Directed by: Tim Burton
Produced by: Richard D. Zanuck
Screenplay by: Seth Grahame-Smith
Story by: John August
Based on: Dark Shadows by Dan Curtis
Starring: Johnny Depp
Helena Bonham Carter
Jackie Earle Haley
Jonny Lee Miller
Chloe Grace Moretz
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cinematography by: Bruno Delbonnel
Editing by: Chris Lebenzon
Studio(s): Village Roadshow Pictures
The Zanuck Company
Distributed by: Warners Bros.
Release date: May 11, 2012 (United Kingdom and United States)
Running time: 113 minutes
Country: United States
Budget: $150 million
Box office revenue (as of publication): $210, 753, 107
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So, the film subject to scrutiny today is Dark Shadows. Adapted from the television soap opera of the same name, the latest film by director Tim Burton stars Johnny Depp (in his eight collaboration with Burton) as Barnabas Collins, a two-hundred-year-old vampire who emerges from the coffin in which he was imprisoned in 1972. He returns to his family's mansion, now inhabited by his descendants Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michele Pfeiffer); her brother Roger (Johnny Lee Miller); her teenage daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz); Roger's son David (Gulliver McGrath); Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), David's psychiatrist; caretaker Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley); and Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote), the newly-hired governess and the reincarnation of Josette du Pres, Barnabas' long-lost love. The witch who cursed the Collins family and caused the death of Josette, Angelique Bouchard, is still kicking around, as head of a successful fishery. Barnabas decides to challenge Angelique's fishery, and sets about re-establishing the Collins' fishing business. That's a mouthful on the plot summary, so I'll just give a small bit of context before I get cracking with the review. Director Tim Burton is in a bit of an artistic rut right now, in that he hasn't directed an original project since 2005's Corpse Bride. Also, since his terrific adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd musical, he just seems to have been settling into projects that studios have been marketing as 'a Tim Burton film.' So, to be frank I wasn't going into this with high hopes.
Notwithstanding my initial ambivalence, I was impressed by numerous aspects of the film. Johnny Depp, fresh off his barmy (and TTWD award-winning) voice acting role in Rango and Hunter S. Thompson adaptation The Rum Diary, is probably the best guy to get to play eccentric, and he does so pretty well. Also, he has this real lithe physicality about him, with his actions easily speaking as loud as his words. His intentional awkwardness makes for the film's best moments. Eva Green is terrifyingly seductive as Angelique. We clearly sympathise with Barnabas' plight, and Angelique is, in no uncertain terms, a hateful bitch. However, beyond her beauty is an unmistakable charm and a genuinely believable motivation for her character, all of which she conveys superbly. Although a nothing part, Chloe Grace Moretz is reliable in the 'sulky teenager' stock part of Carolyn. Likewise, Helena Bonham Carter and Jackie Earle Haley are good in their small roles. Also, the film, like many of Burton's has a strong visual style. Bruno Delbonnel's cinematography is a treat to behold, with every little detail in the image crisp and clear. The contrast of the colour palette in the lighting is varied, and as such, the contrast between warm, vibrant colours and the dark, grainy tones interesting: the image of Barnabas holding the dead Josette amongst the stones and crashing waves is among the most beautiful and tragic of all of Burton's oeuvre. Also, it is a wonderfully designed film. In the Collins house, you get a genuine sense of space and an idea of just how old this house is. Furthermore, the design of the house and its relative desolation speaks for its inhabitants. The costumes too fit in this department. Everyone is appropriately dressed and in good costumes. From a biased perspective, I have to applaud some the tracks chosen for the soundtrack. Nights In White Satin by The Moody Blues is an awesome choice for the opening credits, while appearances from Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, The Stooges and T. Rex bring a smile to my face. Finally, the film works at its best whenever it plays off Barnabas' culture shock, archaic language (the 'posterior' line is great) and the dark black humour that occasionally pops up.
With that being said, much as there is good about the film, like Men In Black 3 and Prometheus (perplexing to have three like this in one month), there is nearly as much wrong with it. For starters, as I mentioned, it works best with black humour and culture shock, but the movie jumps all over the place genre-wise. Many films balance genre out well, but this does not, as you have a domestic drama going on and moments that are played as horror. As a result, too many things going on has a dampening effect on its overall tone, even where it works well, and some of these moments fall flat as a result. Seth Grahame-Smith's script is all over the shop, unable to decide what genre the film falls into, but also features poor plot and character development. You don't get the sense of the Collins family (or the residents of Collinswood for that matter) as people, but instead cardboard cut-out stock characters masquerading as real human beings. Also, and this I understand is a personal gripe, it features the most cringeworthy sex scene I have seen in yonks. I mean, this is Johnny Depp and Eva Green we are talking about here (no spoiler: it's in the wretched trailer so shut up!), Depp a twice-former 'Sexiest Man Alive,' and Eva Green's Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale is widely considered one of the sexiest characters of all-time. I have no problem with sex being played for laughs, but godammit, this is terribly unfunny! I mean, this should be a rapturous high point for the film, but the smashing up of things for three minutes is shoddily executed and overlong. On top of that, we have the completely cliche choice of Barry White's My Everything, which is just horrible. I heard the same song last year in Zookeeper, and I swear if I hear Barry White again I'm going to go to his grave and ask him to take his song back! It was neither sexy nor funny, end of! Right, sex scene rant done, I have two more gripes. Danny Elfman's score is disappointing and uninspiring, two words that can said also regarding director Tim Burton. Now, in case there are any Tim Burton fans out there who are going to hunt with an assortment of misshapen objects lifted from his movies, I AM ONE OF YOU, hear me out! Burton has fallen down the creative void like Vincent hearing his zombie-slave Abercrombie. He has for over a half-decade continued to work on dullard projects marketed as 'a Tim Burton film.' No, stop right there! The Tim Burton I want is the bizarre genius who made Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Mars Attacks, Sweeney Todd, Batman et al. This is an evil doppelganger copout Burton with no sense of control, and it hurts to say this, but the man has lost his way.
Dark Shadows is quite the treacherous film. Masquerading as an accessible picture, it delivers this in some regards. The acting is all round strong, particularly from Johnny Depp and Eva Green, the cinematography is stunning, the soundtrack is great and the production design and costumes are highly commendable. However, the script is all over the place, the sex scene is rubbish, Danny Elfman's score a perfunctory matter, and Tim Burton has lost his way. I just hope to God that he comes out of this and makes a really great ORIGINAL project, because he's getting bogged to deep in adaptation. I mean, he has adapted Frankenweenie (his 1984 short film) for Christ's sake! Hopefully this is an indicator that the cycle of adaptation is coming to a close. I'll keep an open mind for Frankenweenie 2012, though judging from the evidence of Dark Shadows, I'd be lying if I said I had high hopes.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.4/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Buzzed (again. Though this time It's because I've finally procured a DVD copy of Cannibal Holocaust: gorefest tonight!)
P.S. I said upon seeing the poster the film was going to be a flop: well, no to say I told you so, but...
P.P.S. How the hell did Zanuck let that sex scene pass?
P.P.P.S. I don't normally applaud user reviews on the Internet, but TheCultureSlut on Imdb's summation of the movie as "just 2 hours of blah" is spot on!