Sunday, 16 September 2012

Review : Dark Shadows (2012)


Tim Burton


Seth Grahame-Smith (screenplay), John August (story), and 2 more credits »


Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer and Eva Green

An imprisoned vampire, Barnabas Collins, is set free and returns to his ancestral home, where his dysfunctional descendants are in need of his protection. 

First of all...what the hell is it with Tim Burton and remakes?

The man used to knock out some interesting and original films. Sure, he's always had a problem from a storytelling point of view, but from a aesthetic standpoint, his films were the very definition of quirky. The stamp of his artistry was all over them, top to toe, and even when they fell flat in the plot department, the visual flair and the dedication to 'the weird' made them must see movies.

Compare EDWARD SCISSORHANDS to CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY...there is no comparison. One is a unique and heartfelt take on isolation, filtered through a fairytale gothicism that's damned near irresistible, and the other is an overblown, rehash of a stone cold classic, which replaces the magic of its central character with a creepy as hell, Micheal Jackson mutation that's more likely to strike soul freezing terror into children than entrance them. Its like the man got so far in his career and decided, 'you know what, I'm tired of standing for something. I think I'll just remake/re-imagine every damn thing that comes my way'...

PLANET OF THE APES...sweet zombie Jesus, does anyone know what was going on there? How about ALICE IN WONDERLAND, a visually stunning film that was as empty and and directionless and a reality TV 'personality'. What the hell happened to real artistry?

The same can be said for Burton's muse, one Mr Johnny Depp. Here's and actor who can disappear inside almost any role, and he seems to have eschewed painting real characters for these over-egged caricatures. Seems like Burton and Depp have some sort of symbiosis going on, and their outsider vibes match well, but give it a damn rest already. Work with other people. Express yourselves in new ways. Your artists for gods sake, try and act the part.

Don't get me wrong, I do appreciate a lot of what these guys have done, but it seems they've been having a good old circle jerk for the past ten years. Both need to split the hell up and go home to their wives. Have a look at their peers and what they're doing, and forgot about all this emo shit that no one over sixteen gives a hot damn about.

Rant over...

Now, onto DARK SHADOWS, yet another remake for the Burton/Depp show. This time based on a very much overlooked yet wonderful TV show from the dim and distant past. The show was sombre, serious and pitch black, so one could only wonder in fear and trepidation what Burton would come up with from such respected source material. Me...I was none too enthusiastic, to say the least. With all things Burton though, I had to take a look. After all, he grew up on Hammer Horror and is a huge Vincent Price many ways, we're kin.

Burton's film is about as far removed from the source material as you can travel, and is essentially only DARK SHADOWS, as we knew it, in subject matter and name. The tone, the characters, the atmosphere and the depth that made the show such a winner are all replaced by a comic, fish-out-of-water special effects showcase that goes for laughs and visual wonder over any meaningful storytelling. This is not the DARK SHADOWS so many grew up with and love dearly, (including Depp and Burton, I believe). At all. And its in this distancing from the original material that it somehow manages to charm and entertain...

Much like the recent remake of FRIGHT NIGHT, this is a film that can easily be viewed on its own terms. Its no more an adaptation of the source than those godawful TWILIGHT movies are an adaptation of NOSFERATU. This is Burton grooving to his own thing, flaws and all, and somehow it doesn't drive you to madness. At least not in my case.

Like that other vampire remake I mentioned, I quickly came to regard this as bding an original work that shared a name with something special that came before, and in viewing the film through that prism, it becomes something of a charmer. It has little plot, zero character depth and none of the depth and gravitas that came before, and yet I found myself not caring. I got on board with the zany, freewheeling vibe and found myself enjoying the ride.

DARK SHADOWS is, essentially, plot-wise at least, a variation on CROCODILE DUNDEE and its ilk. Depp's bloodsucking lead is the foil for all the jokes, many of which land squarely, as his character Barnabus wakes up outside his own time and has to try and fit in. He's really rather good in the role. Its obvious the guys enjoying himself, and while his usual gurning, taken aback shtick is present and correct, it doesn't hurt the character here. In fact, this is the only character Depp has played in years that I've been able to enjoy on any level. Its still a surface-only performance, but its a whole lot of fun. His Lugosi style mannerisms are spot-on, and his higher-than-though bravado garners a lot of laughs. You find yourself rooting for the guy. Something I never again expected from Depp.

He's backed up by an absolutely stellar cast including Michelle Pfieffer, and the stunning Eva Green, of CASINO ROYALE fame. Not to mention Chloe Moretz, hot off playing yet another vampire in the quite excellent remake of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, Jackie Earl Haley of WATCHMEN infamy, Burtons wife Helena Bonham Carter, TRAINSPOTTING'S Jonny Lee Miller, and best of the bunch, the mighty Christopher Lee in a fleeting yet fun cameo.

The script, sadly, doesn't allow for any character development, but every single cast member is game, and all are hugely entertaining in their roles. Wise to Burton's tone, they all play it camp, (none more than Depp), and manage to win over the audience through sheer force of frivolity. I'd happily spend more time with this fucked up family in future films. 

The other strong point of the film is, unsurprisingly, the visuals. DARK SHADOWS looks utterly beautiful from frame one. Its Burton's finest vision since his love letter to Hammer, SLEEPY HOLLOW, and for horror fans, the film is an delight for the eyes and the imagination. Repeated viewings are a prerequisite to really soak up the vast Gothic canvas Burton is working with here. He blends old world romanticism with 60's pop psychedelia to create an aural palette that is completely enchanting. Other than PROMETHEUS and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, this is the perhaps the best looking film of the year.

DARK SHADOWS may have nothing to say, and go to very few places in terms of storytelling, but its a beautiful, often funny, and lighthearted ride into Burton's skewed worldview. In short, it works. Its NOT the show its based on, and if you go in expecting a respectful reworking, your done for. Go in looking for a dark comedy with some great performances and a spellbinding visual flair, however, and your gonna have some good times. Forget about it's occasionally uneven tone and its total lack of meaning, and its one dimensional character's, and just have fun.

Seems that by removing himself from the source material, Burton has rediscovered what made his name in the first place. This is his best film since BIG FISH, and if he holds onto his re-found mojo in the future, he may be able to reclaim his throne as the king of quirkiness and leave behind him the pseudo-emo reputation he's unwittingly taken on these last few years. Good luck to him. Oh, and as for Johnny Depp, the boy done good. Here's to hoping he goes onto take on some meatier roles that challenge him as an artist.

Go in with an open mind, and forget that its supposed to be a remake of the classic show, and you may just enjoy yourself. The original still stands untouched, and perhaps this will draw a younger generation to its wonders. That cant be all bad, can it?



  1. for me, Burton's best film was A Nightmare Before Christmas and Sweeney Todd, but I guess I could give this one a try. I've been ignoring it much...

  2. Thank you for your review of Dark Shadows, Kyle! I think we can all agree that Burtons best works are behind him. I rented Dark Shadows in the hope that Depp and Burton might do something original. I went online and rented it on Friday afternoon shortly before leaving my office at DISH. It was downloaded and ready to watch from my Hopper DVR the moment I walked in my door. Sadly, I didn’t find the Burton/Depp magic of old. Instead I found a movie that was visually stunning, yet full of plot holes. I never watched the Dark Shadows series, so a departure from that material was welcomed and expected. It was the fact that this movie looked like everything else Depp and Burton have done together for the past decade. I think it may be time for them to part ways, at least until they can think of a new approach.