MCN Blogs
Kim Voynar

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.

One Response to “Review: Dark Shadows”

  1. mike says:

    You make me sick. You are the worst sort of reviewer that we, as the public, have the displeasure of enduring. You spend your time patting yourself on the back at how cleverly you can bash the work of real talents. Save us and yourself a load of time and find something productive to do. Clearly, you dont like film, and as one who doesnt, stay out of the reviewing business…..

Leave a Reply

Quote Unquotesee all »

“Almodóvar–the first name is almost unnecessary–is a genius, is a flower, is a guiding light: the last, best son of Buñuel and so much more than that. His screenplays, which he directs with passion and fine care, have taught us about the exteriors of his native land and the interiors of our own hearts. From the early, manic experimental Super-8 work to the breakthrough Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, his titles are as evocative as most people’s screenplays. Yet for all their antic energy, Almodóvar’s films are deeply spiritual: watching his disturbing, mysterious, heart-rending Talk to Her is to understand, perhaps for the first time, the full meaning of grace. An Almodóvar screenplay is a running leap off a Gaudi balcony, it flips, soars, ascends, careens, tumbles, falls – always landing, astonishingly and astonished, on its feet.”
~ Howard A. Rodman, Announcing Almodóvar’s Jean Renoir Award

“I got a feeling I am going to win in the long run, but I want to be part of the zeitgeist, too. I want to support young girls who are in their 20s now and tell them: You’re not just imagining things. It’s tough. Everything that a guy says once, you have to say five times. Girls now are also faced with different problems. I’ve been guilty of one thing: After being the only girl in bands for 10 years, I learned—the hard way—that if I was going to get my ideas through, I was going to have to pretend that they—men—had the ideas. I became really good at this and I don’t even notice it myself. I don’t really have an ego. I’m not that bothered. I just want the whole thing to be good. And I’m not saying one bad thing about the guys who were with me in the bands, because they’re all amazing and creative, and they’re doing incredible things now. But I come from a generation where that was the only way to get things done. So I have to play stupid and just do everything with five times the amount of energy, and then it will come through.”
~ Björk to Jessica Hopper at Pitchfork