Thursday, 24 May 2012

Dark Shadows

2012. Dir: Tim Burton. Starring: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green and Bella Heathcote. ●●○○○

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the film-making process and I don't begrudge others for enjoying it, but just because there's lots of fun being had on screen doesn't mean the audience will have fun, in fact it's often the case that the more fun the cast and crew appear to be having the less fun the audience have. And there's a lot of fun being had on screen in Dark Shadows.

The film opens with a pointless scene setting flashback narrated by Johnny Depp's Barnabas Collins detailing the history of his relationship with witchcraft practising Angelique Bouchard, played by Eva Green. There's opulent architecture, triple murder and Collins transformed into a multi-knuckled blood-sucking vampire. Tedious and irrelevant the passage only seems to exist to attempt to cover over the gaping plot holes yet to come.

Fast forward 200 years to the mid 1970's and a mysterious stranger is heading to Collinsport, Maine, a young girl answering an newspaper notice for a Governess in the
dilapidated manor, a young girl with a surprising similarity to the ghostly ex-fiancee drifting around the cobwebbed corridors. Not least because both are played by Bella Heathcote. She meets the stern matriarch, Michelle Pfeiffer who remains far more dignified than this trash deserves, and is soon assisting alcoholic psychologist Helen Bonham Carter in the education of the youngest heir to the Collins dynasty.

But wait, where is the unsubtle presence of arch over-actor Depp? Never fear, he is soon to be released from his subterranean prison by an unwitting assortment of building engineers - although quite why they're digging the foundations for a MacDonalds so late at night isn't really answered - and before long he has returned to the family home and vows to restore the fortunes and dignity of the Collins estate.

What follows is approximately 90 minutes of repetitive fish out of water jokes - many of which were in the trailer - oodles of sexual chemistry between Depp and Green (although oddly none between Depp and Heathcote) and a final showdown between witches, vampires, ghosts and most preposterously werewolves. Note I am not saying werewolves are more preposterous than the other assorted monstrous characters however when a character comes on just to admit their Lycanthropic tendencies minutes before the end of the film when there's been no hint of it before smacks of writerly indulgence.

Depp adds another oddball character to his repertoire, neither good nor bad in the scheme of his past work, it is most definitely not in any way original. Whilst the supporting cast relish the opportunity to go for one-dimensional turns reflective of the soapy source material, wasting such diverse talents as Chloe Grace Moretz and Jackie Earle Haley. Only Green, displaying the sultry, slutty, animalism of the slighted femme fatale gives anything close to a performance worth remembering.

Regular Burton collaborators Rick Heinrichs (returning as Production designer after a 11 year absence) and Colleen Atwood (costuming for Tim for the 9th time) have done excellent work hear, mercilessly revealing the 1970's as the most garish an unappealing design decade of the 20th century, whilst staying true to the gothic roots you would expect for this haunted house melee. The design motifs are the stars here with the intricate Collinsport Mansion with it's nooks, crannies and secret passages as much a character as most of the performers. Unfortunately I can't help but wonder whether they've missed a trick here - if the aim of the movie was to replicate the cheap shonkiness of the original series which would explain the drab characterisations and left-field plotting - then why not play around with deliberately crass production design, the sort of wobbly walls and rubber effects that made Ed Wood so memorable.

It's hard to see what Burton is really trying to achieve with this homage to TV mediocrity. Is he celebrating it's joyous unprofessionalism or slyly satirising horror tropes? Either way this film fails to achieve those aims and I really can't recommend it for anyone.


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Sigh. I worry for Tim, next time will be great (I hope.) Sigh.

Runs Like A Gay said...

Frankenweenie looks good on paper (but don't they all) but his next live action piece will be the test, whatever it ends up being.

I suspect he's just too self-referential now to really make a great movie. Hopefully I'm wrong.

Julie the Jarhead said...

Well, I suspected that DARK SHADOWS would be 90% production value, 5% acting, and 5% script.

Sounds a lot like PEARL HARBOR (though I've seen neither).

Will wait for the DVD, and even then, probably will wait for it to come to my local library. 'Cuz I'm the cheapest person I know.

Very well written review!

Julie the Jarhead

Runs Like A Gay said...

Thank you for your kind words Julie.

I can't say that Pearl Harbor would be my closest comparison, but I know what you're saying - both are films about the sets rather than about the plot and performances which are just plonked in front of the excellent design.

I can't say I blame you for waiting until it ends in a Library - I probably should have done the same.