Movie Review: Dark Shadows

Mike Finkelstein is a vampire. (You couldn’t tell by his white skin?) He went through some bad stuff back in the 1700s thanks to an old flame, but now that he’s awoken in 2012, he thinks he should get used to the times. To prepare, he went to the movies and after accusing the theater owners of witchcraft, he sat down and watched a new Tim Burton film. Here is his review of “Dark Shadows”.

Mike Finkelstein is a vampire. (You couldn’t tell by his white skin?)  He went through some bad stuff back in the 1700s thanks to an old flame, but now that he’s awoken in 2012, he thinks he should get used to the times.   To prepare, he went to the movies and after accusing the theater owners of witchcraft, he sat down and watched a new Tim Burton film.   Here is his review of Dark Shadows.

PLOT: After telling a chambermaid/love interest he has no real feelings for her, Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) finds out the hard way that she is a witch, and a very jealous one at that.   Transformed into a vampire and buried in a casket for almost two centuries, Barnabas wakes in the 1970s, where he returns home to find his home and family business (both crippling) run by his descendants.   With their help, Barnabas must adjust to the new time, save his family legacy, and figure out a cure for himself, all while battling the former flame that just won’t go away.   (We’ve all been there¦)

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW:  DARK SHADOWS is a bit of a conundrum for me.   The idea of a remake is something that usually makes me shudder, especially when it comes to a show/film that wasn’t necessarily worthy of one.   However, over the last few months, we’ve gotten some remakes that were pretty damn good (21 JUMP STREET, GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE).   Combine that upswing with the usually reliable teaming of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, and I was on board to see what the two had in store.

I shouldn’t have let my guard down¦

Based on the 1970s long-running soap opera, DARK SHADOWS follows one Barnabas Collins (Depp), an 18th century aristocrat changed into a vampire by jealous former flame, Angelique (she happens to be a witch¦).   After being buried in a casket for almost two centuries, Collins is finally freed in the 1970s.   Cue the fish out of water funnies.

Soon, with the help of his dysfunctional descendants, including matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), her lying screw up of a brother, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) her angst-ridden teenage daughter, Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz), and innocent but emotionally haunted nephew David (Gulliver McGrath), Barnabas has to learn to deal with the new time period and restore the decrepit family business to glory.   Oh yeah, and remember Angelique?  She just keeps coming back¦

When you hear of a Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaboration, you know exactly what you’re going to get: a well told, albeit strange (and possibly animated) story with some of the most bizarre, fantastically beautiful set pieces you could imagine.   It’s important to point out (before I tear the film down) that most of those lovable elements are ready to go.   The scenery and costumes are absolutely marvelous to look at in all their gothic and/or 1970s glory.   Depp, as usual, melts into his eccentric performance with no effort at all, and both Burton regulars (Burton’s wife Helena Bonham Carter, Pfieffer, Christopher Lee) and newcomers (Eva Green, Moretz, McGrath) give him some great support.

However, all those pros are diminished when the remake machine made the most basic of mistakes: trying to cram too much into the film.   The original Dark Shadows” series ran for over 1,200 episodes.   Burton had two hours.   It almost seemed as if he lost his vision as a director and became an excited, overzealous fan, not sure of what to cut out because he wanted to keep every aspect of the series in.

The fallout is three-fold.

First, too many sub plots concerning dead mothers, vampire transformations, and werewolves”among other things”start to pop up with no real back story or explanation.   We get the sense of in-jokes or self referencing, but without the full knowledge of the series or at least a little more detail, we’re left feeling a little lost.

Second, most of the relationships become either undefined or bi-polar.   Don’t get me wrong…every actor did a great job with what they were given, but David, Roger and Carolyn only have a few lines each and are pretty one-dimensional (as is Dr. Julia Hoffman, but at least she has her two minutes to shine).   And while Barnabas and Angelique keep switching between love and hate faster than you could flip a light switch, Barnabas and Victoria (David’s new governess) are only given a few minutes to make us feel like they’re star-crossed lovers. (She’s supposedly the reincarnation of Barnabas’ lost love…)  I could understand focusing on Barnabas and Angelique as the most exciting storyline, but at what cost to the rest of the cast?

And then, there’s Barnabas, himself.   Despite starting off with some cute/sweet moments, he frankly does some despicable things that are just too conflicting.   In one scene, he speaks about the importance of family, and in the next, he’s brutally murdering a group of innocent teen hippies.   Again, I could see such actions being done over numerous episode arcs with the excuse of character growth, but I really didn’t know if I was supposed to love or hate him.   By the end, if he died, I didn’t care, with my only real excuse being he was a prick anyway¦

At moments, DARK SHADOWS was a cute little fish-out-of-water comedy.   At other moments, it was a nice little drama, or a PSA on family, or an all out horror movie.   (To be fair, the visuals Burton used during creepy moments blew most of today’s horror movies out of the water.)  But when you mix all of those factors together in one two hour time period, all you get is a melting pot of uncertainty.   If you’re a fan of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, then yes, you will like DARK SHADOWS by default, and rightly so.   For everyone else, the lack of consistency throws it back in with the rest of the missed remake attempts over the last few years.   And for a team that you usually can’t go wrong with, that’s just disappointing.  

GRADE: B-

Mike’s LIKES:

1) JOHNNY DEPP: Depp falls into his usual comfort zone here, melting into the skin of Barnabas Collins.   There is no better pairing than him and Burton, and while the movie falls short, the performances are anything but.

2) SCENERY: We have the usual stunning scenery and sets that Burton is known for.   If the film is remembered for nothing else, I have no doubt its scenes will be in a number of montages for the visuals alone.

3) GO WATCH THE COOPER WOMAN: Oh, Alice Cooper¦the few laugh out loud moments came at your expense, and I am so grateful that you allowed all those jokes to be made¦

Mike’s DISLIKES:

1) NO ONE FLESHED OUT: With only a few minutes of screen time each, we never got a chance to really enjoy the backstory of any of the supporting characters.   If we did get more than a few lines out of them, it was usually forced and/or rushed.   Disappointing for such a talented cast.

2) DO WE LIKE/HATE BARNABAS?: For every cute or funny thing Barnabas Collins did, there was a horrible, gruesome thing he’d do as well.   By the end, did we know how we felt toward him?  I, myself, was disappointed.   You decide on your own.

3) SEE-SAW EFFECT: Trying to fit in too much in a small amount of time, the result is the see-saw effect: going back and forth on how characters act, how the movie plays out, and how we feel.   Too disjointed to stay focused and invested.

4) ENDING: No resolution, everyone’s worse off one way or another, and the little shock moment just didn’t work for me at all.

EXTRA FACTS:

1) Johnny Depp undertook a weight-loss regime and a diet of green tea and low-sugar fruit for the role of Barnabus Collins, getting his weight down to 140 pounds.

2) This was Jonathan Frid’s last film, who, along with original cast members Lara Parker, David Selby and Kathryn Leigh Scott, appear in Collinwood Manor ball.

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