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Written by: Sam Fragoso on May 10, 2012

May 10, 2012 | 20 comments | Featured, Old Format

Dark Shadows

Based off a 70s television program, then rebooted by beloved filmmaker Tim Burton, and now starring the versatile Johnny Depp, there’s a whole lot of backdrop behind Dark Shadows. However, none of that “what went into the filmmaking” information will necessarily richen your cinematic experience. That’s primarily because Burton’s latest effort – since his polarizing retelling of Alice In Wonderland (2010) – is clunky, plodding, and consistently searching for the right tone.

Where the film does understand itself is in the opening act. Burton begins his story in the grim year of 1752 where the intelligent, privileged, and romantic Barnabas Collins (Depp) is suffering. He has loved many in his life: his mother and father, Josette DuPres, and at one time Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). But Barnabas’s choosing of Josette rather than Angelique turns out to be his downfall. Angelique, being a malevolent witch, casts a spell to turn Barnabas into a vampire and murder all of his loved ones.

Subsequent with the Barnabas’s hardships, Angelique imprisons him to a coffin for eternity. That is, until the wild, marijuana fueled, anti-war year of 1972.

Miraculously Barnabas wakes up after more than two centuries of lying on his own deathbed. As one may suspect, our protagonist travels back to his eerie mansion where it is being run by the newest generation of Collins. In particular Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), doctor Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), and their two kids David (Gulliver McGrath) and Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz).

This is where Dark Shadows narratively concludes, or at least where it should have. Despite my mostly dramatic plot synopsis, most of Tim Burton’s picture is comprised of comedic sketches, antiquated gags, and thin plotlines that sporadically amuse.

We receive plenty of humor where our 1700s born and raised Barnabas is thrown into 1970s American counter culture (i.e.: he breaks a television because he believes it to be some magical sorcery device, and keeps wondering why one would ever marvel Alice Cooper). Quick question: What is the fascination with Alice Cooper?

Once Barnabas wakes up from his 220 year long nap, he’s threatened by the immortal witch that cursed him o-so long ago, but that doesn’t quite provoke anything engaging to transpire on screen. There’s no tension, no true antagonist, and no plotline to make us care for the many defected family members.

Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer in "Dark Shadows".

Burton supplies his typical style of filmmaking – ominous set pieces, hauntingly beautiful opening sequences, and his creative blend of darkness and melancholy. Burton also goes the extra mile to pitch perfectly capture the early 70s: particularly with his soundtrack filled to the brim with bands like The Carpenters and T. Rex, and even taking a shot of the local marque where Deliverance and Superfly are playing.

Depp fills in some gaps on an entertainment level. He’s the type of actor that’s able to draw you in purely with charisma – even if the screenplay (written by Seth Grahame-Smith) has a promising first act, a middling second, a perplexing third, and an entirely dismissive, nonsensical fourth.

Towards the end of the film there’s a line Elizabeth says that goes something like “we will do what we always have done, endure”. And that’s how I’m beginning to gage the recent efforts of Depp and Burton. The passionate fans that have always enjoyed the pairings films in the past will continue to endure through the mediocrity, in hopes the auteur they once knew and loved will return to form.

But I suspect for most, Dark Shadows will be just another Johnny Depp vehicle in which you desperately wish something fascinating would occur. Which wouldn’t be too arduous of a task if the film could decide if it wanted be a spoof, satire, comedy, drama, parody, or homage to the vampire genre.

Dark Shadows ends up being none of the above: except desperate.

Rating: ★★☆☆

Dark Shadows

Dark Shadows (2012)

Cast: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter

Director: Tim Burton

Writer: Dan Curtis, John August

Runtime: 113 minutes

Genre: fantasy, comedy

Trailer Dark Shadows


There are 20 comments for this post.

  1. dirtywithclass on May 10, 2012 10:15 am

    Seems this one isn’t very good, although i didn’t hate Alice in Wonderland like a lot of people.

  2. Sam Fragoso on May 10, 2012 11:00 am

    I know you’ll be seeing this Julian. You’re the vampire guru.

  3. Fitz on May 10, 2012 11:51 am

    A four act structure? That would qualify as plodding along. Sad to see that you didn’t like this, Sam, I was hoping for a return to form along the lines of Beetlejuice.

  4. Sam Fragoso on May 10, 2012 11:53 am

    If you having a burning passion to check it out Fitz, go forth and watch. I’d be fascinated with what you thought.

  5. Steven Flores on May 10, 2012 12:01 pm

    Based on the trailer, there was a moment where I really thought about seeing this. Yet, after all of the reviews that’s been coming out. I think it’s time for Tim Burton to stop messing around with computers and CGI. He’s just not the great filmmaker I used to enjoy when I saw Beetlejuice on HBO when I was only 7 years old.

  6. Sam Fragoso on May 10, 2012 12:35 pm

    Are you heartbroken Steven? As Burtons films got you down in the dumps? If so … go watch … other great old Tim Burton movies. :D

  7. Rodney on May 10, 2012 4:45 pm

    Burton’s one of those annoying filmmakers who is visually dazzling but emotionally empty. His films LOOK great, but the story/characters/narrative usually disappoints. I’ll only see this on cheap-rental DVD, I think.

  8. Sam Fragoso on May 10, 2012 4:47 pm

    Wow, your sentiments would anger many people Rodney. I don’t think he’s empty, but Dark Shadows is certainly a film that’s style over substance.

  9. dirtywithclass on May 10, 2012 5:24 pm

    I would just like to point out that while i do have a preferrence for the vampire genre, i don’t see every movie with vampires in it. Just the ones that seem interesting to me

  10. Sam Fragoso on May 10, 2012 5:30 pm

    Haha, I know Julian. I’m just messing with you my man ;)

  11. ruth on May 10, 2012 6:22 pm

    Bummer! I really want to see this and the review is sooo good. Ah well, somehow I gather that Burton just can’t live up to the fun trailer, but I still might give it a shot and hope I like it a bit more than you Sam :)

  12. Sam Fragoso on May 10, 2012 11:02 pm

    Hey Ruth, I hope you do go and see it, and like it more than me.

    Let me know what happens.

  13. Andrew on May 11, 2012 5:52 am

    What really sank Dark Shadows for me is that Burton just assumes we give a crap about his characters. I suspect that ties back to the fact that the film is based on a TV show, but I doubt that even the fans of that show– for the most part– won’t feel all that attached to Barnabas and the modern day Collins’ family because Burton never does the legwork to really establish who they are aside from dealing with the superficial stuff.

    So we don’t know these characters, we’re never given a reason to care, and the whole thing ends up being empty.

    That’s apart from the fact that the way the thing is structured feels like a bunch of episodes stuffed together, rather than one running narrative from start to finish.

  14. Sam Fragoso on May 12, 2012 12:26 am

    That’s a good point Andrew. The film never attempts to deserves our sympathy for these characters – and we virtually learn nothing about them.

    I have no interest in watching this show.

  15. Danny on May 12, 2012 2:32 am

    I have to wonder if that’s intentional, though. By saying the film is about the bond of blood but repeatedly demonstrating that isn’t so over and over again (see Barnabas exiling Roger, which is antithetical to this stance) it comes across to me that Burton doesn’t really agree with this– it’s just Barnabas putting on an act to cover that his weaknesses lead to so much destruction and horror.

    I think that’s why the ending almost works (though nothing leading up to it really does, which may also feed into my point); the whole movie is Barnabas and Angelique battling over whether they are monsters and must be together because of their status. When the other woman becomes a monster to match Barnabas’ state, she and him continue to be in exile, living their lives on the outside, all due to his pride.

    He can keep saying that family is what matters, but he left the mansion in flames for the sake of his love. He’s a selfish creature, everyone else just stands in his way.

  16. Sam Fragoso on May 12, 2012 5:18 am

    I don’t think he’s “selfish”. And the ending you’ve built up is far more dramatic than it plays.

    My major issues is with the films inconsistent tone – and that continues to bother me just thinking about the film now.

  17. sati on May 12, 2012 2:04 pm

    Well crap, I’m seeing it tomorrow so I hope I will like it a bit more than you did, alhough I’m starting to doubt it. How was Eva Green?

  18. Sam Fragoso on May 12, 2012 10:21 pm

    She was alright. I’m glad she’s landing roles, definitely talented.

    Let me know what you think.

  19. sati on May 17, 2012 10:49 am

    I finally saw it and it was really bad, apart from the first 10 minutes or so :( It’s a real shame, I hope Frankenweenie is much better than this one.

  20. Duke & The Movies :: May: Nonsensical Education on June 1, 2012 11:39 am

    [...] Dark Shadows ~ Another Tim Burton and Johnny Depp  style over substance project. [...]

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