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Published on May 11th, 2012 | by Darren Byrne


Movie Review: Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows

I should probably throw down my thoughts on Dark Shadows as quickly as possible – the more I think about the film, the more flaws I find to pick at and the the more that initial lustre of having seen a shiny new film fades to a dull, tarnished some-film-I-once-saw shade.

Dark Shadows was a groundbreaking 60s and 70s gothic soap opera that has amassed a cult following over the years. Attempted revivals on television in the nineties and naughties fell flat, but with fans such as Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, it was only a matter of time before we would see them bring it to the big screen.

`Dark Shadows

Depp plays Barnabas Collins, a cursed patriarch to a magnificent legacy. Rich and happy with the woman he loved in the late 1700s, he is cursed by a witch whose affections he spurned. His love meets with a less than joyous ending and Barnabas himself is transformed into a vampire who is then  doomed to live forever chained and buried in the earth.

And that’s how the movie opens. It’s quick and altogether pointless because it’s only after we sit though that preamble that we get into the meat of the movie. 200 years later and the film bursts into life with a colourful welcome to 1972, complete with Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin. We are introduced to Barnabas’ descendants, the current keepers of the now ruined Collins name, including Elizabeth, played by the still-gorgeous-after-all-these-years Michelle Pfeiffer; Roger, a slimy-yet-satisfying Jonny Lee Miller; Carolyn, the guaranteed-to-win-an-Oscar-some-day Chloë Moretz. Naturally, there is a part for Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Burton’s ever-present wife (I do love her, but I always feel she phones in her Burton movies). She plays Dr. Hoffman, the live-in psychiatrist for Elizabeth’s troubled nephew, David.

The arrival of a new nanny for David coincides with the resurrection of Barnabas, who vows to return the family name to good stead. Throw in the delicious Eva Green as the bad-guy and our premise is set.

High-jinx aplenty ensue, with a number of bloody deaths mixed in with jokes about Depp’s 200+ year old vampire being at odds with 70s life, and the whole movie hops along. However, the plot I happily hopped along with in the cinema now seems full of holes. Burton has, as he did with Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Clocolate Factory (not to mention the apalling Planet of the Apes), shown us some larger-than-life characters but sacrificed plot and storytelling in favour of letting them shine. Think back to Beetlejuice, Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands – Burton clearly knows how to couple great story with wonderful characterisation. I don’t know why or how he has managed to mess that up repeatedly in recent years. Perhaps it was Seth Grahame-Smith‘s fault. At this stage, he’s almost synonymous with great premises but poor follow through – the novels Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter for example.

There’s too much going on and not enough time to do it. The movie’s 113 minutes couldn’t do justice to all the subplots and backstories. So, we get a choppy, badly paced script which leaves out some of the more interesting character developments in favour of showing Depp being a vampire out of his time.

And he is fantastic. Depp is nearly always fantastic. Once again, he throws himself into a roll and has given us a wonderful character to watch and enjoy. But much like Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, there is such a thing as overkill. The screen time should have been shared.

I want to give a particular mention to Eva Green. One: she’s ridiculously hot. Two: that girl can clearly act, because she brings gravitas to what is, on paper, an extremely two-dimensional roll. And three: she has such a stunning screen presence – she steals every scene she’s in.

The movie’s climax saves it from being shelved away in that awkward hard to reach part of the cupboard beside Alice, Charlie and those dreadful Apes. A mixture of Death Becomes Her, Carrie and The Addams Family, I loved the big finale. Plenty still went wrong (Chloë Moretz deserved more screen time and better dialogue) but it ensured that I left the movie feeling invigorated with adrenalin firmly pumping.

Dark Shadows is out now. It’s fun and silly and full of b-movie camp thrills. If you loved Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, you’ll really enjoy this goofy horror-for-kids. If you’re expecting Edward Scissorhands, you’ll be let down.

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Blogger, writer, movie buff, amateur dramatist and all round nice guy. When I'm not spouting about on Culch.ie, I can be found Tweeting inanities @DarrenByrne or @Culch_ie. I am the admin behind Culch.ie and if you want to contact me for anything, drop me a mail.

2 Responses to Movie Review: Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows

  1. Emlyn says:

    A good honest review Dareen. I saw it this morning and enjoyed it immensely, though i did have one or two niggles with it (don’t want to spoil anything). But as a fan of the actual 60’s show (i may be one of the three people in Ireland who has actually seen it), i found it personally more enjoyable seeing references here and there. But you don’t need to be a fan either to get or just enjoy it 🙂

  2. Emlyn says:

    And of course your name is DARREN, pardon my typo lol 😉

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