Dark Shadows

Let‘s be clear. I am a massive Tim Burton fan. I have enjoyed the auteur’s macabre imagination ever since his 1982 short Vincent. His sensibilities have always lent an enjoyable atmosphere to his quirky creations. Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands were delightful examples of where style met substance. There’s no doubt that Tim Burton has plenty of talent as he is one of my favorite directors. That’s what makes his latest picture such a major disappointment. Every single one of the filmmaker’s hallmarks are here: Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter? Check! Heavy makeup? Check! Bizarre fantasy world? Check! Dark Humor? Check! Everything in place would seem to guarantee a splendid night at the cinema. Yet this is one thoroughly tedious affair.  Dark Shadows is grossly lacking in coherent or, even more surprising, entertaining storytelling.

Tim Burton has been responsible for misfires before (Planet of the Apes), but at least they were still interesting on some creative level. For the first time he has directed a virtually unwatchable film. The expository intro unfolds like an entire TV season condensed into 15 minutes. In rapid fire succession we’re introduced to the Collins family, their colossal 200-room mansion called Collinswood and a headache inducing backstory that has more twists and turns than the subsequent movie that follows. Yes all this precedes the opening credits. Once the actual drama begins it grows tiresome. Oh there’s a few jokes – most of them having to do with an 18th century vampire who views the modern conveniences of the 1970s as satanic magic. That might have been amusing had we not already seen all of those bits in the trailer. What remains, is a lot of boring conversation serving what basically amounts to an unfunny SNL skit. There is no depth to these individuals, just hollow shells designed to recite campy dialogue and nothing more. By the time the climatic battle arrives as a stale rewrite of the fight scene from Death Becomes Her, I had already checked out.

Dark Shadows is a slapdash mess of unfocused incoherence. Any director that could mishandle a production with a cast that also includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller and Chloë Moretz, takes real expertise.  This actually marks Tim Burton’s eighth collaboration with Johnny Depp. The lazy work here is the product of artists who simply aren’t trying anymore. The drama is nonexistent, the characters uninvolving. They appear to be merely going through the motions. This isn’t a movie, it’s a flimsy sketch stretched out to unendurable length.  It’s pretty insulting. Given this rambling collage of a film, perhaps these two should part ways and start anew. I’ll admit the whole project has great set design and some lush and atmospheric music. Rick Heinrichs and Danny Elfman earn their salaries. But without fascinating people we care about, what’s the point? It’s an empty parade of fantastic costumes and retro hairstyles in search of a plot.

19 Responses to “Dark Shadows”

  1. atothewr Says:

    Haven’t seen it – want to – waiting for DVD.

    I think its time not only for them to part ways, but maybe Burton should try something different. He doesn’t have to be quirky all the time.

    If they would have played it a little more straight like the TV show it might have worked more in their favor. By making it a comedy you have to sell it to a whole new audience because the fans of the show are annoyed you turned it into a joke. You lost that core group right there. That’s most of your audience.

    Nice review.


  2. I know I’ll end up seeing this just because it’s a Tim Burton movies and despite all my disappointments with his work lately, I keep wanting for him to have another Beetlejuice. Great review!


  3. This was awful. I too was bored. It made no sense at all.


  4. moviewriting Says:

    I was really disappointed by this too. Like you, I’m a big Burton fan but this rendered me bored and just restless. Hopefully future Burton endeavours won’t be as poor as this. Great review though Mark!


    • I haven’t given up on Tim Burton, but I really hope he goes outside of his comfort zone and works with some new talent. Frankenweenie, a stop motion animated remake of his 1984 short, is next.


  5. Jeffrie Says:

    I haven’t seen it yet, and even thought I like to see any fllm with Johnny Depp, I thought I’d wait to see this one on DVD. Perhaps, since the story line for the screenplay originated from a soap opera from the late 60’s or early 70’s, it would have made a better TV mini series remake, rather than a box office blockbuster(or not). Although, I do remember racing home from school to see what ‘Barnabas Collins’ was going to do next in the original soap opera.


  6. sanclementejedi Says:

    Hey Mark, what a let down this film was. I kept waiting for something to happen and it never did. Being a big Burton fan myself I would like to blame screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith for this stinker.


    • The script is a major part of it. I also think Tim Burton needs to challenge himself more. Try working with someone other than Depp and Bonham Carter. This is just more of the same. He’s in a rut.


      • sanclementejedi Says:

        Mark, how is he going to tell his lady that she can’t be in his film lol 😉

        It would be nice to see Burton move out of his comfort zone and do some other sort of film. I would love to see a Burton film noir.


    • Yeah you’re right and she’s gives off a bit of a dominatrix vibe so she probably would punish him severely.


  7. Great post, Mark! It’s a shame this was so bad. I agree that Burton and Depp aren’t really trying anymore. Loved your last line.


  8. Just checked back here after seeing this. I’m glad I got to see Chloë Grace Moretz shine, and I thought Eva Green and Helena Bonham Carter did pretty well too, but in short, I just should have taken your recommendation and skipped it. Here’s my review:


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