Having always been a Tim Burton-fan of course his recent Dark Shadows was a must-see. As a director his love for gothic horror is undeniable and my hope was that in choosing to do a film based of the 1960s cult TV series Dark Shadows it would be something along the line of his passionate work on Ed Wood. I was expecting once again to experience a visualization of his innocent love for the absurd and eccentric, but boy, was I in for a surprise.
The film Dark Shadows sets up a universe in which Johnny Depp stars as Barnabas Collins, a young man who after breaking the heart of the wrong woman’s heart is turned into a vampire and buried in a coffin for two centuries before being freed into the changed world of 1972. Seeking out his ancestry he discovers how the successful family business he helped built has now turned to ruins, and with the help of his dysfunctional relatives a tough fight to restore the family business is initiated.
I might as well state it now: Burton has gone overtly commercial. As a director he has always been on the edge between commercial and auteur, but I am afraid he has now fallen over the edge, into the bottom of the sea of bland filmmakers. There are still hints of his initial charm in this film, yet nothing substantial or meaningful really seems to come of it. The film sets up an absurdly surreal universe of kitsch artefacts and pop culture combined with a sprinkle of horror – all traditional Burton elements, yet this is where the story ends….
The foundation of a well-functioning film is undeniably a good script, and I think this is the most basic place in which this film fails. Seth Grahame-Smith’s screenplay does have potential, yet it seems too rushed through, leaving a trail of clichéd characters, unexplained plot holes, and cheesy dialogue. Most of the comedy stems from Barnabas being put in a different time, and how he incomprehensibly reacts to these new ‘peculiarities’ of this time, something which is done in a very obvious and unoriginal way: “Are you stoned?” the angry teenager asks the peculiar Barnabas on the first night of meeting him, “They tried stoning me my dear,” he replies, “but it didn’t work.”
The relationships between most of the characters are quite underdeveloped which makes for an uneven flow and a somewhat unbelievable plot. The one relationship which is sufficiently developed is that between Barnabas and the witch and dejected lover who first transformed and now continue to haunt Barnabas. Played by Eva Green the awkward sexual tension which is found between the two of characters provides many of the highlights of this film. Worst of all is the development of Barnabas’ relationship with his supposedly ‘true love.’ As a spectator you are not let into their intimate sphere, and the film suffers since it ends up seeming as if this love story is nothing more than a quick fix – a Burton-version of the recent Twilight – made to feed the vampire-hungry masses.
With all of this said, the film is not all that bad. If you do not bring into the seat with you the expectation that this will be a Burton-film the film is watchable. It kind of grows on you. Its ‘kitsch-ness’ is blown out of proportion and has quite an uneven plot, but the cheap laughs do what they are supposed to: they make you laugh. You might cringe because the jokes are so obvious, but I promise you, you will find yourself chuckling a substantial amount of times.
Tim Burton has the potential to be a true artist, but – as in evident in this film – I am afraid he has gotten too comfortable. Even the collaboration with Johnny Depp can no longer sustain. We have all enjoyed the Depp and Burton collaboration, yet Dark Shadows proves that this has gone too far – there is a limit to how long one can keep interest when seeing Depp as almost the same eccentric, out of place character that he always plays. Compared to many other filmmakers Burton has always had quite an easy ride in Hollywood, yet this might come back and haunt him – what I think would benefit his creativity and artistry would be a bit of a challenge. What this man needs is a chance to reinvent himself.
Dark Shadows seems more like a caricature of what we all know Burton to be capable of. The magic of such films as Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and Beetlejuice is gone; leaving us with a sloppy tale of semi-likeable, clichéd characters. I have a small hope though, that this film is so average because Burton has consciously put all his creative energy into the making Frankenweenie, the feature remake of his adorable early short of the same name. But, all I can do is wait impatiently for October to arrive in order to see what he has in store for us – and so will you.