vampires. The film has a lot of interesting elements to it, but none of them coalesce into a cohesive and organic plot. Burton loves his gothic imagery, but the strange amalgam of cheap-looking digital effects and lavish costume design undermines any attempt to convey realism in the movie. As garbled as the visual style is in this film, it's nothing compared to the tone. At some points it seems like a horror film with Barnabas ripping out throats and killing innocent hippies, and at other points it plays far more comedic and almost slapstick.

The performances are universally par for the course, with Helena Bonham-Carter perhaps doing the best work in the cast. Johnny Depp is his typical quirky self, and the Barnabas family (Michelle Pfiefer and company) all do a serviceable job. As much as I love Eva Green for her turn in "Casino Royale", I think this was a really weak performance. For one thing, her American accent isn't very strong, and she seems like she isn't sure how to play the character. Overall, this film seems passionless and I'm not even sure why Tim Burton wanted to spend  $150 million to make it. Perhaps some of the tonal inconsistencies are due to studio interference, or maybe Burton himself wasn't sure what kind of film he wanted to make. Regardless of the reason, "Dark Shadows" is just as mediocre as I was afraid of. I give it two and a half stars.

DARK SHADOWS is rated PG-13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking.