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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Movie Review: DARK SHADOWS


"They tried stoning me, my dear. It did not work."
-- Barnabas Collins

Dark Shadows is a 2012 comedic horror film directed by Tim Burton that serves as an adaptation of the 1960s and 1970s soap opera of the same name. We meet our hero Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) in the late-1700s as he grows into a young man in Collinsport, Maine, where his family has established a fishing community. Barnabas entertains himself with physical relations with a servant named Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), but is real affection lies with a young woman named Josette (Bella Heathcote). Driven by jealousy, Angelique - who happens to be a witch - casts a spell over the young lovers, sending Josette to her death whilst turning Barnabas into a vampire. After informing the townspeople of his true identity, Barnabas is locked in a coffin and buried alive for over two hundred years until he is unearthed in 1972. He makes his way back to his home and finds his descendants alive but struggling to survive with their failing business. He informs Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), the family matriarch, that he shall return the Collins name to its rightful glory. Little does he know that Angelique has survived as well and has turned the town of Collinsport into her own personal gold mine.

To start, I would like to say that I had not heard of the soap opera that inspired this film until I first learned details about the film itself. By all accounts, the soap is a bit of a cult classic, and considering the ideas and concepts behind it, I'm not surprised to see Burton attempting the adaptation. It's right up his alley, really. It's a dark, gothic tale of a vampire looking to seek revenge and restore his family's name, so what shouldn't there be to like, right? Add the fact that this film has all the makings of a typical Burton venture: Johnny Depp in the lead, an appearance by Helena Bonham Carter and music by Danny Elfman. It sounds like your typical fare.

All that being said, I was not entirely impressed with Dark Shadows. Although I was easily drawn into the story and remained engaged until the very end, there seemed something a tad bit off about this picture. Our story and screenplay aren't quite as strong as past Burton ventures, and I think that's part of the problem. While he kinda manages to blend the comedy and fantasy decently, Burton couldn't find the right amount of balance between the two. At one moment, we're locked in the drama between Johnny Depp and Eva Green, and the next, they're both doing their best to make us laugh. It just seemd as though it was very stop-and-go. We had the right amount of each genre, but rarely did it ever blend together in the proper proportions. One moment we're laughing, the next we're wondering whether the horrific deaths should be funny. Another one of the major problems is that there seems to be too many different story-lines trying to intersect one another. Now, having grown up watching my mother watch "The Young and the Restless," I can tell you that I know just how many stories can be occurring all at once on such a show, and I'm sure "Dark Shadows" was no different. Where the film fails is in its attempt to bring all those story-lines into one two-hour engagement. It proves to be too much to handle, and the entire story proves to be muddled. At the end of the day, it's just a strange tale that could've been fleshed out a little bit better, in my opinion.

Fortunately, we're getting some decent performances to augment the film where the screenplay is lacking. Depp is his usual self, bringing forth yet another memorable character for his ever-growing filmography. He might have been able to mail in this performance, and he still would have managed to be the star. That's not knocking the rest of the cast, but no one quite reaches his level. This is Depp's film, and it should be treated as such. Aside from him, I thought we were getting some good performances from the likes of Jackie Earle Haley and Bonham Carter. I thought Pfeiffer and Green weren't used in the proper way, and both of their performances seemed a tad bit strange. I also thought that Chloƫ Grace Moretz was vastly underutilized. As one of the stronger actresses making her way up the Hollywood ranks, she definitely has a lot more to offer than what she shows here. Perhaps we can chalk this one up to the screenplay rather than her acting talents. And a quick note: be on the watch for cameos from the likes of Christopher Lee and musician Alice Cooper, the latter of which proves to be both hilarious and entertaining.

If anything is holding this film together, it's Elfman's fancifully dark score. He always seems to have a knack for creating a pitch-perfect musical accompaniment, and Dark Shadows proves to be no different. It's not quite his best score, but it definitely ranks as one of the better ones, if I do say so myself. Here's a little snippet for your listening pleasure:

At the end of the day, Dark Shadows is an entertaining film that's not really going to stay with you for very long. Although it's better than most films released nowadays, it doesn't quite measure up to some of the past Depp-Burton collaborations. You're probably better off watching a film like 2007's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, or even 1999's Sleepy Hollow. They're both just a bit better than this particular venture.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: B-
Should You Watch It? Maybe

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