Friday, May 11, 2012


How to make a Tim Burton movie:
1.       Buy up someone else’s idea
2.       Make Johnny Depp look weird and act accordingly
3.       Make it look pretty

Such has been the formula for Tim Burton over the past ten years. The question going into his adaptation of the 1960’s gothic/horror soap opera DARK SHADOWS was not if he would stick to that old formula, but if that old formula would serve the movie or derail it.
Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is turned into a vampire and buried alive for nearly 200 years by his scorned lover Anqelique (Eva Green), who is also a witch. Awakening in 1972, Barnabas returns to his family estate, now run his by descendants Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Roger (Jonny Lee Miller). Anqelique is still around, now driving the Collins family business into the ground.
SHADOWS starts off very strong as it goes through Barnabas’ origins and doomed love affair with Anqelique. The extended prologue is simplistic, but it works very well because it is beautifully realized and has solid footing for the film to latch onto. Once Barnabas awakes in ’72 and begins exploring his new world, things begin to get messy. The film embraces a soap opera style with long expositions of dialogue with creepy music underneath. The movie feels very much like an old soap opera and fans of the original show would definitely love it. However, the flip-side to a soap opera narrative structure is that the movie loses its footing with all the different storylines. The film almost feels episodic as Barnabas goes from storyline to storyline, and the characters around him suffer for it as they become merely placeholders in every “episode”. The many characters get lost to the point where some of the vanish from the goings-on for long periods at a time.
Fans of Burton will be pleased to know that his style and touch are everywhere in the film. Aesthetically, things are breathtaking; from the set-design to the music to the overall atmosphere, it very much is DARK SHADOWS. However, now and again the film has to remind us that this is 1972, and the reminders are an interruption nearly every time. Burton’s zany humor (and annoying product-placement) is like having the lights suddenly flipped on in a dark room. It’s frustrating, because every time the film feels like it is going somewhere important, something dumb has to come along and ruin it.
Depp’s performance of the famed vampire is admirable. He conveys elegance and terror all at once, and it is very reminiscent of the character made famous many years ago. Eva Green is a perfect adversary for Depp, and Burton is smart enough to know what parts of her needs to be in frame. The rest of cast gets lost amongst the confusion and are instantly forgettable.
The finale arrives by way of a final battle (yes, a final battle) which contains so many over-the-top, WTF moments that the audience is jarred into wondering what the hell it is they are supposed to be watching. In fact, the entire third act is in such a different gear that it pisses all over the earlier efforts to create a noble homage; there are just a slew of bad decisions. In the end, DARK SHADOWS tends to rely on Burton’s style and Depp’s performance as heavily as a crutch, for beyond the craftsmanship and acting, it’s a mess.

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