Oh crap, I forgot this one! “Dark Shadows”

June 1, 2012

For thirty years Tim Burton has sulked around Hollywood like that annoying emo-kid in your dorm that pops in from time to time to tell you again how phony you and the rest of your friends are, and how this campus is all just a bullshit conformity factory, before heading out to listen to some Bauhaus. Then in 2008, Christopher Nolan popped into Burton’s Christmas-light decorated dorm room and punched him the face several times, then set about raiding his mini-fridge, while Burton lay on the floor in a fetal position, whimpering and soiling himself. Figuratively. He did that by making The Dark Knight, a film that made Burton’s take on Batman and the Joker—long considered the gold standard of Batman screen treatments by people who wear T-shirts with the bat-logo well into middle age—seem every bit as childish and facile as it was. Unfortunately, he didn’t do this literally, because now we’ve had Dark Shadows foisted upon us. Crud.

“I’ve been banging Vanessa Paradis for the better part of a decade, so I don’t mind looking like this…”


If you’re not familiar with Dark Shadows—and it’s a safe bet you’re not—it was apparently a cheap-ass supernatural soap opera that had a huge cult following, despite the fact I’ve never met anyone who actually ever saw an episode of it. I guess it was like True Blood, as reimagined by a 12 year-old who couldn’t actually stay up late enough to watch True Blood. Naturally, Burton wanted to remake it into a summer blockbuster, and Lo! And behold! Somebody in Hollywood gave him 150 million to do just that, proving once again that there are people at production companies that make guppies look like Fermilab employees.

Okay, so in this movie, Johnny Depp—really, who else were you expecting?—plays Barnabas Collins, a wealthy fishing magnate transformed into  a vampire by spurned lover Angelique (Eva Green). For good measure, Angelique also enticed Barnabas’s true love Josette (Bella Heathcoate—horrible) into committing suicide and then locks Barnabas in a coffin ringed with chains and buries him for two hundred years. When he is accidentally excavated by a road crew in 1972, well, wackiness ensues. And by “wackiness” I mean, “all sorts of tiresome soap opera contrivances.”

We’re on the same page, Michelle.

Barnabas returns to his manor to find that his family’s holding have been decimated by Angelique’s company, and the Collinses are now the doltish suburban zombies that Burton usually rails against. Realizing who he is, the matriarch, Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer—good, but underused), implores him to help them rebuild the business, and Barnabas agrees. Oh, and he does a bunch of other stuff:

1)      Josette has been reincarnated as the family’s nanny, Victoria Winters. Barnabas rekindles his romance with her.

2)      Barnabas serves as a surrogate father to the youngest Collins, David, who is a shy, sensitive boy that no one understands.

3)      A ghost shows up.

4)      David’s psychiatrist, Dr. Hoffman (Burton’s real-life wife Helena Bonham Carter), tries to replace Barnabas’ blood with human blood in an effort to cure him of his vampirism.

Even people tripping on acid think she looks like a deer in headlights.

Depp is actually quite funny the arrogant, aristocratic Barnabas, now faced with an era he doesn’t understand. Pretty much any pleasure to be had in this film comes from that. But you can only do so many fish-out-of-water jokes before it all wears thin.

Additionally, it must be said, that Burton is a lousy director. He may be a good visual stylist (though I’d argue that he basically one idea and beats you to death with it), but he has no idea how to use actors, stage an action sequence, or tell a story. Every scene of the film feels as if it was meticulously and painstaking set up, then Burton called “Action” and left the room to play with his claymation dolls or something.

Um, Eva? There”s an e-mail link on the sidebar…

The plot…Aw, screw this! You know what? I don’t care about this movie. I don’t care about the plot, which congeals like a lump of pork fat until the movie just gives up on it anyway. And I sure don’t care about Tim Burton and Johnny Depp who keep making the same goddamn movie! Yeah, we get it: you two had a rough time in high school. Get over it, already! You’re both north of 50! Act like fucking adults! You guys made one great movie twenty years ago with Ed Wood, and you said, “Eh. Playing real people in the normal world is boring. Let’s play weird-ass fantasyland governed by some dude that, by rights, should be on the FBI’s sex-offenders watch list.” Screw you guys. Screw you both and die!

Wipe those grins off your faces. You made “The Planet of the Apes” and “The Tourist” between you…

Sorry. My inside voice came out a bit there. Uh…lemme try and recover this…

* The Josette/Victoria subplot is unforgivably thin. Not only is Heathcoate a complete blank, but the movie forgets about its own freaking love story and the reason the story even happens for about 45 minutes. Increasingly, I get the feeling that Burton has never aged out of that “girls are icky” stage of life.

* Along those lines, Barnabas is basically a douche: He spurns Angelique for Josette, because, hey—there are the ones you bed and the ones you wed, amirite? It’s hard to get on his side of things. Especially, with Green being such a live-wire next to Heathcoate’s near-comatose performance. A competent director might have, I dunno, addressed this glaring error in the story/casting.

* Time to talk about Chloe Grace Moertz. She plays Caroline, the Collins’ daughter. Burton sexualizes her by putting her in lots of short-shorts and miniskirts, and then throws in a totally unnecessary scene of her dancing provocatively. Oh, and let’s touch base here: she’s only 15. Okay, Tim? Your whole “You’re the girlfriend I wish I had when I was in high school” treatment of teenaged actresses has now officially tipped into the “relative you don’t leave the kids alone with” territory.

* Oh, and in the final few minutes of the movie, Burton throws in the totally pointless and illogical twist that she’s a werewolf. And nothing happens. I mean, dude, what part of storytelling do you not get?

* In one scene, Dr. Hoffman gives Barnabas a hummer. It must have been strange for Burton to direct his wife to do that to his husband.

* The end melts down into a loud, stupid, dull rehash of Death Becomes Her. I know most people have forgotten that movie, but that doesn’t mean we needed to be reminded of it.

Okay, that’s enough pixels spilled over Dark Shadows. Goddamn, Hollywood, you won’t make At the Mountains of Madness, but you’ll make this?

One comment

  1. It’s funny, all the things you mentioned that happened in the movie (blood transfusion, ghost, werewolf, reincarnated as nanny, etc) happened in the show. Seems to be similar to the Brady Bunch movie where they throw in all kinds of plot points from the show and try to make a movie out of it.

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