Having never seen the original TV Show, I had no idea what to expect from this film when it was in production. I had heard it was a gothic supernatural soap opera, so when the trailers came out positioning the movie as a comedy, I was surprised…
Well, as it turns out, Director Tim Burton tries to have it both ways and the results are disappointing. The movie certainly does have its share of comedic moments, but it never abandons the Gothic drama. As such the movie “straddles the fence” a little, and that turns out to be a poor choice.
Johnny Depp plays Barnabas Collins, a vampire who has been trapped in his coffin for nearly 200 years. Born to a powerful, wealthy family, Collins had the misfortune of jilting a young woman, Angelique, who turned out to be a witch. The witch (Eva Green) then murders his family and causes Collins’ lover to commit suicide, and magically turns Collins into a vampire so that he will have to live forever with the suffering. Not content, she also turns the villagers of the town against him and has him imprisoned in his coffin – and buried alive. Collins lies trapped in his grave until a construction crew unearths him in the early 1970s.
Suffice it to say, the world has changed.
Collins finds his estate occupied by his ancestors, and suffice it to say, they’re not the exactly the same stock as the highly successful, driven folk who founded the town and built a fishing empire. The mansion is in disarray, and the family fortune nearly squandered, but worst of all is the fact that the town is now run by the same witch who ruined his life nearly two centuries ago. Miraculously though, the spirit of his long-lost love has found his way to him through a young woman who’s her spitting image. It’s a mad hodge-podge of family, enemies, and supporting players, all while Collins is still trying to acclimate himself to the era.
And so, Collins sets out to restore his estate, rebuild his family’s empire, restore their good name, and win back the woman he loves. Of course, the witch Angelique is not just about to let that happen…
I enjoyed “Dark Shadows” for the most part, but it’s difficult to recommend, and I find it hard not to be disappointed with it.
Depp is fantastic as Barnabas Collins, he’s genuinely funny… he has such a great sense of comic timing. Collins is stiff, formal, out of touch, constantly being taken aback by things… Depp manages to get every drop he can out of the part. It’s really a great character for him, I wouldn’t mind seeing him reprise this role. There are some seriously funny moments scattered throughout the movie, and I think he’s behind almost every one of them.
Unfortunately, the emphasis is on “Scattered” and not “Throughout”. One of the main issues I had with the movie is that it was all over the road in terms of the tone it was trying to set, and the blame for that needs to rest directly with Tim Burton. The film showcases his trademark Gothic feel, but I never got comfortable with what type of movie it was supposed to be. One minute they’re hysterically juxtaposing cheesy 70s music over a montage and obviously playing for laughs, the next, Barnabas Collins is seriously pining about the loss of his humanity and it’s very dramatic. We’re rooting for him and laughing with him along the way, and then suddenly he’s murdering someone as a vampire… and it’s not always played for comedy. I was thinking to myself, “You don’t expect us to be scared now, do you?” The movie veered from mood to mood like it was a speeding, driverless car careening down the highway.
The other major issue was the end of the film. I don’t want to get into spoilers, but I will say it involves a good deal of mediocre CGI and has an action scene tinge to it. Which may be a text-book way to end a movie, but it felt silly (not in a good way) and out of place here. The entire end lost me, and that careening automobile I touched upon earlier finally crashed through a guard-rail and off a cliff.
I understand that a lot of my issues may actually stem from Burton trying to harken back to the source material, and seeing as I’m unfamiliar with it, that would be lost on me. From what I understand, the original show was campy and a soap opera, so I can understand why that could inspire a movie such as this. I can respect that, but there’s also such a thing as delivering a cohesive movie.
I realize the review reads as if I’ll be giving it a much harder grade, I just had to express my disappointment. The trailers held promise, and in actuality, seeing the movie only reinforced that. This was a good idea, there was something here. Depp was great and there’s definitely enough laughs along the way to keep you entertained. This movie will find fans and supporters, but for me, personally, I’m having difficultly overcoming the disappointment of what might have been.