Oct 29, 2012

[Movies] Dark Shadows (2012)

I've never been a big fan of soap operas or the ever popular telenovelas that air on local TV. While I'm sure they have moments of brilliance and decent plot lines here and there, the need to drag things out for months on end just gets a bit too tiring for me. I can only take so much drama in my life after all.

Thus it was somewhat ironic to only really have that to go on in terms of deciding whether or not to watch Dark Shadows. Popular press constantly make mention of the fact that the movie was based on an old soap opera of the same name, but somehow given the Tim Burton touch. 

Missed out on catching this in the theaters during its original run, but in hindsight that may not be a bad thing at all. Now that I have seen the movie, I can only think about how that was 113 minutes of confusion that ended in a bit of a last minute whimper. While I wasn't exactly expecting Oscar-worthy material here, I was expecting something a lot better than what we ended up with.

Synopsis: Dark Shadows is a 2012 supernatural comedy drama movie based on a late 1960's soap opera of the same name. The movie was directed by Tim Burton with a screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith, who is also the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, coincidentally enough.

At the center of the movie is the Collins family, who first establish the fishing port of, well, Collinsport back in 1760. They establish a moderately successful fishing business and the town truly fleshes out. Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) manages to get involved with the family maid, Angelique (Eva Green), who turns out to be a witch as well. And when he turns her away claiming that he did not lover her, well, revenge becomes her primary agenda. First his parents die. And eventually the woman that he has fallen in love with, Josette (Bella Heathcote), commits suicide under Angelique's influence. He tries to join her in death but is cursed to become a vampire instead and is buried alive.

We fast forward to 1972 to find that the Collins family remains in Collinsport despite having fallen on hard times. They've been hedged out of the fishing business by larger firms and get by as best as they can. The clan is now pretty much headed by Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), who shares the manor with her teenage daughter Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz), her brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) together with his son David (Gulliver McGrath). They're also joined by Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helen Bonham Carter), who acts as David's psychiatrist, and Willie (Jackie Earle Haley), the caretaker. By a bit of lucky circumstance Barnabas is eventually released from his prison and returns to the family to help restore the family name. But there's also the case of Victoria (Bella Heathcote), who is the new governess and apparently looks just like Barnabas' dead love.

The movie is often tagged as a comedy, but quite frankly I didn't find it very funny. I know the humor was somehow meant to be rather black in that regard, but it really never realized itself for me in that manner. There were certainly a lot of moments that were moderately funny or could have been hilarious in a deadpan manner had there been better visual or even musical cues to ties into the experience. Instead it played out as a very drab and sometimes dragging story.

It probably didn't help that the movie had so many characters involved but only truly invested development time (if at all) in Barnabas and Angelique. The whole 1972-era Collins family was just so much window dressing lingering in the background. As a viewer, you're unable to really find any resonance with these characters and thus their fates remain largely irrelevant to you.

Johnny Depp himself as his usual caricature of a person, but in this case it just didn't work for me. I've enjoyed his rather eccentric antics in other Burton movies but this time around it all felt very flat and cold. Sure, he's supposed to be a vampire but it doesn't make him an emotionless Vulcan. And before you try to cite his unusual sex scene with Angelique, allow me to point out the biggest flaw in his character that he waits for like half the movie before really taking time to speak to Victoria. And this is the same Victoria who LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE HIS DEAD GIRLFRIEND. How can waiting around that long make sense?

After doing some research into the original series, it is clear that there was an effort to integrate various plot lines from the original soap opera in order to create this one movie. And that could have been a good idea had it not ended up that they just had too many characters all together with so many different plot objectives to achieve. Victoria may be the governess but we never see her, well, do anything around the manor. David has a psychiatrist but we don't exactly see them having sessions. If the fishing business wasn't doing too well, what was Elizabeth originally doing about it before Barnabas arrived? 

And while I know they didn't actually have the time to feature all those stories and answer all those questions, but that's precisely the corner they painted themselves into by loading all those stories onto their plate. At least that's how I see things.

The movie still shines in the visuals department and each character certainly had a distinct look. And that has Tim Burton written all over it and has pretty become part of what identifies his movies so clearly. I liked some of the music as well, but like I said earlier we could have used a lot more of it.

Dark Shadows could have been a lot better than it was, I feel. It had a lot of great elements and a very strong cast but didn't quite know how to properly develop everyone's stories, which is what dragged it down for me. Thus I can only rate it as 2 fish-out-of-water moments for Barnabas suddenly being in 1972 out of a possible 5.

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