Dark Shadows

Year of Release: 2012     Directed by Tim Burton.  Starring Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Bella Heathcote, Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloë Grace Moretz, Gulliver McGrath, Jackie Earle Haley, and Helena Bonham Carter.

Dark Shadows marks the eighth collaboration of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.  It is not their best work, but it is a far cry from their worst.  Depp plays Barnabas Collins, cursed by the witch Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) whose advances he spurned.  She turned him into a vampire and vowed to destroy all future descendants of the Collins family.  When Barnabas returns one-hundred-ninety-six years later, his family is falling apart and the family business is nearly ruined.

This is natural material for Burton, and both he and Depp clearly enjoy themselves.  The art direction and set designs are impressive, colorful, and engaging without going over the top the way that Alice in Wonderland’s sets were an out of control smorgasbord of unique colors and shapes.  The gothic design of Collinwood is remarkable and strikes a good contrast and balance between the two time periods.  Burton’s recreation of the 1770’s and the 1970’s were amusing .  He gets solid performances out of a mostly familiar cast.  Michelle Pfeiffer is commanding as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, the matriarch of the family.  Helena Bonham Carter is eerie as the selfish Dr. Julia Hoffman.  At one point, I did wonder about having Carter and Pfeiffer switch roles, but I think it was best the way Burton cast it.  Chloë Grace Moretz is sullen and brooding as Carolyn, the secretive daughter of Elizabeth.  Bella Heathcote captures the innocence of Vicky, and Eva Green is seductive and conniving as the evil witch.

The film runs one-hundred-thirteen minutes, which is a little long.  The propulsion of the film is Burton’s eccentricity, solid cast performances, Depp’s occasional humor, and Elfman’s score.  Everything is good, but altogether it may not have enough meat to carry the film for much longer than one-hundred minutes.  It would be sort of like constructing a meal out of gourmet salads and ice cream.  It is enjoyable, but does leave one desiring a bit more.

While Dark Shadows is a film that I personally enjoyed and would certainly be willing to watch again, I would not disagree with anyone who disliked it.  The film is a marked improvement over Alice in Wonderland, which was mostly devoid of any of Burton’s trademark quirkiness.  Perhaps there is too much quirkiness in Dark Shadows creating an uneven pacing and disproportionate balance between comedy and horror.  That certainly could isolate most viewers, especially those less fond of Burton’s oeuvre, or those less familiar with it.  However, this Burton admirer found the film to be an enjoyable change of pace that hearkened back to some of Burton’s best works, such as Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and The Nightmare Before Christmas.

(Or maybe after immediately watching Black Swan, anything is an enjoyable change of pace.  But I doubt that is why I enjoyed Dark Shadows.)

Many critics have complained that Burton and Depp never find a balance between gothic horror and campy spoof.  Barnabas is certainly a fish out of water in the 1970’s, and the film reflects his odd and futile attempts to fit in with society.  I thought that those attempts were humorous rather than isolating, but again, I would understand if the jokes were not to someone else’s taste.  Danny Elfman composed a melancholy gothic theme for Barnabas and the 1770’s that strongly contrasts with the pop music selected for the later time period.  After the prologue, the film cuts forward two-hundred years away from the cursed Barnabas to Vicky who wishes to make a new start to her life.  The switch in the underscoring is appropriately an equal contrast.  The dichotomy between the two styles of music is similar to dichotomy between the gothic horror and the comic awkwardness.  Just as Elfman’s music helps them fit together, Burton and Depp manage to keep all the elements together in an enjoyable mix of horror and comedy, spanning two centuries.

The film is a must see for anyone who is a fan of Tim Burton.  Anyone else who is interested should probably wait until it comes out on DVD.

Content Advisory: Sexually suggestive scenes and dialogue, implied oral sex, fantasy violence – some of it gory, a suicide, and brief crass language.                       MPAA rating: PG-13

Suggested Audience: Adults.

Personal Recommendation: B-

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