Movie Review: ‘Dark Shadows’ keeps Burton’s future looking grim

By Will Ashton |
Dark Shadows | Directed by Tim Burton | Rated PG-13

After making one of the best films of his career (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street), Tim Burton went on to make one of his worst.

Alice in Wonderland, despite all of its uniqueness, couldn’t capture Burton’s usual sense of flair, creativity and wonder. Mostly, it was dull and padded. Perhaps it was because Burton’s trusty screenwriter, John August, was not on the project. Maybe it was just that Burton wasn’t inspired enough, although that seems very unlikely.

Or was it that Burton had, dare I say it, begun losing his touch?

Whatever the reason, the film was an unusual flop for the Burton camp, but with the release of his newest film Dark Shadows, a Burton fan could only hope that he’d be able to come back to his former glory.

Despite some strong elements, though, Dark Shadows, unfortunately, is also a disappointing mess.

The film follows Barnabus Collins, a young man in 1752 who moves from his hometown of Liverpool, England, to start a new life in America with his parents.  After starting a new town, Collinsport, together and becoming rich from their local fishing company, Collins becomes a rich, charismatic playboy who makes the mistake of breaking the heart of Angelique Bouchard.

A witch, she sets a curse on his family and all the ones he loves, which includes making Barnabus a vampire, forcing him to suffer throughout eternity. Awakened from his grave in 1972, Barnabus reconnects with his family in the mansion he once owned to rebuild his family’s fishing business and build on his relative ties. Despite his unusual quirks, the family is able to connect with Barnabus OK enough, and all seems well until Barnabus finds that Angelique is still living as well, and reignites  her quest for vengeance on him once again.

Dark Shadows starts out strong with an extended prologue sequence with Barnabus and later with introduction scenes with the rest of the family. Even as Barnabus returns and the film begins its fish-out-of-water humor, the film remains entertainingly light.

But once the plot moves along and continuous plotlines are brought into the mix, the film goes downhill. And it does so quickly.

The film is inspired by a soap opera that aired from 1966 to 1971, also of the same name. Something of a passion project for Johnny Depp, who plays Barnabus, and Tim Burton, the film seems as though it is trying to keep the multiple plotlines intact that were featured in the show. Having not seen the show, I cannot say this for certain, but the film throws in multiple storylines and characters, many of which feel useless and out of place. Most of the plotlines, too, end up unresolved in the end.  Perhaps this is Burton’s way of keeping faithful to the show, but by shoving so much plot in the film, it cannot balance each story properly. Therefore, the plot becomes distorted.

With so much of this going on, one gets to a point where they cannot connect with the film because there are so many storylines at play and so little of them are developed enough to get engaged in. When the film does try to wrap everything up, screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith cannot connect the film in any way, so he simply throws everything but the kitchen sink and sadly, none of it sticks.

Beyond the script, the film tonally comes off as uneven or confused. It tries to keep the dark and mysterious undertones of the show, yet throws in humor throughout hoping to keep modern day audiences engaged. By going back and forth, the film can’t bring itself to one definitive tone, and just dances around both, never really keeping one foot firmly down and committing itself enough to work. It doesn’t help that the humor only works at times, and those times are sporadic throughout the film.

Burton has proven he can do all of these tones before. He proved he could do fish-out-of-water comedy (Edward Scissorhands), dark and grim undertones (Sweeney Todd), and even B-movie affection (Ed Wood). Perhaps doing them all at the same time in an elaborate juggling act is too much.

All that said, however, the film isn’t really that bad. The acting all around is very good, particularly from Depp and Eva Green, who plays Angelique. Each seems to sink their teeth into their roles (no pun intended), and whenever they are together in a scene, they work together great. The cinematography is very strong from Bruno Delbonnel; Danny Elfman gives a rather luminous, if not particularly memorable, score; and what would be a Burton movie without great art direction?

But sadly, the bright spots remain eclipsed by the film’s messy overall feel. Being a big Burton fan myself — besides this, there have only been two Burton films that I didn’t like, Wonderland and his remake of Planet of the Apes. I have seen all but Sleepy Hallow and, yes; I did actually like Mars Attacks! — this once again is very disappointing. After hitting a homerun, he’s got two strikes.  He still has one more movie left this year, though: Frankenweenie.

Here’s hoping for the best.

RATING: 2.5/5


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