Dark Shadows: Nothing At Stake
Dark Shadows: No Deppth at All
... Do these titles give you a clue?
The soap opera Dark Shadows was not something I watched when I was a young girl. In the first place, my mother had an abiding hatred of soap operas, so they were forbidden viewing, and in the second place, we only got two channels of TV with our antenna, and the ABC affiliate was not one of them. I did have acquaintances who pounced upon their televisions the moment they got home from school, intent as voyeurs, watching the life of the vampire/family patriarch Barnabas Collins, and their twittering over their crushes on Barnabas was part of the background of our lives. It was the Twilight of our day, I suppose.
With little interest in remakes, and no interest in the original soap opera, there was only one reason I went to see this movie: Johnny Depp. What would he bring to such an iconic character as Barnabas Collins?
I'm not going to be coy. Depp brought nothing to the party at all. He had white makeup with dark eyesockets, yellow teeth and the occasional fang, dressed inexplicably in period costumes, and was as stiff as you'd expect a well-preserved two hundred year old corpse to be.
Sadly, the rest of the cast did no better. Michelle Pfeiffer played the part of Elizabeth Stoddard as though she was volunteering time on her lunch hour from other projects. ("Who am I supposed to be again?") Chloë Grace Moretz's repertoire consisted of sullen sneers, and Eva Green portrayed an undying evil dirty whore who had undefined "witch powers" by clomping around in high heels and tight clothing, showing her teeth framed by vile red lips.
The worst surprise was Helena Bonham Carter. She played this role as though someone were holding a gun to her head to force her to appear in the movie. One hopes it wasn't her partner, director Tim Burton. Perhaps he told her this was designed to come off as a bad high school Senior Play.
And if it was, it was successful. Dark Shadows was of the caliber of a fanfic Senior Play written by a committee of thoughtless high school kids, all with little plots of their own, whose parents demanded that all the plots be included in the production.
Posited as humorous, it was not funny, except for a few sight gags and some silly 'lost in time' scenes. Continuity was tossed out the window; what story goulash occurred was littered with preposterous 'revelations' thrown back in the window. The PG-13 rating was stretched to the edge with the sexually-themed scenes; I know that I would not want my grand-daughter to see them -- at times I expected Barnabas to turn to the audience with an admonishing talon and say, "Kids, don't try this without a condom." Those scenes added nothing to the story.
Neither did the choice of the 1970s as a backdrop.
In fact, I'm going on record as saying this whole movie added nothing to Dark Shadow's story. If you saw the soap version back in the day, you'll be insulted. If you didn't, you'll see nothing that will make you want to.
Go see The Avengers again, instead.
And if you want a comedy with a lot more depth, go see The Three Stooges.
Sand and I don't always agree, and sometimes we agree for different reasons. But we are compatible enough to have gotten along fabulously for thirty-seven years now. I do however take exception to at least part of Sand's criticism of Dark Shadows -- any movie with Helena Bonham Carter in it is better than that movie without Helena Bonham Carter. That said, I will admit that not even Ms. Carter could save the life of this still-born turkey.
Since I've retired we've become Food Network junkies, and one of the shows we really like is Chopped. In that show, chefs are given a short amount of time to create a dish using the surprise ingredients in a basket. They must use each of the basket ingredients, but they may also use anything from a reasonably well-stocked pantry and fridge. I had the impression that director Tim Burton had entered the Hollywood version of Chopped in which he had to create a motion picture using the basket ingredients.
"In your basket," the host says, "you will find dead fish, a vampire, rancid dialogue, and jack fruit. Your time begins now."
Tim immediately runs to the pantry and grabs Helena Bonham Carter. So would I. Then he grabs Michele Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Eva Green, and a Dark Shadows script from the old TV show. Now you would have thought that with those kind of ingredients, Burton could have come up with something tasty, but instead you have a uncooked story of the Collins family from England coming to America to establish a successful fish cannery in New England, only to be ruined and cursed by a servant girl/witch who is spurned in her love interest by the handsome young Barnabas. In a fit of jealousy, she turns Barnabas into a vampire and incites the townspeople to bury him alive. Two hundred years later, he is dug up and seeks to reestablish his family's fortune, only to find that the servant girl/witch is still alive and still jealous.
About the only thing that worked in this movie was the art direction. The movie had the quirky visual style that you usually associate with Burton's films. There wasn't anything particularly special, but it was at least Burtonesque. Past that, it appears that the vampire in the Chopped basket sucked the blood out of everything else. The story was lifeless and filled with annoying dangly bits. Most of the characters were like gimcrack [word of the day] ornaments, and not even Johnny Depp could breathe any kind of life into the legendary Barnabas Collins character.
It was a schizophrenic movie -- at times trying to be eerie, dark and scary, and at times funny and satirical. You might be able to make this work, but I think Burton added the dry humor too quickly into the dark shadowy broth and instead of thickening it, he got a lumpy gravy.
I think this movie would have been bettered served by casting Andy Sirkus as Gollum in the role of Barnabas, and letting all the female parts be Helena Bonham Carter's. (There might be a better way to say that, but I am intrigued with how that sounds.)
I can't think of good reason for anyone to go see this movie in the theater. I'd even be a bit hesitant about spending the money on a DVD rental. If you are at all curious, wait till you can see this on the SyFy Channel or you see it offered for free at a garage sale.
And be very, very careful to make sure it has been properly refrigerated to minimize the possibility of botulism.