Dark Shadows

When I heard about this movie being made I was initially pretty interested in it.  I was familiar with what Dark Shadows was (a soap opera with vampires and other supernatural elements) but had never actually seen it myself.  Even though I’m not a fan of soap operas by any stretch, I still thought the idea of one with vampires and shit could be interesting if it was handled properly (gotta have that Hammer style gothic atmosphere).  So I hoped Tim Burton and Johnny Depp (who’s apparently now a permanent fixture in all of Burton’s films and inching closer and closer to self parody with each new Burton movie role at this point) would probably do a good job of it.  The specific hope being of course that it would be a return to the darker stylings Burton used to be known for rather than the more cartoonish soulless mainstream efforts he’s churned out more recently like Willy Wonka and Alice in Wonderland

But, I didn’t end up going to the theatre to see it early this summer because it was getting pretty lukewarm reviews and frankly there was a ton of other shit coming out that fit the “summer movie” mold a lot better than a vampire melodrama.  I am thinking that perhaps an October release likely would’ve boosted box office for this one on art design and vampire theme alone, but I guess I’m no marketing expert… Regardless, I had other shit going on in the summer that didn’t involve sitting in a movie theatre and generally involved consuming large amounts of alcoholic beverages, which usually doesn’t sit well with the staff at Cineplex Odeon anyway.

Anyway, fast forward to last night and I decided to finally sit down and give it a watch.  First thing I’ll point out, forget the trailers.  The trailers made this look like some sort of goofy fish out of water Brady Bunch type shit and that isn’t really what you’re getting here.  Yes there is some fish out of water humor, but frankly, most of those scenes are all contained in the 2 minute long trailer, there’s still a 2 hour movie around all of that.  If I had to compare the tone to another Burton movie I’d probably say this is a bit closer to something like Sleepy Hollow or perhaps Sweeney Todd (minus the singing), although nowhere near as gory as either and certainly not made to be frightening at all (unless you are the biggest pussy alive anyway).  Still, I appreciated the more serious and darker tone, and I am happy to report this definitely feels more Burton than most Burton of late.

One problem I had with this movie is that the central romance plot which is supposed to be the core of this story is so underdeveloped it comes across as ridiculous.  We’re supposed to believe this chick Victoria (descendant of Barnabas’ true love 200 years ago) falls in love with a guy who is clearly not human (hello, clawed extra long fingers and pointy ears?) and apparently she does so after all of about 5 minutes of time toward the beginning of the movie where they actually interact?  Maybe it all happened off screen, but when your character’s main love interest is a woman whom he interacts with throughout the majority of the story off screen well I think you can see how that might be a problem.  I know it will probably sound utterly bizarre to hear me saying we need a better developed love story in a movie, but seriously, they needed a better developed love story in this movie. 

It almost felt like they cut about 30 or 40 minutes from the movie because everything that happens has this really episodic feeling and there’s quite a bit of things that simply happen out of nowhere with no development at all.  Perhaps they were trying to make it feel like several episodes of the original show crammed into one movie, or perhaps they were hoping for box office gold and this to be the start of a franchise where they flesh everything out later.  Based on the money it made domestically, and considering the massive budget, I suspect we probably won’t see a sequel.

But despite the problems, I have to say I actually enjoyed this one quite a bit.  I liked how they did the vampire makeup in this one making them at least a bit monstrous while still maintain the human elements enough to make it somewhat believable that people wouldn’t run screaming on first sight.  The art design is of course impeccable being that this is a Burton flick.  The performances from everyone in the cast were uniformly excellent (and I always dig on an appearance by the mighty Christopher Lee), and there’s definitely some laughs to be had.  Other than Barnabas himself I’d definitely rate Willie Loomis (Jackie Earl Haley) as my favorite character.  He isn’t goofy, Jackie plays everything straight, but his character gave me the most laughs throughout because he has such a nonchalant attitude toward everything.  It was also nice to see him not doing a Rorschach impression in yet another role (Nightmare on Elm Street, ugh…).

The villainous Angelique Bouchard (played by Eva Green) was a solid antagonist and thankfully the relationship between her and Barnabas is much better developed than the one between Barnabas and Victoria.  Barnabas just wanted to bone the servant girl, but the servant girl was in love, and well you know the old saying regarding scorned women, particularly those with mad skillz in the art of black magic.  Barnabas gets 196 years buried alive (undead) in a coffin to consider it.  But frankly, in every role I’ve seen her they have her as this sexpot and I’m sure many (most) will disagree with me here, but I don’t really think she’s that hot (something about her face turns me off). 

So yeah, it’s definitely not a perfect movie by any stretch.  I suspect the material could have been better served by a rewritten script to tighten things up and focus on the important aspects of the story.  If they wanted to mimic the scope of the soap opera they should’ve made the movie longer.  I also would’ve appreciated a straight up R rated presentation complete with gory vampiric slayings, especially since no one under 18 has probably even heard of Dark Shadows anyway. I suspect I could've forgiven more of the movie's misdeeds had they made the movie truly horror, but I doubt the studio would've been willing to shell out 150 million to make it.

So maybe give it a shot this October, it’s got the atmosphere and dark edge to fit in nicely with the season, even if it certainly isn't true horror.