At this point I’ve seen every Tim Burton movie. Since Mar’s Attacks in 1996 I’ve also seen them all in theaters. So more than anything I went to Dark Shadows to keep the streak alive. I enjoyed Burton’s gothic, fairy tale-like, movie for many years, but I’ll admit he’s not as cutting edge as he once was. I’m disappointed that Burton’s latest film is yet another adaptation. I’ve also never had any interest in the Dark Shadows Soap opera series. Still, as a guy who loves monsters and the macabre I was somewhat curious. So what I got was an occasionally entertaining if not messy monster mash of vampire jokes, pokes at 70s culture, and muddled direction.
Dark Shadows begins with the story of Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) in the 1760s. Moving from Liverpool to a Maine fishing port as a boy, we learn about the Collins families rise to power, but more importantly their demise. As a popular young bachelor, Barnabas breaks the heart of a witch named Angelique (Eva Green) who in turn kills his parents and turns Barnabas into a vampire. Additionally, she puts a curse on Barnabas’ true love Josette (Bella Heathcote) leading her to commit suicide. Flash forward to 1972 and we are introduced the modern Collins family. Once a respected family with a successful fishing business, the Collins family is now but a mere shadow of it’s former self. So a young woman calling herself Victoria Winters (also Bella Heathcote) is hired by the family to teach the spooky, 10-year old Collin’s boy David, blah, blah, blah, Barnabas is conveniently unearthed from his coffin by construction workers, yadda, yadda, the evil witch is still around and still mad at the Collins family. Oh my god, so much boring plot! That’s the problem when you try to cram a whole TV show into one movie .
Dark Shadows has interesting characters, even some good good jokes, but it doesn’t know where to go from there. The Fact that we are first introduced to Barnabas as the protagonist, then Victoria as the protagonist, and then back to Barnabas shows that they really didn’t know where the heart of the story was. There are so many different plots and subplots to focus on; Barnabas’ love affairs between Angelique and Victoria, the attempt to revive the family business, the personal woes of each member of the Collins family, it’s a mess. Stick to one plot point and make sure it’s something that is genuinely interesting and compelling.
I went in hoping this would be something around the lines of Barry Sonnenfeld’s Addams Family movies. Say what you will, I think those movies did a fantastic job of blending the macabre with modern america. Did you know Caroline Thompson who wrote The Addams Family movie also wrote Edward Scissorhands? Dark Shadows has a few good gags, but the humor is more or less gone by the third act. Johnny Depp provides the most laughs in a very committed performance. I’d of much rather preferred a flat out comedy about Barnabas readjusting to modern life than whatever this is supposed to be. I liked the humor, but whenever it tried to be serious or insert action I was bored to tears.
Tim Burton’s always been a style over substance kind of guy, so I’m not surprised he’s been so hit or miss most of his career. I’m not even sure if Tim Burton ever knew what a good story looked like, so really it’s all just dumb luck. Burton’s next film will be a stop-motion remake of his original 1984 short film Frankenweenie. Hmm, possibly intriguing but definitely unnecessary. I also recall hearing that he had some interest in making a stop-motion Addams Family movie… Nooo! The horror! The horror!