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Dark Shadows - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Dark Shadows
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: C+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B-

Well, Tim Burton has done better. Maybe not particularly recently -- 2010's Alice in Wonderland was rather lackluster, if mystifyingly massive at the box office -- but he seems to be getting a tad lackluster in recent years. It's disappointing for a huge Time Burton fan.

Certainly, the script for Dark Shadows seems tailor-made for Burton, as well as Johnny Depp, here collaborating with him for the eighth time. It's also nice to see Michelle Pfeiffer collaborating with him again, for the first time since the wonderful Batman Returns (1992). One might have even had high hopes for Dark Shadows due to script writer Seth Grahame-Smith, writer of the popular mashup novels Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Given the tone of horror-comedy this movie is clearly going for, he seems like a perfect fit.

But, well, perfect is not quite the right word for the final result. "Meh" might be more like it. Dark Shadows has truly fantastic production design, as all Tim Burton movies do. It also has actors pretty much across the board at the top of their game with their performances, and what Burton evidently wanted out of them. But this movie, in the end, just feels like it's a bit less than the sum of its parts. It's moderately entertaning but ultimately forgettable.

Anticipation for this movie never seemed to be where the filmmakers quite wanted it to be. Either there were huge fans of the original TV series on which it's based, horrified by the darkly comic tone of the movie (which, evidently, the series did not possess), or there were the uninitiated who thought this looked like a retreat of The Addams Family. In certain ways, all of them were right.

I never saw the original series. I typically love dark comedy. But Dark Shadows flounders in its quest to find a consistent tone. Depp, at least, stays consistent: released from a coffin in which he's been chained after nearly 200 years, his Barnabas Collins has an anachronistic style, approach, and even diction that's always funny and charming. He finds the descendants living in the Collins mansion now in disrepair, while the family business is being run into the ground by the local witch who long-ago banished Barnabas to burial.

Setting the movie in 1972 is clearly a nod to the series, since that was the decade in which the series aired. Even that choice feels oddly anachronistic, and it might have been more fun to see Collins re-emerge in modern times, rather than to a bunch of cheeky 70s-era references. And the setup for a villain here never quite plays out comfortably: Angelique (Eva Green) is a bitter witch hell-bent on destroying everything Barnabas loves (his family, his business, his heritage) simply because she is a spurned lover -- and insists that she loves Barnabas still, all the while making his life a living hell.

I never quite got the notion of Barnabas's relationship to the sun, either. In direct sunlight, his skin starts to burn. Yet there are several scenes in whch he's walking outside -- in the sun. What the hell? This was very distracting. Sure, he's always in gloves and under an umbrella or a hat. But there is more than one scene in which he's under a hat but you can still see sunshine on parts of his face. I'm not averse to tweaking with traditional rules of vampires, but if you're going to create your own rules, you should stick to them.

So, the story frankly just doesn't hold up. How close (or far) it is from the original series is irrelevant. With even slight critical examination, holes are discovered that just can't be ignored.

And boy, did I try. I rather enjoyed the actors having fun with the material they were given, at least. That's certainly true of Depp, but also of Helena Bonham Carter as a live-in psychiatrist, Pfeiffer as the matriarch, and especially of Chloë Grace Moretz as her sullen teenage daughter. It's clear that Tim Burton gave all the actors the notes to hit, and they all hit the right notes -- such as Burton composed them. As such, there's a great amount of dark enchantment in the visuals and performances.

The pacing could have made a big difference. I wondered if Burton deliberately made the movie feel rather like an actual soap opera at times. I found that ten to fifteen minutes of the run time could have been trimmed off and the story would have found a more exciting immediacy. As it is, I was barely pulled along enough to be entertained, but it's easy to see how others might get bored.

dark shadows

Overall: B-
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