Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sh!#ting on the Classics: Dark Shadows

by JB
Spoiler alert! This movie sucks – and not because it features a vampire.

A few weeks ago I swore that I would never ever ever ever ever go to see the new Tim Burton/Johnny Depp deconstruction of Dark Shadows. Like earlier vows to avoid How The Grinch Stole Christmas and Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Avatar, I broke this promise like the paper Sani-Ban around a motel toilet seat in the mid-seventies (when the original Dark Shadows television show ran.)

I can’t quit you, Tim Burton.

So, I saw it. I saw it for all of you who are either too smart to be snookered by the seemingly endless Burton-Depp parade of oddness or too busy standing in line to see The Avengers for the third time. As God as my witness, I saw it.

It is the worst movie I have seen in at least five years. It is so bad, it is thrilling. As I mentioned in a previous column, I hold the original television series close to my heart. Be aware of this bias as we now explore the endless colostomy bag run-off that is the 2012 Dark Shadows. I would warn readers that I am about to spoil the movie… but the filmmakers have already done that.

The Script: Were there pages missing? Did the studio not like the original cut and order re-shoots? This is one confused, confusing piece of work. The tonal shifts are jarring—smart-ass send-up of the original? Sweeping gothic soap opera? Modern-day SPFX extravaganza? All three? None of the above? An eight-year old receives electro-shock in a comedy? What the hell?

The Narrative: Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) will not return the love of a childhood friend/scullery maid/witch (Eva Green) so she kills his girlfriend, turns him into a vampire, and has him buried for two hundred years. (This is the most believable part of the movie.) His coffin is unearthed in 1972, where townsfolk spend most of their time playing popular songs from the mid sixties. Dysfunctional descendants now inhabit the Collins mansion. Barnabas attempts to resuscitate the family business, solve all his family’s problems, throw a disco party, and court a comely nanny. Because this is a bad movie, he is successful.

That’s about it.

This is a poorly plotted narrative (unless the “plot” is to frustrate and annoy the audience.) Painstaking foreshadowing often comes to naught. It is darkly hinted that the Michelle Pfeiffer character is a witch—NOPE! Wild surprises are sprung on the audience in the last ten minutes for which the filmmakers have laid NO groundwork. It is as if the producers let ten teams of writers take ten separate “whacks” at the screenplay and then mixed and matched pages from all ten scripts with no rhyme or reason.

This is the Dark Shadows script you would write if you had just watched the entire original soap opera on ’shrooms and then had only one evening to write the whole damn movie.

Perhaps this was a case of just too much narrative. The new DVD box set of the original series runs 470 hours. That’s a lot of story to stuff into a two-hour feature film, but that did not stop Burton and company from trying.

The narrative often contradicts itself. Barnabas declares himself devoted to family, but when there is a family member he does not like, Barnabas puts him in a cab and we never see him again. Characters refer to things that never happened. There is a scene of Depp’s Barnabas and Eva Green’s Angelique flying all over an office in the throes of their wild, witchy lovemaking. “But,” says the viewer who is still awake at this point, “Barnabas HATES Angelique and – immediately after the SPFX demo reel – STILL HATES her.” It is as if the producers suddenly found lost money in the couch cushions and decided to spring for a little more CGI, or more probably, the studio demanded some eye candy to goose a slow-moving second act.
The Performances: All dressed up with nowhere to go. Depp is the star audiences are paying to see, so he gets all the good lines, only there aren’t any good lines. Depp dons one more version of a Tim Burton disguise and dreams up a trick voice. It is nothing we have not seen before. Some good character actors (Jackie Earle Haley, for starters) stand around with literally nothing to do. The film tips its hat to the original series by featuring three surviving cast members in a four-second cameo. Tim and Johnny, glad to see just how much you guys LOVED the original series.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I did not laugh once. Many people in the audience thought Barnabas mistaking ’70s rock icon Alice Cooper for a woman was A HOOT. After the screening, a helpful viewer was kind enough to explain the joke to me: “Becuz Alice is a LADY NAME!”

The Makeup: More of what we have come to expect. How many times will Depp go “clown white” for inspiration? Edward Scissorhands, the Mad Hatter, Albino Fred – when will it end? In the words of Patton Oswalt, the man is one step away from being a transvestite.

I will say this; Burton has finally found real actresses who resemble the misshapen waifs of his animated films. Both Eva Green and Bella Heathcote have the enormous empty eyes, the improbable bosoms, and the stick-thin figures of The Corpse Bride. Sexy!

The Art Direction: Stunning, which we have come to expect in Burton’s films, but sad that something more satisfying could not be going on IN FRONT OF all of these impressive sets and INSIDE OF all of these cool costumes. I have long held the opinion that as a movie director, Burton is one hell of an ART director.

The Weirdest Thing of All: The original television program featured a memorable opening title sequence featuring the Atlantic surf pounding on Maine’s desolate, rocky shore. In the movie – which is saddled with a complicated plot in which nothing is fully explained – Burton still devotes precious screen time to repeated shots of the Atlantic surf pounding on Maine’s desolate, rocky shore. Is that homage to the original opening? Or is this movie so soul-crushing that, as an audience, our only source of comfort is to be constantly reminded that THE OCEAN IS STILL THERE?

My Youth: destroyed but for my memories. After shitting on Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice and Wonderland, and Dark Shadows, what could Tim Burton be planning to shit on next – the single home movie we have of me with my Nana?

I only pray that Johnny Depp will play ME.


  1. "...what could Tim Burton be planning to shit on next..."

    Please, JB, don't make me think about what's he gonna do to the Addams Family!

  2. First, a standing ovation for that review.

    "Perhaps this was a case of just too much narrative."

    I recommend - if you haven't already - watching "House of Dark Shadows" (not on DVD but you can watch it through Amazon Instant Video) which was made by Dan Curtis with the original cast. It manages to fit the entire
    Barnabas story arc into 97 minutes in an entertaining and scary film.

    All I could think watching the Burton film was "What did Depp and Burton really watching when they thought they were watching DS?"

  3. Off-topic question JB (you've said everything that needs to be said about Burton, Depp and their "Dark Shadows" box office dud), what did you think of "Marvel's The Avengers"? We've only heard Patrick's and Doug's thought on it, what are yours? It's poetic justice that the Marvel juggernaut put Timmy and Johnny's shitty vampire movie in the corner the week it came out wide. :-)

  4. Either this week or next, Patrick and I briefly discuss The Avengers on the podcast. Short Answer: I really liked it. I thought it was marvelously entertaining. They finally got The Hulk to "work." I liked the snappy dialogue a great deal. I also thought it was overlong.

    Of course, I saw it in Muncie, Indiana. Maybe I was just anxious to get out of the state.

  5. Well, thanks for jumping in front of that bullet for us, JB. Up until five minutes ago, I still wanted to see this movie, but not anymore. I trust your opinion, so I guess I'll put that one on the back burner...you know, the one WAY in the back. In the meantime I'll just watch my original Dark Shadows DVDs.

    Also, can't wait to hear more about your take on The Avengers. I haven't enjoyed the Hulk so much since the Bill Bixby series (granted, for totally different reasons).

    Thank you, sir.

  6. So even HBC can't save this one? IMHO she was the only good thing about Alice In Wonderland. Is till have to watch it because of my Tim Burton fascination. From what I've seen I can't believe the same guy who directed this also directed Beetlejuice.

  7. Just one correction. Eva Green's enormous eyes are NOT empty. She's the best thing about the movie, by far.

    I met this movie with a "meh" more than anything. The tone being the biggest culprit. Also, (SPOILERS) the reveal that Chloe Moretz is a werewolf is so random, as to justify her existence in the movie other than showing how much she likes 70s rock. And doesn't Barnabas promise Pfeifer that he won't harm anybody in the house, and then kills Helena Bonham Carter, and there are NO CONSEQUENCES!

  8. I´m sorry the lovely Michelle Pfeiffer has to work in a travesty like this....