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Dark Shadows: Tim Burton Continues To Be Weird, But Lazy

Dark Shadows
Directed by Tim Burton
Written by Seth Grahame-Smith from a story by Grahame-Smith and John August from the TV series created by Dan Curtis
Warner Bros., 2012

So we know what we’re getting at this point with Tim Burton and a collaboration with Johnny Depp.  It’s always an outsider, a weirdo, usually someone over-the-top weird, who meddles with the normalcy of everyday life.  But just because the weirdness puts on the air of creativity, and because Burton films only look like Burton films, they somehow hide the fact that this is not creative (yet another re-imagining from Burton that includes stories like Batman, Planet of the Apes, Sleepy Hollow, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd, etc.), and within Burton’s own oeuvre, I’m beginning to think this is all he knows how to do.  He’s got one skill and he exploits it, and it looks different from everything you normally see, so it appears to be such a wild, wonderful world.

Dark Shadows, the soap opera from the sixties created by Dan Curtis, has a cult following, and ABC tried to resurrect the thing in the early nineties.  It only lasted 5 years, but since it was a daily soap opera it produced 1225 episodes.  But it didn’t have vampires until a year into its run.  The introduction of Barnabas Collins gave the show its following.

The movie version of Dark Shadows takes the trope of having a character from the past either frozen or trapped in a state where they can live and have them enter the world of the future, sort of like we saw with Austin Powers.  Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) was a wealthy bachelor living in his stately mansion in 1776, romancing the likes of the superhot Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), but for some reason, unable to love her.  His attentions move to Josette DuPres (Bella Heathcote, another dreamy-eyed cutie entering the Burton fold like so many other ethereal babes he’s found over the years).  Bouchard, who turns out to be a witch, places a curse on the family, turning Collins into a vampire and killing DuPres.  Collins is placed in a coffin to be buried forever, or for at least, a very long time.

And that long time arrives in 1972, when the coffin is dug up and Collins kills all the workers around the site.  He returns to his estate, where matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) lives with her brother Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller), her daughter Carolyn (the up-and-coming Chloe Grace Moretz), and his son David (Gulliver McGrath).  Collins proves he’s the ancestor by finding secret places in the house that no one else knows about.  He hopes to be able to spruce up the manor and make the Collins name proud again.

Only, Bouchard is still living in town and has made quite the name for herself in the seafood business, which she has basically stolen from the Collinses.  She’s made a deal with everyone in town, or at least put a spell over them.  Barnabas’ return makes her feel those old feelings of love and revenge, and she wants Baranabas to herself or else she puts him back in the box.

Problem is, the Collinses just hired a new nanny, Victoria Winters (Heathcote again), and Collins finds himself back in love with basically the same woman.  He has to keep the family secrets and the fact that he’s a vampire to himself.

This movie is okay for awhile but soon becomes tiresome.  Depp is in his full-on comic mugging mode, once a charming feature back in the nineties with Ed Wood and Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, passable in Pirates of the Carribean, but has become a thing that defines him so much that he’s unable to play different characters without you thinking, “That’s totally Johnny Depp.”  And it hasn’t worn on everybody, I get that.  Many people are actually paying for that very thing.  But an actor as inventive as he is should be able to come up with some more quirks.  Most of the jokes come from learning something new about the era and regurgitating it back, like when Collins tells Carolyn about how much he loves the new music by reciting The Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker” like poetry.

There’s even a joke that is told twice within a montage, like maybe you missed it the first time, and it’s super hilarious the second time.

Chloe Grace Moretz, by the way, is one of those young actresses we know is going to be really really awesome one day.  She’s got chops beyond her years.  But she’s obviously been told to act like everything is the dumbest thing in the world, a performance that doesn’t make any sense when we come to the end of the movie.

I once again watch a Tim Burton film with fascination, drawn in by the idea it might be good because everything looks so different, but then leave ultimately disappointed.  At least he’s consistent, right?


Comment from Jonathan
Time: May 15, 2012, 2:49 pm

Lazy is a perfect description for this film. And one thing I haven’t heard much mention of, and maybe it’s because people think there will be too many spoilers to go into it, is how batshit bizzare the final twenty or so minutes are. Plot points and twists just come up out of nowhere that are kind of dumb and would be impossible to see coming or guess anyways. “I’m a werewolf; let’s not have a big discussion about it” might very well be the worst line of dialouge this year even though I’m sure everyone involved thought it was oh so clever.

I enjoyed all of the performaces (especially Pfeiffer, who is just still amazing to look at) with the exception of Eva Green. She seemed to be doing some odd ball Joan Cusack impersonation the entire film and that freaking grin? Don’t know what was up with that.

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