Burton’s ‘Dark Shadows’ disappoints
Back in the 1990s, Hollywood started taking old TV shows and making them into movies, set in present day, and making fun of just how outdated they seemed by today’s standards. The Brady Bunch Movie, The Adams Family and even Pleasantville showed us that the characters of old would have a tough time fitting in with our cool, hip, progressive society. Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows is a lot like those fish-out-of-water parodies, just with more vampire jokes.
The original series ran in the 1960s, but the film is set in the 1970s, complete with stoner hippies, lava lamps and a disco ball. Johnny Depp stars as Barnabas Collins, heir to a very wealthy colonial family who rebuffs the advances of a clingy witch named Angelique (Eva Green) and ends up cursed to spend eternity as a vampire. After spending two hundred years trapped in a coffin, Barnabas is unearthed by some construction workers in the 1970s and must reunite with his relatives and try to adjust to the technology of the time at his ancestral home, Collinwood. There’s a side story about Barnabas’ true love (Bella Heathcote) falling under the witch’s spell and jumping off a cliff, only to be seemingly reincarnated as a nanny working for the Collins family, but it seems a little tacked on in an attempt to make Barnabas more three dimensional.
The film’s primary goal seems to be attempting to make every possible joke about the 1970s and an old fashioned vampire trying to blend in. Barnabas is perplexed and fearful of a lava lamp in pouty, teenage Carolyn’s (Chloe Grace Moretz) swingin’ bedroom. Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) explains to him that they don’t ride around in a carriage, but a Chevy instead. He assumes a television is some kind of magic trick. He even learns to brush his teeth, though his reflection doesn’t show up in the mirror. Because he’s a vampire. Get it! Isn’t that hilarious?! With all these kitschy jokes, it’s hard to even remember the story lines of little David (Gulliver McGrath) being visited by the ghost of his late mother, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) trying to rip off the family fortune and even Angelique trying to take down Barnabas by destroying his family’s business.
Burton’s trademark dark, angular, German Expressionist-influenced style is also a bit lost here. Sure, there are some looming gargoyles and a beautifully spooky, big-eyed heroine (Heathcote), but aside from the casting of Helena Bonham Carter, it’s hard to even tell this is a Burton film from visual alone. Even Danny Elfman’s music seems toned down and simplified.
The cast is sort of engaging. McGrath is adorable and plays his timid, haunted character well. Moretz, whom we know can actually act, seems a bit wasted in such a stereotypical role, so much so that, when we discover a twist about her character during the finale, we don’t really care. Pfeiffer is good, though it’s hard to tell why she talks with an affected accent like Madonna when the rest of her family speaks normally. Green, who looks like a slightly more sinister Anne Hathaway, fully commits to going bat-shit crazy as a spurned ex-girlfriend. Carter brings a bit of comedy to her role as a drunken psychiatrist, but her scenes are few and far between.
The whole thing feels like Pirates of the Caribbean meets Hocus Pocus, good for kids too young to go see Twilight, but disappointing for adults who were looking for a solid nod to the original series.