Sunday, May 13, 2012

“Dark Shadows” – Is where it should have stayed.

In my review of Alice in Wonderland, I hinted that it was probably time for Tim Burton to reconsider casting his wife, Helena Bonham Carter, in any of his future projects. This time, I’m flat out stating it – STOP casting your barely talented wife in your movies. While I’m at it, let me add “and stop using Johnny Depp, too.” Starting with Edward Scissorhands in 1990, Burton has directed twelve films and only two of them (Batman Returns and Mars Attacks!) did not feature one or both of those actors. That’s eight movies in a row since Mars Attacks!, and even more crazily, seven in a row with Carter, stretching back to Planet of the Apes. Either she’s threatening Burton’s life or is so good in bed that she has literally screwed Burton’s brains out of his head.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want Burton to stop making films, I just want him to rediscover the ability to direct other actors. He’s the only one making dark, gothic-style movies and we need that variety as an audience. However, not even casting could have saved his latest film, Dark Shadows.

Dark Shadows was a television soap opera from 1966 to 1971, airing more than 1,000 episodes. Just from that sentence, one can already see two problems with making a film out of it. One – soap opera. Have you ever heard anyone opine about wishing there were a movie for As the World Turns or All My Children? Two – 1,000 episodes. How can you possibly capture even a fraction of that much material into 113 minutes of film? And thus begins the train wreck.

Barnubus Collins (Depp) is the son of rich family who breaks the heart of a witch, Angelique (Eva Green) by falling in love with someone else (Josette). Angelique kills Josette, curses the Collins family, turns Barnabus into a vampire, and buries him in a coffin. Two hundred years later (1972), Barnabus is inadvertently freed by some construction workers, all of whom Barnabus kills to drink their blood. He goes back to his family’s mansion and discovers that only a few of his kin are still alive and all of the family wealth gone. He quickly decides that he will restore the family fishing business, using treasures in a hidden room of the mansion. He also learns that Angelique is still alive, has usurped the fishing industry from the Collins’, and runs the entire town. They bicker, they have sex (in arguably the most violent, nonsensical way possible), Barnabus falls in love with Victoria (Bella Heathcote), the Collins’ new governess, and then fight (slightly less violently then their sex romp). At no point does this movie ever threaten the audience with a plot, rather throwing characters together and hoping their relationships are enough to compensate, followed by a destructive battle-royale to close things out that was better suited for a Michael Bay film.

Since the film had to rely so much on the characters, you would think that they would have been more relevant. The Collins family consists of the family matriarch – Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), her brother – Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), her daughter – Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), and Roger’s son – David (Gulliver McGrath). Rounding out the household are the caretaker – Willie (Jackie Earle Haley), Victoria, and the doctor – Julia (Carter). Each of these characters is poorly developed and has one thing about them that is supposed to be important. For example, Elizabeth knows Barnabus is a vampire, Roger is greedy and a thief, Carolyn is rebellious, David sees ghosts, Julia wants to steal Barnabus’ blood so she can become a vampire, and Willie is comic relief. Unfortunately, these attributes are never exploited during the story, instead rendering the characters basically as set pieces for Burton.

As if that wasn’t enough, the actors turned performances that made soap stars look like Oscar winners. Down to the boy playing David, all of them were overacting so badly, it almost overshadowed how ridiculously Depp portrayed Barnabus. If you thought his Willy Wonka was atrocious (and it was), you should definitely stay away from this film. Topping this off were all of the absurd 1970’s references that we were forced to endure. Hippies, go-go skirts, Alice Cooper in a straight jacket; you don’t have to think long to know who the target audience was for this film. Considering the 1970’s are almost universally hated by everyone who lived through them, you could continue to make the case that he has no brains left.

Basically, this movie comes down to another Burton vehicle trying to be odd and gothic and kitchy, reminding us that Burton, is in fact, alive. Up until the climactic fight scene, the movie is very uneven with a bunch of unlikable characters that will have you constantly checking your watch. When the fight ensues, the movie degrades to pure cinematic junk, which will only have you asking if it’s possible everyone dies so there will be no chance of a sequel. We can only hope that this movie performs so poorly at the box office that studios will be forced to insist that Burton try using someone else – anyone else – in his next venture. That, or film his “married life” so we can at least understand why he can’t say no to his wife.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back, if not for the acting, at least for having to endure the 70’s.

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