Dark Shadows: not bad, ‘just flawed’

Tim Burton is not everyone’s cup of tea. His films are weird. He’s kind of eccentric. And his actors tend to emphasize just how abnormal his tastes really are.

But whether you love his odd flares or hate them, there is no denying the original visual and stylistic touches that he fills his movies with.

For me, Burton is hit and miss. Over the last decade or so, I have enjoyed essentially every other film Burton has produced. So, since I couldn’t stand the mess that was 2009’s Alice in Wonderland, his latest effort, Dark Shadows, should have proven to be Burton’s next plus for me. Not exactly.

The film isn’t necessarily bad. It is just flawed.

This latest effort from the king of oddball dramedy is an adaptation of the Gothic, 70s soap opera of the same name. It concerns the Collins family and their rediscovery of the family’s former patriarch, unearthed as a vampire he was turned into centuries before. He attempts to bring the family back to greatness all the while fighting the witch who caused his “condition” all those years before.

Given that the film is based off a soap opera, there is no lack of melodrama to be found. This might be off-putting to some but Burton actually pulls this off quite well. He manages to develop some very kitschy characters as per his usual demeanor and they are never boring.

Frequent collaborator of the director, and fellow oddball Johnny Depp (making his eighth Burton appearance) plays the vampire patriarch, Barnabas Collins. He does well with his role in the film, making sure not to fall into his “Jack Sparrow accent” as per a few of his more recent on screen efforts.

Some of the best scenes in the movie come between Depp and current head of the Collins family, Michelle Pfeiffer. The always reliant former Catwoman understands just how campy she needs to play opposite Depp and in doing so, reminds the audience just how much we’ve missed her over the past few years.

Burton’s wife Helena Bonham Carter and character master Jackie Earl Haley provide nice supporting performances in the film as well, but the movie is ultimately stolen by the vivacious Eva Green. Playing the villainous witch Angelique, Green transcends her sweet British candy coating and replaces it with the sexy hellcat who munches on every scene she’s in. She makes a solid addition to Burton’s repertoire of icy blondes.

The art and costume direction in the film should also be praised. They do a very nice job of keeping the characters locked into both the 1700s as well as the 1970s, and meshing the two eras throughout. The individual characters’ colour schemes make the film a mini feast for the eyes.

While the direction, acting and look of the film are all quite well done, where the film really suffers is the screenplay. It may be because it is attempting to adapt a beloved long running television show into a two hour film, the final result just seems too muddled.

The characters are very interesting, but the situations they are being put in are not. It’s not until the final 20 minutes of the movie that anything huge really happens, and with the rate at which information is thrown at the audience, it feels more like a montage than the conclusion of a movie built up over the past hour and a half.

It could have very easily been a case of being a faithful adaptation to the original TV series, but having never seen the show before, I can only speculate. What I got instead was just a very slow paced melodrama where it seems anything interesting that happens is tacked on at the end of the film.

It would have worked a lot better as a mini-series I feel. Build it up over a couple of episodes. A few arcs would have done the Gothic property more justice than this movie did. But alas, that’s not what happened.

Dark Shadows could have been a lot better than it actually was. Still, it was worth attending at the theatre on cheap night. Definitely worth the $5 admission.

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