Review – Dark Shadows

                 Rating = ★ ½              Tagline = Pass

Dark Shadows is yet another collaboration of eccentric director Tim Burton and actor Johnny Depp. They have made many movies together – Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Sweeney Todd, Alice in Wonderland, and now their latest, Dark Shadows. I have seen all save for Ed Wood. Their movies are always great, each with their own unique style. Even if they are lacking in some certain aspects, you can never say it wasn’t at least an interesting experience. The movie is based on an old cult TV show that I myself have never heard of before. After checking up on it, everything was in place for another solid production from the both of them. That’s what I thought, at least.

Barnabas (Johnny Depp) has everything going for him. He is the master of Collinwood Manor. He is rich, powerful and a playboy. One day, though, he makes the biggest mistake of his life when he breaks the heart of Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). She is a witch, through and through. Angelique sentences him to a fate far worse than a simple death. For his punishment, she turns him into a vampire and then buries him alive. Two centuries later, Barnabas is freed by accident into the world of 1972. He returns to his old manor to find his once great estate run down. To top it off, the dysfunctional remnants of the Collins family have fared not too much better than he.

Everything starts out well. It grabbed my attention and made me want to see where the story would go from there. It went somewhere all right, just not in the direction I was expecting, or wanted. It started out in a dark tone. So naturally, I expected it to stay that way. As soon as Barnabas was freed from his long burial, however, the tone changed almost immediately. All of a sudden it becomes a funny fish-out-of-water tale instead of a dark tale about a vampire. There are still some times the movie tries to frighten us, but it’s just jump-scares that have little to no effect. The first 15 minutes or so of the movie was good, then it transitions to just okay, but after the hour mark, things start to fall apart rather quickly.

Tim Burton is a very good director. But he has one fault and here it is more noticeable than it has ever been. He will set up this interesting world and have a good opening, but when it comes to the third act, he can’t finish what he started. Dan Curtis wrote the screenplay. The jokes are all hit or miss. None of them made me laugh really hard and none made me cringe. The main fault of the screenplay is the way it deals with the characters. All the characters are one-dimensional. Their reason for even being in the story seems gratuitous, at best; they’re like props. A couple of the characters were at least handled in a passable manner. Most of the characters, though, had me thinking, really… this is what you’re doing with this? None of the characters were interesting (save for Depp) and the relationships weren’t developed well enough to make anything believable in any stretch of the imagination.

I don’t think Depp new what he was getting into.

The main relationship gone array is the one with Depp and Green’s character. Green plays the witch – the main antagonist. Depp is the main protagonist. Barnabas and Angelique are not friends. Throughout the movie, Barnabas repeats how much he wants to kill her, but he never even attempts to carry through with his threat. That is, until it’s forced upon him. Their relationship is so weird that I never bought into it. Their love-hate relationship just doesn’t work. And given that, both the film’s drama and humor lack any ring of truth. The movie becomes a series of misfires, one after the other.

Some great actors and actresses are in Dark Shadows. Chloë Moretz, Eva Green, Christopher Lee, Helena Bonham Carter, Jackie Earle Haley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Bella Heathcote, and, of course, the one and only Johnny Depp. Aside from Depp, all of them are wasted. I don’t think it’s any of the actors’ fault. They were limited by the writing. Depp’s performance is the only reason to see the movie. He alone, among all the characters, succeeds in his role. Barnabas is extremely engaging to watch. Every mannerism he embodies has some sort of purpose. Depp’s performance reminded me of what he accomplished with Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Every reaction had something behind it. I only wish he would have had better material to work with. Depp almost carries the movie on his own, but in the end, the writing and direction were just too weak.

The costumes and cinematography are remarkably well done. As usual, Tim Burton excelled in the visual department. I know Burton didn’t write the script, but throughout I could just hear and see Burton’s style everywhere. If he had a better screenwriter working on this we might have had a completely different movie. The direction doesn’t seem consistent. It seemed out of rhythm. The characters didn’t interact together convincingly. There are so any things wrong with Dark Shadows. Only Depp’s performance and a few bright spots kept me watching.

Overall though, it was a waste of time and a huge disappointment! I wondered what story it was trying to tell. Unfortunately, this was a lazy effort from a pair that’s capable of so much more. I know this rating may seem too low, but I can’t think of a big reason to tell someone they should see this. Plenty of other Depp-Burton collaborations to see, better comedies, better vampire movies, and just better movies somewhat like this that are good. Maybe Burton was going for a sloppy work of art. I went in expecting to be wowed by his art, as I have on so many other previous occasions. Not this time. Dark Shadows was just a sloppy mess.


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23 thoughts on “Review – Dark Shadows

  1. I am lucky I didn’t see this… I never liked Alice In Wonderland so kind of knew it’s gonna be the same. The duo ought to do something different now, they should leave fantasy themes and try to make something else… Great review by the way. Loved reading it.

  2. I haven’t seen this film yet, but it seems that most people found it somewhat of a mess. That’s not totally unusual for a Tim Burton movie, as his films all have great production design but tend to lack in story. Burton himself said that he doesn’t know a good script when he reads it. By the way, Dan Curtis created the TV show that this movie is based on. The screenplay was by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also wrote “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (John Logan did a previous draft of the script and was given story credit). Grahame-Smith may be a good novelist (I don’t know, since I haven’t read his books), but so far his track record on film isn’t so hot. IMDb lists him as writing “Beetlejuice 2.” Ugh.

    • This was a major let down for me. I like Burton’s style style. I didn’t even hate Alice In Wonderland like most people. Here though it just felt lazy.

  3. Loved this review. Definitely one of your best. I had a feeling you wouldn’t like this (I warned you haha!) but I don’t think I would have guessed it would be this low. I think when you commented on my review, I told you my prediction was a 2.5, if not a 2. I’ve seen all their collaborations…except for Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Corpse Bride, and Alice in Wonderland. Which is a lot, haha. But this is definitely the biggest disappointment of what I’ve seen, and I’m sure when I catch up with the rest, it will remain that way.

    • You did call it! I was going to give it 2 stars, but in the end I just couldn’t find enough things to recommend. Plus I was mad they turned in a lazy effort (Depp and Burton). Yes, what a big disappointment. Thanks a lot as always.

      • That would be my close second to Sweeney Todd. But they do need to go back to formula. Cut out what doesn’t work and go back to the good stuff. Alice In Wonderland and Dark Shadows were both lazy efforts that just fell flat. I hope for there next one (it’s inevitable) they go back to some of the stuff they used to do. So I agree with you 100%.

  4. What a disappointment. Tim Burton is starting to repeat himself. Alice in Wonderland suffered from the same problems. He needs to work with someone other than Depp. He’s in a rut.

    • I know. Now that you mention it might be good for Burton to venture from that collaboration. But on the other hand it isn’t Depp’s fault these last two movies of his has failed.

  5. This movie was just such a bummer because I thought it was going to be this wacky, wild, and fun trip back to the 70’s with Burton and Depp in top comedic form, and instead, it was just dull and tried too hard to be serious. Didn’t hate it, just didn’t like it all that much either. Good review Alec.

  6. Nice review. I really don’yt know what’s happening to Burton. Maybe he needs to step up his game and step out of his comfort zone! And you should really see Ed Wood. That’s his best.

  7. I’m surprised that Burton and Depp were disappointing in this film, and I’m sad because I grew up loving Edward Scissorhands. I will say that I haven’t seen half of the movies you listed at the beginning of the review, so I’ll have to add them all to my Blockbuster @Home queue. Since I can rent as many movies as I can watch for a flat fee per month, I think that I’m willing to at least spend the time to watch these. I’ll have to see for myself if Dark Shadows is what people say it is. Several of my co-workers at Dish have given me mixed reviews on the film, so it’s hard to believe one over another. Guess I’ll just have to figure it out for myself, but thanks for the excellent review!

    • Thanks for the in-depth comment and compliment. I was disappointed by this. You should give it a try if your a fan though. Make sure to let me know when you see it and fell free to come back and check out more reviews.

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