Thursday, May 10, 2012

Review of DARK SHADOWS (2012)

- Rated PG -13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking.
- Starring Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter, Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jackie Earle Haley, Bella Heathcote, Jonny Lee Miller, Christopher Lee
- Story by John August and Seth Grahame-Smith;  Screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith (based on the TV series by Dan Curtis)
- Directed by Tim Burton
- Running time: 1hr 52min

I consider myself a Tim Burton fan.  He definitely had a big part with me getting into films.  Seeing BATMAN 4 times in the theater when I was 12/13 was iconic for me.  Looking back at it, is it a great movie?  Not really, but it's still tons of fun and I love it.  That's how I feel about most of his films.  My favorite is PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, but his best movie is easily ED WOOD. He has always been a strong visual filmmaker, and excels in quirky offbeat humor and characters.  His storytelling has never been his strong suit, but it's becoming more of a problem lately.  I couldn't connect with the visually amazing ALICE IN WONDERLAND, but if I saw it when I was 13, I most likely would have liked it.  I sure hope I'm not growing out of Tim Burton.  That would be a sad day indeed. 

Anyway, his latest film is a reworking of the cult soap opera from the 60's/70's, DARK SHADOWS.  Depp is Barnabas Collins, who was the son of a wealthy fish business owner in Maine.  Back in the 1700's, he breaks the heart of a witch named Angelique (Eva Green) when he falls in love with Josette (Heathcote).  She puts a spell on Josette, which results in her throwing herself off a cliff.  Collins tries to kill himself but can't when the witch turns him into a vampire and buries him alive.  I thought that was an effective pre-title sequence and sets the gothic tone quite well.  The title sequence shows a young girl named Victoria (also Heathcote) traveling to the Collins estate by train as "Nights in White Satin" plays on the soundtrack.  It was a nice touch since the rest of the film is in 1972.

Barnabas eventually breaks free from his coffin when land developers discover him.  He returns to his home, now 200 years later, to discover that it's being inhabited by his descendants.  Of course they're all goofy characters.  There's Elizabeth (Pfeiffer), her daughter Carolyn (Moretz) who is a troubled teen that tries to act older than she is, Roger (a shockingly pedophile-looking Miller) is a horrible dad whose son David sees ghosts, Dr. Hoffman (Carter) is a boozing shrink assigned to talk to David, and then there is the wacky groundskeeper Willie (Haley).  Only Elizabeth knows he's a vampire, so the rest just think he's really strange.  Oh yeah, and Victoria arrives to help nanny the kids I guess.  Things get out of hand again when Angelique (who is still alive) finds out about Barnabas' return.  She tries to seduce him again, but he is now in love with Victoria.  So the witch is determined to ruin Barnabas' life and everyone in it. 

The plot is pretty complicated.  But one can tell early on that Burton had little interest in telling a traditional story with a traditional narrative.  He wanted to make a great looking movie full of quirky characters.  And in that respect, he has certainly succeeded.  The tone is part tongue-in-cheek and part over-serious melodrama.  It's definitely not as wacky and silly as the trailers may lead you to believe.  It's pretty dark as Barnabas actually murders innocent folks.  And this film is beautiful!  Burton has done a great job creating a specific look for the film, which resembles vampire films of the 70's.  The art direction and the costume design are all top notch.  The visual effects are effective even when they get hokey towards the end.  Everything visually works because of Burton's wonderful attention to detail. 

All of the actors are clearly having a good time here.  Johnny Deep, again, completely loses himself as Barnabas.  His dedication to playing it straight is the main reason why his performance is hilarious.  He's as serious as a heart attack!  So when he stares at a lava lamp wondering "what that creature is", it's pretty darn funny.  Pfeiffer gives a lively performance.  Moretz is particularly funny in the earlier scenes as she speaks every line like she's trying to impress and seduce whoever she's talking to.  Miller is effective as a sleazy douchebag dad.  Carter ,again, gives a wonderfully quirky turn, this time as a boozehound.  But it's Eva Green who is on the same level as Depp.  She's the perfect foil for Barnabas and seems like she's having a blast chewing the scenery.  Love her body language.  Just the way she turns her head left me in stitches. 

As you can see, there was quite a bit I liked about DARK SHADOWS. I mean, I really really really wanted to like this movie.  But then, there's the script.  Man!  Now, individual scenes worked fine on their own for the most part and the dialogue wasn't bad.  It was the whole structure of the story.  Actually, the story really had no structure at all.  The movie sets up this tragic love story in the pre-title sequence, but fails to deliver a satisfying conclusion to it.  Even though the movie is full of several scenes of the Collins family doing quirky things, the heart of the story is supposed to be this romance between Barnabas and Victoria, but there is absolutely NO development there.  In fact, after being introduced as a main character in the first 15 minutes, Victoria (who is blandly played by the otherwise beautiful Heathcote) disappears from most of the middle portion of the movie, only to return so Barnabas can profess his love to her.  When did they start falling in love?  And then she disappears again until after the final big battle (which was enjoyable in a DEATH BECOMES HER kind of way) between the Collins' and Angelique.  Where was she this whole time?  If she was cut from the movie, nothing would be missed.  And this was supposed to be the plot!

So instead of having a fully realized plot with subplots sprinkled throughout, the movie brings the subplots to the foreground and pushes the actual plot to the background.  It's really weird.  It totally disconnected me from the movie.  I was enjoying individual moments, but nothing was adding up because the plot was missing.  There were some missed opportunities as well.  Alice Cooper shows up, but instead of taking advantage of his appearance, he just sings 2 songs and is gone.  I would've incorporated him into the plot.  Danny Elfman's score was also disappointing.  It's passable, but the last thing I want from Elfman is a "passable" composition. 

My 8 year old enjoyed the movie, giving it three stars.  Undemanding viewers who love strange and off beat films may like it.  It all depends if you don't mind that the plot was shortchanged for quirky loosely connected segments.  Burton's direction is top notch, but he doesn't know a thing about story structure, which is something you think he would have figured out by now.  I have a feeling that this is going to flop pretty hard as I don't think there is really a large audience for this.  It'll have a cult following for sure, but that'll be more for what this movie stands for (dark,gothic, comic-horror) than how good the movie actually is. 

**1/2 (out of ****)

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