Combo’s previous work looms over these “Shadows”
Can a film be neither good nor truly bad? If ever there was a test case, “Dark Shadows” would seem to fit the bill. But considering this film, an adaptation of the late 60’s, early 70’s era TV soap opera features the collective talents of director Tim Burton and actor Johnny Depp, the disjointed result feels like a disappointment. While Burton’s sumptuous acumen for gothic visuals still stirs and Depp’s famously deadpan delivery still kills, “Dark Shadows” isn’t sure if it is supposed to be a campy homage, a vampire black comedy, or a family friendly horror pic. In spots – all to few and far between — it is all of those but the sum of these parts doesn’t come close to the duo’s wondrous collaborations including “Edward Scissorhands,” “Sleepy Hollow” or “Sweeney Todd.”
Maybe it’s the era: Burton and Depp worked together on “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” which was an update from an iconic 1971 film and sorely missed its mark. “Dark Shadows” ran from 1966 to 1971 and one can’t imagine too many fans of the show loving this version.
Depp stars as Barnabas Collins who, in the film’s rather long opening prologue that’s set in the late 18th century, receives a vampire curse from the witch Angelique (Eva Green) after she kills his beloved. Flash forward nearly 200 years later, Barnabas breaks free from his chained coffin to return to Collinwood Manor in 1972 hoping to avenge his curse and restore the good name and fortune of his once powerful family.
He is met by a colorful but shamefully underdeveloped cast of characters that includes actors Michelle Pfeiffer, Helen Bonham Carter (naturally, she’s Linda to Burton’s McCartney), Johnny Lee Miller, Chloe Grace Moretz, Gully McGrath, Bella Heathcote, and Jackie Earle Haley. It’s really not worth mentioning their individual roles because their appearance has little bearing on the plot. Only Green, who is given a robust role as the snarlingly beautiful jilted lover makes the most of her screen time and holds her own with Depp, especially when the two go at it in a wildly combative sex scene set to a Barry White song.
In fact the music (under the direction of long time Burton collaborator Danny Elfman) which pilfers period tunes as diverse as The Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin,” and the Carpenters “On Top of World” along with a cameo by gothic rocker Alice Cooper, offers the film’s most inspired moments. Depp’s raised eyebrow reactions to modern day elements (cars, TV, paved roads) are the film’s go-to gags but the film gives up on them early. A rather lugubrious pace doesn’t help the proceedings either.
Still, Burton’s visual flair never disappoints. But had the filmmakers decided early what kind of film “Dark Shadows” was going to be, even if it wasn’t exactly in the spirit of the original source material (See “21 Jump Street’s” raunchy but hilarious update) and were 100% committed, this Burton and Depp pairing could have been memorable and not frustratingly forgettable.
Rated PG-13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, drug use, smoking and language.