I am not a Dark Shadows fan. I’ve seen about two episodes of the show in total and snippets here and there. In fact my biggest interaction with it is when I was a kid and it was on the Sci-Fi Channel non-stop. Every time you’d flip there hoping for something cool you’d get this really weird show that looked all funny because it was shot on video.
I am almost entirely sure that Dark Shadows the movie was not made for me. The problem is, I’m not entirely sure it was actually made for anyone at all.
Director: Tim Burton
Release Date: May 11, 2012
This isn’t to say that Dark Shadows isn’t enjoyable. It’s actually one of director Tim Burton’s best attempts at having some fun since The Nightmare Before Christmas. The likes of Johnny Depp and Eva Green make sure the comedy hits and the weird stays weird. The problem is that the movie seems to be stuck between who it wants to please and thus feels like it’s going nowhere and doing absolutely nothing for a large chunk of the film.
The first half of the film is pretty much nothing but set up. We learn that Barnabas Collins (Depp) was turned into a vampire when he spurned the love of a witch named Angelique Bouchard (Green). Angelique kills Barnabas’ girlfriend and then buries him alive in a coffin, not to escape until the 1970s when a construction crew digs him up. Tormented by his vampire nature, but still possessing a strong sense of family, Barnabas returns to the Collins’ homestead to find the family in ruins and their fishing business almost gone. The only surviving members of the family are matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfieffer), her daughter Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz), her brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) and his son David (Gulliver McGrath). Gulliver is also being treated by in house psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) because he’s seeing his dead mother in ghost form. Angelique is also still alive and attempting to ruin the Collins name once and for all. She’s also trying to make Barnabas fall in love with her and not Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote), who has recently come into the employ of the Collins estate as David’s nanny.
All in all there’s a lot going on because the film seems to be trying to cram in as much Dark Shadows story as possible and forgetting that it needs to tell a story at all. It’s very clear that everyone behind the film are big fans of the original show because the film is littered (I’m pretty sure) with nods and inside jokes to it, but it doesn’t help the story any when over 1,000 episodes of soap opera television seem to be crammed into a two hour movie. Storylines start and finish in the length of a scene and some don’t end while others — especially Barnabas and Angelique’s relationship — run in circles for longer than is necessary. It’s a bit ironic, but by attempting to do so much the filmmakers actually have created a movie that does nothing.
Depp and Green are fantastic, however, even if many of their scenes are redundant. Green snarls her way through a wonderfully over-the-top wicked witch and surprisingly gives Depp a run for his money in the camp department. Depp is his usual charming self, making even bad lines into something entertaining and turning Barnabas into a far more enticing character than I recall him being in my brief time with the show. Pfieffer and Carter also deliver entertaining performances, though Pfieffer is put in the sorry position of playing straight man to a group of actors who are hamming it up wonderfully. The only weak spot is Mortez, who has been overrated since she came onto the scene. Her sexpot teenager is flat from the get go and the only thing that makes her performance noticeable is how disturbingly sexualized she is for much of the film. Also disturbing is a dead-on-arrival musical performance by Alice Cooper, who appears to only be in the film so that Barnabas can make jokes about him being a woman.
It does sound like a die hard fan of the show would enjoy the film with all the content and jokes crammed in there, but I can’t say the movie was made for them either. The rushed nature of a lot of the plot lines would surely annoy anyone who was invested in the characters and while repeating the same scene in a different location is a soap opera staple to stretch a show out it doesn’t play out so well in a movie. I don’t know if the characters deserve more than this, but I would think a fan would want them to have it.
What makes Dark Shadows better than it should be is that it’s clearly a work of passion. Tim Burton has said he is a fan of the show and it definitely shows, even if it might not be the best thing for the film. There’s a level of understanding for the characters that would have been missing without people caring, but it’s also that caring that makes the film over crowded and in the end far too hectic. There’s fun to be had here, but it’s buried under all the fun we’re supposed to be having.