Tim Burton's DARK SHADOWS


I'm not sure what it is about Burton-- he's directed some brilliant films-- BEETLEJUICE and ED WOOD among them.  (Wood is one of my all time favorite films).  Some decent but flawed films like BATMAN and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS and some downright bad films ala PLANET OF THE APES, BATMAN RETURNS and the incredibly bad MARS ATTACKS.

I guess that could be said of even Hitchcock so maybe I expect too much from Burton.  Visually he's an amazing artist.

DARK SHADOWS (2012) started out brilliantly.  I was thrilled that this was one of the first films of his that didn't feel like it was shot on a set and his interpretation of Barnabas Collins (played very well by Johnny Depp) was the best ever done.

I've seen the old show, I've watched the old show recently and I'm stunned at how bad it is-- and I'm not just talking production values either, I'm talking scripts, acting, plots that are produced and dropped almost immediately and dialogue that sounds like it's written by a middle schooler who's not exactly getting into Harvard.

Comparing Burton's film to the original series its an absolute knockout.   There's enough true to the spirit of the original to make it work and it surpasses that take in many ways-- the least of which is actually SHOWING Barnabas as a badass vampire KILLING people.

But that's not to say it doesn't have it's flaws, in fact I'd say around the halfway point it skids off the road and plummets down a cliffside adding to the piles of wreckage that include CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY and that's a shame.

The movie suffers from mixed personality disorder too-- not sure if its a comedy or a horror film and seldom do the two work together (see Joel Schumacher's absolutely marvelous THE LOST BOYS for an example of the mixed genre that works).  Where DARK SHADOWS goes wrong is in the writing-- this needed a script doctor before it went before the cameras and it needed one badly.

THE GOOD
As I said-- Johnny Depp is great.  I love his Barnabas.  Depp remains one of the best and most underrated actors of our time.
Michele Pfieffer-- she turned in a fine performance as the matriach of the family, played with incredible stiffness by Joan Bennet in the TV series.
Gulliver McGrath as the disturbed kid David was excellent and given nowhere near enough screen time or plot.  He could have single handedly saved the film.
Bella Heathcote as Victoria Winters was fabulous-- she gave a great performance and fit the character perfectly.  It's not her fault that the script forgets about her in most of Act II and gives her some strange developments in Act III.
Ditto the actor who played Willie-- he was a refreshing take on a character from the show who is Barnabas's protector during the day.
Helena Bonham Carter-- Tim Burton's wife was good as Dr. Hoffman, but the character was altered from the show so much she was barely recognizable.
As I've said, the first half of the film really moves-- and it's a delightful dark comedy with a really sharp edge.

THE BAD
Johnny Lee Miller as Roger Collins.  In the show Roger is an uptight great character whose sanity is often pushed to the limits as his world around him goes crazy.  Roger gives the TV Viewers the anchor we need and someone we can lean on.  In the film Miller plays him like a weak uncle with no moral fiber devolving him into a cartoonish oaf.
Chloe Grace Moretz as Caroline.  It's part bad performance part bad writing for the character that keeps her from being even remotely interesting.
The jokes about 1972 get old (why is it even set in 1972?? The Show ran from 1966-1970).  Too many times we go for the cheap jokes.

THE AWFUL
The humor gets so broad at times it becomes slapstick.  Angelique the witch could have been a great surprise reveal but instead she's given way too much screen time and she delivers the same wronged woman speech at least four times at different intervals and each time its as if its the first time we hear it. We get it.  You're bitter.
The sexuality of the characters-- I know this is based on a soap opera but c'mon.  There are two scenes that needed to be exorcised before this went to theaters.

Overall-- I'd give it a 5.0 on the old 10 point scale-- right up there with Burton's other Decent but flawed films.
I'm glad FRANKENWEENIE opened recently-- likely a WIN for Burton's resume.  For Halloween thrills, I'd pass on this and go with either the first ADDAMS FAMILY film or THE LOST BOYS for some chills and laughs.