Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"Dark Shadows" review: mostly toned-down Burton style over substance

For those people out there who think no one knows what "Dark Shadows" is (must be a bunch of "Twilight" fans)'s an iconic gothic soap opera from the late 1960's and early 70's, of which I remember as a child.

The opening credits theme always scared me and I even recall watching an episode or two while my Mom was getting her hair done at a salon in Upstate New York. A few years later I was exposed to more and began to appreciate, even at such a young age, how very different this show was from all the other daytime fare around at the time.

Flash forward to 2012, past the 1991 television reboot starring Ben Cross. Now we have "Dark Shadows", the movie.

Director Tim Burton and star Johnny Depp also grew up with the seminal series and wanted to create a loving movie version of their beloved soap. The only problem is they seem to have forgotten their passion about half way through the film.

Burton's wonderfully expressive set design, costumes and lighting are certainly present, although somewhat toned-down and rooted in the very year the original program took place. When I first saw the trailer I thought to myself that this was way too over the top on the humorous side for true fans of the show. They were taking the concept out of bounds and I wondered if this would affect those who kept the original in such high regard.

Once I saw the trailer a second and third time, I found myself wanting to take the ride. Unfortunately the ride had me looking at my watch about midway through and moving into the unnecessary over the top climax.

Depp is fine in the iconic role of Barnabas Collins. But you'd be hard pressed to have me remember anyone else in the movie. Michelle Pfeiffer is once again working with Tim Burton after her incredible performance as Catwoman in 1992's "Batman Returns". But this will not go down as a role you'll connect with her even after you've left the theatre. "Kick-Ass" star Chloƫ Grace Moretz (Hit Girl) also seems wasted as the daughter of Pfeiffer's matriarch. Oh yeah, and the same goes for Jackie Earle Haley who plays Willie, the groundskeeper and Barnabas' right hand man.

In short it just seems like most of the actor's are just collecting a paycheck. Eva Green, who plays Barnabas' nemesis Angelique, the evil witch who put a spell on him 200 years ago, seems to want to have fun in the role. But she never becomes more than just a bother you wish would go away.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trashing the movie. It just started becoming uninteresting, and certainly the studio knew this by commissioning trailers and broadcast spots to seriously play up what humor there was in the film.

And by the way, that theme song which use to scare me as a child?....they never played it once. Not once! That was something I was waiting to hear. Nope! Zip! Strange....for two people (Burton and Depp) who were such rabid fans to toss that aside.

Some cast members of the original series do make cameos; Jonathan Frid (in his last onscreen appearance), Lara Parker, David Selby and Kathryn Leigh Scott. However, I was surprised at how incredibly minor they were. Mostly just quick walk-bys and out of focus background party-goers. Hardly seemed worth ringing them up for the job.

The script is the main reason this movie underperforms, which I am sad to report. For fans of the original TV series, that show will forever stand as the one true "Dark Shadows".


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