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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…..

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“The core fear is what can happen to you, personally. Your body. That’s what horror films deal with, precisely. We are a very thin skin wrapped around a pumping heart and guts. At any given moment it can come down to that, be it diseases, or somebody’s assault, or war, or a car wreck. You could be reduced to the simple laws of physics and your body’s vulnerability. The edged weapon is the penultimate weapon to disclose that reality to you.”
~ Wes Craven, 1996, promoting Scream

MAMET
Well, that, to me, is always the trick of dramaturgy; theoretically, perfectly, what one wants to do is put the protagonist and the audience in exactly the same position. The main question in drama, the way I was taught, is always what does the protagonist want. That’s what drama is. It comes down to that. It’s not about theme, it’s not about ideas, it’s not about setting, but what the protagonist wants. What gives rise to the drama, what is the precipitating event, and how, at the end of the play, do we see that event culminated? Do we see the protagonist’s wishes fulfilled or absolutely frustrated? That’s the structure of drama. You break it down into three acts.

INTERVIEWER
Does this explain why your plays have so little exposition?

MAMET
Yes. People only speak to get something. If I say, Let me tell you a few things about myself, already your defenses go up; you go, Look, I wonder what he wants from me, because no one ever speaks except to obtain an objective. That’s the only reason anyone ever opens their mouth, onstage or offstage. They may use a language that seems revealing, but if so, it’s just coincidence, because what they’re trying to do is accomplish an objective… The question is where does the dramatist have to lead you? Answer: the place where he or she thinks the audience needs to be led. But what does the character think? Does the character need to convey that information? If the answer is no, then you’d better cut it out, because you aren’t putting the audience in the same position with the protagonist. You’re saying, in effect, Let’s stop the play. That’s what the narration is doing—stopping the play… It’s action, as Aristotle said. That’s all that it is—exactly what the person does. It’s not what they “think,” because we don’t know what they think. It’s not what they say. It’s what they do, what they’re physically trying to accomplish on the stage. Which is exactly the same way we understand a person’s character in life—not by what they say, but by what they do. Say someone came up to you and said, I’m glad to be your neighbor because I’m a very honest man. That’s my character. I’m honest, I like to do things, I’m forthright, I like to be clear about everything, I like to be concise. Well, you really don’t know anything about that guy’s character. Or the person is onstage, and the playwright has him or her make those same claims in several subtle or not-so-subtle ways, the audience will say, Oh yes, I understand their character now; now I understand that they are a character. But in fact you don’t understand anything. You just understand that they’re jabbering to try to convince you of something.
~ David Mamet

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