Dark Shadows Review

Q: How much Johnny Depp/Tim Burton schtick can they stuff into 113 minutes?  A: A lot.

Last night when I told my friends I was going to see Dark Shadows at midnight they made me promise to watch 30 minutes of the original series.  I did so (thanks iPhone) and understand what they were trying to get me to see.  The soap opera Dark Shadows was campy and kind of dumb, but what it wasn’t was a schticky comedy.

If a movie were a car than Johnny Depp would be a powerful V8 engine pumping out more horsepower than a rodeo on speed.  However, this particular car, while pretty with a nice glossy coat of paint, seems grossly underdeveloped in the wheels, seats, windows, and other accoutrements that make a comfortable automobile.   The entire movie serves only as a vehicle to deliver Johnny Depps performance and baroque 17th century mannerisms.  His character is a schizophrenic two dimensional dry humor joke machine; everyone else is a one dimensional sounding board from which to bounce one liners off of; the script wanders aimlessly from plot point to plot point without really locking onto anything (and it’s kind of boring); the humor seems at the same time highly predictable and out of place; and the ending they dredged up from the deep bowels of the writers…well, bowel.

All that being said, if you are a Johnny Depp fan you will probably enjoy his performance immensely.  He managed to make the scenes cool and funny (he also manages to not sing at any point, a fact that made me very happy).  However, his fish-out-of-water jokes wore thin after about 50 minutes and he was not enough to keep the entire movie alive solo.

I think this was a serious mistake on the part of Tim Burton (and it pains me to say this).  Sure, Depp is an amazing actor and can deliver a stellar performance in his sleep, but the cast of this film was chock full of talented people.  Michelle Pfeiffer plays the matron of the family, and while it is easy to hate her for her part in Batman Returns you still have to like her for Scarface.  Of course she also did New Years Eve so I don’t know.  Psycho witch Helen Bonham Carter (Fight Club, the King’s Speech, Sweeney Todd) plays the psychiatrist.  The extremely hot Eva Green (Casino Royale, the Dreamers, Perfect Sense) plays the evil witch who cursed Barnabus.  Bella Heahcoate (In Time, Glen Owens Dodds, Beneath Hill 60) plays the nanny.  For Carolyn they even got Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick Ass, Hugo, Let Me In) who is a great young actress.  Seems like any one of them could have added something to the story had they been allowed.

Anyway, the story.  Barnabus Collinis rejects his maid Angelique.  She kills his parents and fiance, cursing him to be a vampire (live forever with super speed and strength?  I think the writers need to buy a dictionary and look up the meaning of the word “curse”) and gets the local townsfolk to form a torch-and-pitchfork mob to bury him in a coffin.  Flash forward 196 years where a construction crew digs up his coffin and in a really stupid move opens it up (sorry, if I found a coffin shaped box with massive chains around it the first thing I would not do is call for bolt cutters.  Maybe a power drill, along with a bible and a Super Soaker full of holy water).  Barabus jumps out and slaughters 11 innocent construction workers, a fact that does not even rate more than passing mention from the local police or news media.  These sorts of thing happen all the time in Maine I guess.

Anyway, he rejoins his family now consisting of his great great grand something (?  Seriously, how was he related to these losers?  His family moved here from Liverpool when he was a child.  His parents died.  He was an only child and never had kids), her brother, her daughter, and her nephew who live in the huge super creepy mansion his father built.  He discovers that they are barely holding on and the family business is in shambles.   Turns out Angelique, the witch who “cursed” him, has spent the last 200 years working to destroy his family financially (?  She really had nothing better to do?  Spend centuries stalking people who never even knew the guy who rejected you?).

Barnabus spends the next 80 minutes or so beating the fish-out-of-water jokes deep into the ground.  He dedicates himself to restoring the family home and business and does so with remarkable ease.  Along the way he slaughters a bunch more people.

Let me go on an aside here briefly and talk about one of the most disturbing things about the Barnabus Collins character.  The fact is, most of the movie he was funny, witty, and charming and then every once in a while would kill a bunch of completely innocent people.  It’s like if you bred a dog with a porcupine (dorkupine?) that you could totally pet and be cool with except every once in a while you would hit a patch of spines and get a fistful of them in the palm of your hand.  I found it really distracting and every time he would do it my sympathy for him and my appreciation of the humor would drain from the film like spaghetti in a colander. I found it especially gruesome when he would apologize to his victim before draining them dry.  (Buffy Staked Edward image courtesy of the Horror Movie T Shirt category)

Anyway, as the story plods along and you get less enthralled with Barnabus the movie gets more and more boring.  The ending was hamhanded and chock full of deus ex machina.  Stuff that possibly should have been hinted at or developed in the first 1/3rd of the film crops out of nowhere and solves problems with little to no effort on Barnabus’s part.

The stars.  Johnny Depp was pretty amazing as Barnabus Collins.  Two stars.  Dialog for the most part was excellent.  One star.  Eva Green was driving me crazy through most of this.  One star.  Even though they didn’t get to show their talents much, I will give a star for Helen Bonham Carter and Chloë Moretz.  One star.  Costumes and visuals were generally very good.  One star.  Total: five stars.

The black holes.  The script felt really unfocused and lethargic.  Kind of like they tried to take an entire season of a soap opera and compress it into one movie.  One black hole.  Burton should have realized that after a while the audience would reach its saturation point on fish-out-of-water jokes.  One black hole.  Johnny Depp so eclipsed everyone else that no other performances were even possible, and all the other characters were left to wither on the vine.  One black hole.  The repeated shifting in tone for the main character from lighthearted witty fellow to murderer.  One black hole.  The Alice Cooper scene went on way too long.  One black hole.  The whole movie shifted gears in the last 20 minutes from horror/comedy to horror/tragedy.  Overall the ending sucked.  One black hole.  Total: six black holes.

A grand total of one black hole.  Not great, but not irredeemable.  If you happen to be a big Johnny Depp or Tim Burton you might enjoy it, and if you think they make magic together then definitely.  Nothing visually that demands a theater, so wait to stream it.  Date movie?  Meh.  She won’t find much offensive.  On the other hand Johnny Depp with an accent is really hard to be compared to, so maybe give it a pass.  Bathroom break?  Pretty much anywhere, but if I had to pick the two scenes that stand out are the Alice Cooper musical tribute or the Barnabus/Angelique sex scene.  In both cases the movie diverges from the only redeeming thing in the film-Johnny Depp delivering good dialog-and trust me when I say you will not see anything memorable.

Thanks for reading.  I don’t know if I will get to see anything else this weekend.  Maybe Pirates.  Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu or post comments here.  If you have specific questions or suggestions feel free to email me at david@nerdkungfu.com.  Have a nice day.  Talk to you soon.



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