Dark Shadows marks the eighth collaboration between two of Hollywood’s favourite artists, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. The pair reunite this time to bring to life a film version of the 1960’s cult vampire television series Dark Shadows. Though some had their doubts about the project, I can safely say that it’s a lot of fun, despite lacking some substance.
The film sees Depp playing one of television’s greatest vampires, Barnabas Collins, who is set free from nearly 200 years of imprisonment into the world of the 1970’s. He returns to his ancestral home only to find things have changed, significantly. Once he becomes acquainted with his dysfunctional descendants, he realizes that they are in need of some protection and he seems to be the man for the job.
When you put together one of Hollywood’s most loved directors and arguably the world’s most bankable movie star alongside a fabulous supporting cast of established and upcoming actors, you would think that the story would kind of just fall into place. For Dark Shadows though this is not the case. Things just become far too messy and nothing really develops properly, including the characters.
The problem isn’t with the actors themselves. Everyone offers up very fun and enjoyable performances, it’s just that the story doesn’t have much structure. Everyone seems to have multiple and at times differing motives, which makes it hard to stick with the main objective of the film. Really, the fault lies with the script.
The film was adapted by first time screenwriter and author Seth Grahame-Smith, who I was extremely excited to see work with Burton. You’d think that the two would mesh well together but the story just feels as though it tries to show little pieces of every character rather than develop them fully. There’s never really any chance to connect with any of the characters on screen and nothing really ever gels. The film lacks a fluidity and it’s very noticeable.
The other issue with the script is that some of the dialogue was a bit cheesy and over-done. It felt like they were trying too hard to be funny, which kind of took away from the heart of the film.
All that being said, there are many good things about Dark Shadows. For one, Burton’s direction is great. The film, though classified as a comedy/fantasy, is every bit drama, love story and horror. It features gorgeous production design from Rick Heinrichs as well, who wonderfully constructed the fantastic town of Collinsport, as well as the suburb Collingwood Manner. Heinrichs, who has worked with Burton before, creates an authentic seventies atmosphere and it really adds to the movie.
Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel and composer Danny Elfman add to the already impressive production values of the film. Really, everyone behind the camera does an excellent job at bringing the time period and setting to life. You can always be sure that Tim Burton films will look, sound and feel great and Dark Shadows is no exception.
Depp’s performance, though probably not as good as when he portrayed Sweeny Todd or Jack Sparrow, is a tremendous one. As always he’s completely immersed in his character and he gets to show a plethora of emotions. Of all the characters in this story, I think most people will love Barnabas the most.
Eva Green, who plays the evil witch Angelique Bouchard, provides a very sexy and evil performance as the film’s antagonist. Angelique is everything she needs to be, smart, powerful, rich and very attractive. Green fits perfectly into Burton’s world and has some nice chemistry with Depp.
The film also features strong supporting performances from Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Jonny Lee Miller, Chloë Grace Moretz, Bella Heathcote and Gullier McGrath, as well as great cameos from Alice Cooper and Christopher Lee.
For me, Bella Heathcote really stood out in the film as did Helena Bonham Carter. Heathcote is a still a newcomer but it looks like she has a bright future ahead of her and Carter, though playing a character type that she’s very familiar with, provided a very enjoyable performance.
Don’t get me wrong Dark Shadows is incredibly entertaining and though the plot isn’t the greatest, it isn’t by any means hard to follow. For a big Burton fan like myself, though I liked the film, it just falls a little short of the standard he has bought us in the past.
Though the story falters a bit and development and connections between some of characters seems a little lacking at times, the film really is great fun.
Yes, it has its faults but at the end of the day, Dark Shadows is a great chance to see some excellent actors playing some of the most interesting roles of their careers. Is that worth the price of admission? I think so.
Though Tim Burton's Dark Shadows can be convoluted in its story and a little too humorous, it features excellent performances, interesting characters and great direction, all of which combine to make the film an enjoyable experience.