By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com
Review: Dark Shadows
On paper, it must have sounded good. Dark Shadows, the 1966-71 supernatural soap opera, while dark, was also melodramatic and campy, and who better to mine that material for a new generation than that master of melodramatic camp, Tim Burton, working with frequent Burton flyer Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins? It must have seemed like a dream project. Unfortunately, this is just not a good movie. I don’t know how you take this source material, with the budget they had to work with and the overall level of talent involved in this project, and still manage not to make something good, but somehow they’ve pulled it off. By the time Alice Cooper shows up, it’s like the band bravely playing on as the Titanic plunges into the icy ocean. Maybe it’s time for Johnny Depp and Tim Burton to take a long break from each other, or perhaps Burton just seriously needs to consider surrounding himself with more people who will be honest and call him out when his emperor has no clothes.
If you saw the trailer, you know the basic storyline: Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), wealthy late 1700s playboy and son of a wealthy seafood magnate in Collinsport, Maine, unknowingly breaks the heart of a witch, Angelique (Eva Green, vamping it up here, and not even remotely in a good way). Angelique, in retaliation, kills his parents; puts his true love, Josette (Bella Heathcote), under a spell that causes her to walk off a cliff to her death; turns him into a vampire and then has him buried; and curses his entire family line. Guess he messed with the wrong witch. Nearly 200 years later, in 1972, Barnabas is freed from his prison when construction workers dig up his coffin, only to find his family manor in ruins and his descendants dysfunctional. The Collins family’s seafood business has been eradicated by a rival business – run for several generations by Angelique, who’s none too happy to find her recalcitrant lover has freed himself from his prison.
It sounds like it has so much more potential than it turns out to have.
It would be easy enough to lay a good deal of blame for the mess this movie is at the feet of screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith, but we’ve all heard enough stories about good scripts being ruined by bad choices made during production, and with seven production companies and eleven producers involved, the “too many cooks” scenario seems just as likely. In any case I’m not sure it matters who’s to blame here; it doesn’t change that Dark Shadows just doesn’t work. The entire production, from the actors to the set design to the costumes to the makeup just feels like it’s trying too hard, smiling a bit too big, laughing a bit too loud at its own jokes. There are some funny gags in there, but not enough to help the film rise above itself.
And can we talk about the makeup on Johnny Depp? It’s just dreadful – seriously, this is the worst fantasy makeup in a major film since that horrible vampire makeup in the first Twilight film, where they made Carlisle look like the android cousin of ST:TNG’s Commander Data. Yes, I get that this is a Tim Burton film and that it’s highly stylized, but this is even worse than Depp’s Alice in Wonderland Mad Hatter makeup that folks were bitching and moaning about.
There are a couple of high points in Colleen Atwood’s costume design and the stylized production design by Rich Heinrichs and cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel is solid, but otherwise there’s just not much good to say. Chloe Moretz, an extraordinarily talented young actor, is just given nothing to work with here, and is saddled with a lame plot twist that materializes seemingly out of nowhere near the end. I didn’t completely hate Michelle Pfeiffer, who actually seems to be trying to take things seriously here, though much like Moretz, she’s just not given a hell of a lot to work with (in the plus column for Pfeiffer, neither does she have to endure trying to pull off a painfully lame plot surprise). And Johnny Depp is Johnny Depp: He’s handsome, he’s talented, but here he seems to be trying so hard, but all the Depp charm turned up to eleven still couldn’t make this film better, because it’s just so conceptually ill-conceived and clumsily — lazily — executed.
A movie like this makes me feel frustrated and downright angry; so much money and work and artistic effort wasted. I honestly don’t know how this movie got all the way to release without someone – or even a lot of someones – jumping in and saying, “Hey, guys? This sucks. We need to fix this, pronto.” There are surely a lot of smart, well-paid people working at the seven production companies listed in the film’s credits, right? Some of them, at least, saw how this film was coming together and knew it was definitively not good and didn’t stop it or fix it. Or maybe they tried too hard to fix it and broke it more, who can say? I wish I could even take some small pleasure, at least, in writing this review, but I don’t. I just feel irritated and sad that this wasn’t a better movie to write about.