Movie review: Tim Burton’s ‘Dark Shadows’ fails to rise out of its coffin

By Ben Kendall

Johnny Depp and Tim Burton mob up together once again in Burton’s new film “Dark Shadows.” A film adaptation of the cult classic soap opera of the same name (aired from 1966-1971) this film has a great deal of the soul of Depp and Burton, from art direction, soundtrack and performance. What it doesn’t have are the hearts of those two artists, and that is what made them famous so long ago with films like “Edward Scissorhands” and “Ed Wood.”

The soap opera was remarkable in that it was so groundbreaking. It was one of the first majorly syndicated soap operas to feature so many horror and sci-fi elements such as vampires, werewolves, other timelines and other such tropes that we have come to expect from any film concerning vampires these days.

Depp plays Barnabas Collins, a rich man’s son condemned to eternity as a vampire after spurning the amorous advances of one of his estate’s housemaids, Angelique (played by the stunning and talented Eva Green). Collins at least cannot go out in the daylight. No lame daytime sparkling comes from this guy. He eats people and sleeps in a coffin, just as vampires should. Depp’s performance is wonderful. He’s proven to the movie-going public time and again that he knows what he’s doing when he’s in a role. And I am choosing to ignore all of those stupid pirate movies (his acting was the only thing that kept them going). One Captain Jack Sparrow movie was enough. Depp is a true artist; his talent is not in question here. His character was dialed in, but I felt like I was missing something from him the whole time. I didn’t really care about him much, or his quest to get one over on Angelique.

Green’s performance as the evil witch Angelique was wonderful. I hated her wicked bitchiness the whole time and loved doing so. When she’s in a film, no matter how bad it is, she can add a little something. Her character was the least flat of them all.

There were some other stars (Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter) and some cameos (a cool Christopher Lee, an older and not as cool Alice Cooper), but I’m not sure they added much. All the characters just seemed to lose motivation through the film or to just not have much motivation to begin with.

In the end, the writing just wasn’t all that strong. I hate to say it, but the characters just were not as fleshed out as they should have been.

Normally, with a movie like this I wouldn’t worry about it. But this is Tim Burton! I am choosing to ignore his horrible decision to direct “Planet of the Apes” when I speak about him here. I expect things from Burton. Unfortunately, he does not deliver. And that is why the shallowness of the characters hurt so much. His films resonate with people while still being macabre and humorous because people can relate in some way or another. I doubt many people could relate to any members of the Collins family. What can you expect with an adaptation? Well, that’s up for debate. But I expect certain things from Tim Burton.

There was some Danny Elfman score in the film, but I don’t even remember it. Not being able to remember Elfman when paired with Burton is nearly a cardinal sin. I had to go online to find out that it was in the beginning and in the credits. This seemed to be a gross misappropriation of his talent.

While I’m on the subject of soundtrack, the rest of it was circa 1971 music and before which worked. It helped set the tone of the film quite well. The soundtrack also helped with the ’70s-style art direction. Even the contrast of the image was blown out a little, and that helped with the slightly antiquated feel of the movie, and it also communicated the era of the show’s origin.

Depp, Burton and Elfman together (again) seem like a recipe for success. Unfortunately, the film falls a little flat.

I have come to the conclusion that this trifecta needs to break up. They shouldn’t do films anymore for at least 10 years. Not that they can’t do any work because that’d be a shame. But they should avoid working together for a spell. They seem to harm each other’s creativity more than help it.

Grade: C

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