Originally Reviewed – 5/14/2012
DeNiro and Scorsese. Humphrey Bogart and John Huston. Fonda and Ford. The history of Hollywood is rich with long running actor / director collaborations. Whether it’s mutual respect, artistic synergy or the pure fun of working together, actors have their favorite directors and vice versa. In recent times, the team of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp has yielded seven films. Starting with the brilliant Edward Scissorhands and peaking with the criminally underrated Ed Wood, Depp and Burton have produced their fair share of commercial and critical hits. Their latest effort is Dark Shadows, a campy story about a 200 year old vampire and his 70’s era family of oddballs and misfits. While the duo has genuine fun recreating the sixties soap opera, inconstant storytelling and coffin sized plot holes cause this adventure to crumble in the sunlight of better early summer offerings.
Johnny Depp plays Barnabas Collins, heir to the expansive Collinwood Manor nestled in the fishing town of Collinsport, Maine. Things are good in the 1760’s. Barnabas has a beautiful home, loving parents and a woman he adores. Things, however, go south for young Barney as a jilted lover named Angelique (Eva Green) casts a spell on him, turning him into a vampire. 200 years pass and when Barnabus is resurrected, he returns to find the family business ruined and a host of relatives living in old Collinswood. Residing in the mansion is Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), her moping daughter (Chloe Grace Moretz), her strange brother Roger (Johnny Lee Miller) and his son David (Gulliver McGrath). Add to the mix the family doctor (Helena Bonham Carter) and the mansion’s new governess Victoria (Bella Heathcote) and it’s immediately apparent the film has way too many characters. While each actor does a decent enough job, the script does little to properly develop each character and the result is a muddy mess.
Most people will come to this film to see the Burton / Depp magic and for the most part, these moments work just fine. Depp’s over the top dramatics and Shakespearian intonations are campy yet entertaining. Not his finest role, but the actor’s fish out of water antics and repeated references to Victoria’s “birthing hips” are fitfully funny. The rest of the cast is either underused (Moretz) or flat out poor (sorry, Mrs. Heathcote) and have little room to work or create three dimensional characters. Luckily for the movie, Burton’s direction is atmospheric and engaging, creating a world that’s easy to like and easier to connect to. Everybody involved in the making of this film seems to be enjoying themselves and that charm translates well to the audience. You’ll find yourself enjoying yourself, even as your brain starts to hurt.
And why does your mind melt a bit when watching Dark Shadows? Because it doesn’t make a lick of sense. The script is wildly inconsistent and chock full of plot holes. Due to the large cast, the film has to cram a TV series worth of character development into a two hour film and the result is jumbled mess of plot holes, rushed scenes and storytelling leaps of faith. Your mouth may laugh at the one liners but your brain will be confused as to why. Not even Burton’s skill behind the camera can save the confusing nature of the plot, a plot that didn’t have to be so dense to begin with.
Everything else in the feature breaks even. The score is classic Danny Elfman, the cinematography is true to form gothic and the jokes work as often as they fail to raise a giggle. After our opening day screening, my girlfriend said it best. Dark Shadows is just about as good as one could expect from viewing the lackluster trailers. A deliciously campy performance by Johnny Depp can’t save this mixed bag of 70’s references, mangled characters and mind bending plot jumps. The mix of Adams Family ghouls with a Nosferatu-esqe lead may have worked in the late sixties, but modern audiences need more than Johnny Depp playing Johnny Depp and Burton directing like it’s 1986. Entertaining in spurts, Dark Shadows is a decent yet instantly forgettable film that does nothing to strengthen the legacy of a Burton / Depp collaboration. The African Queen or Raging Bull this isn’t.
Score – 60%