Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Review: Dark Shadows

Non Spoiler Review:
Tim Burton presents a lush adaptation of the 1970s cult soap opera Dark Shadows with all his favorite toys—Johnny Depp as the vampire Barnabas Collins, Michelle Pfeiffer as Collins matriarch Elizabeth, Helena Bonham-Carter as Dr. Hoffman, and Eva Greene (Camelot) as Angelique.

The story focuses on 18th Century Barnabas Collins, turned into a vampire for spurning the desires of the witch Angelique in favor of his love Josette, and imprisoned for two hundred years before being accidentally unearthed. He finds his family's fishing business a pale version of its former glory, and the contemporary Collins very much in tatters, as well. He vows to restore the family fortunes while adapting to the 1970s and finding a lookalike of his former love in the Collin's new governess, Victoria.

It took me awhile to catch this one, due particularly to the reviews that this was now a comedy rather than a darker, serious interpretation. I was pleasantly surprised that it leaned more towards gothic dark comedy with a mix of camp rather than overt laughs—for the most part. But it is definitely Tim Burton at his most self-indulgent.

Burton has a record of hits and misses—more often than not he achieves some great cinema (Willie Wonka, Sweeney Todd, Alice in Wonderland...). But Dark Shadows is a mixed bag of tricks. It looks stunning, which goes without saying with Tim Burton. The performances are all very apt with the material, and it does a decent homage to the television series by attempting to address the myriad story lines that formed the basis of the soap opera. Unfortunately, it doesn't really know what it wants to be, and without its heavy star power to pull it off, it wouldn't be worth watching at all.

There are plenty of witty one liners that gave me a laugh, but on those occasions when it overshot its mark and slid into full blown slapstick it started to lose me. I would have preferred a serious and horrific take on the story rather than go for 70s camp. Though if they needed camp, the 70s setting was at least the right choice and gave Burton a great palette to work with.

Burton attempts to give everyone a storyline, and so shortchanges everyone. They're all wrapped up quickly, sometimes with a blink you'll miss it line of dialogue. And the climax becomes more of a spectacle than concluding the story for the majority of the characters in a satisfactory manner. In order to do the narrative justice, Burton needed a much longer movie, or run the risk of cutting plotlines—a no win situation.

Ultimately I enjoyed it, but am none the worse for not catching it in the theater. As always, I appreciate Tim Burton's influence in most his films, and Depp, Carter and Pfeiffer are personal favorites I'll not tire of either. Dark Shadows' classic story lines are curious enough to see brought to life in such vivid detail here, but if you don't share those particular tastes, it will definitely fall flat. I was entertained, but was left longing for a dramatic horror period piece. 

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