Monday 14 May 2012

Film Review: Dark Shadows

The latest in a long line of adaptations, Tim Burton's Dark Shadows is quintessentially his own; all the ingredients are thrown in that make up a "Burton" film, and yet, like Alice in Wonderland before it, Dark Shadow's fails to make optimum use of these ingredients to make a delicacy.

With a cast comprising of Burton regular's Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Michelle Pfeiffer and Christopher Lee, Dark Shadows should really have been titled "Tim Burton and Friends" but that probably sounds a little too much like a kid's TV show. Depp of course is the protagonist, Barnabas Collins, a cursed vampire locked away in a coffin for 200 years by ex-Bond girl Eva Green, as the wickedly evil witch Angelique. When he awakens in the mysterious and alien land that is, (dun-dun-dun!) 1972, he finds that his ancestors, Elizabeth (Pfeiffer), Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), David (Gulliver McGrath) and Carolyn (the brilliantly grumpy Chloe Moretz) have let the family estate fall into ruin and despair.

First off, it is worth noting the brilliance of Depp's performance as Barnabas Collins. Depp is in his element here, in a character that channels so many of his other Burton roles, such as the wonderfully meek Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow, as well as his turn as the blood drenched Sweeney Todd. He is awarded 80% of the laughs (the other 20% go to Chloe Moretz) as Barnabas explores the world of 1972. Another stand-out for me was Eva Green. Every word she uttered as the evil witch, consumed with somehow destroying and loving Barnabas, dripped brilliantly with malice and she makes a great villain.

Bella Heathcote's dual role of Victoria and Josette was also good, but it did feel that the former's blossoming relationship with Barnabas wasn't built upon as much as it should have been. Whilst Victoria was pitched as a central (and likeable) character in the opening scenes, there were periods in the film's middle third where she was made to battle for screen-time against Green and Bonham Carter.

As is sometimes inevitable with any ensemble cast, characters duel with each other to get screen time, and this is very much the case with Dark Shadows. An example of this is Jonny Lee Miller's role as Roger Collins. After the initial set-up, Miller was relatively unimportant and ignored, a bizarre sub-plot that never really came to bear fruit in a satisfying way.

Something that struck me about Dark Shadows was its attempts to cover all of the bases. Was it a comedy? A fantasy horror? A romance? It tried to blend in each and every one of these which, at times, meant it lacked direction. This was most evident in the film's middle stint; was Barnabas' story one about finding love,  rebuilding the family business, getting vengeance on Angelique, or battling with his vampish tendencies? Again, it attempted to mix in all of these ideas with varying success.

A huge plus point was the film's soundtrack and score. The mix of 1970's disco was fun and Danny Elfman, who has previously worked on Burton's Batman films, Edward Scissorhands and Planet of the Apes, was on top form again. His score was haunting and magical, and a great accompaniment to the Gothic aesthetic of the film.

The Verdict: 5/10

Dark Shadows is an interesting addition to the library of Tim Burton cinema, a complete indulgence of his style of film making and casting, with a brilliant score and visuals to boot. It did however have one or two missteps in regards to the overall direction of the narrative, leaving this audience member feeling a little underwhelmed.

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