Review: DARK SHADOWS

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 2 (Out of 4 Stars) 

I left this screening with feelings of frustration and bewilderment, much like the way I felt when I first saw the trailer.  I remember reading just prior to production that Johnny Depp is a huge fan of the old television series and that he was obsessed with portraying Barnabas Collins.  So as a fan of his work and an admirer of most of Tim Burton’s work, I naturally felt thrilled to hear that they would adapt Dark Shadows for the big screen.  Then, I saw the first trailer.  I felt bewildered and frustrated, because if Burton and Depp so loved the source material, why did they choose to poke fun at it? It also raised the question, why must television show adaptations often have to be turned into comedies?  Granted, this formula worked well for 21 Jump St., but with movies like Dragnet and the subject of this review, it often fails. 

Based on the late sixties, early seventies soap opera of the same name, Shadows follows vampire Barnabas Collins (Depp) who, buried for over two hundred years, gets released in the year 1972 and hopes to reclaim his birthright in Collinsport, Maine.  The estate of Collinwood remains, but, to Barnabas’ dismay, not in the glorious condition it was at the time of his burial.  Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) lives there with her daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), her scheming brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), Roger’s “troubled” son David (Gulliver McGrath), David’s governess Victoria (Bella Heathcote), and the family’s psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter).  Barnabas determines to help Elizabeth rebuild the family’s fish cannery business.  However, in doing so, he re-discovers an old antagonist. 

Many years prior, Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) and Barnabas have a passionate affair, but because of his love for Josette Du Pres (also played by Bella Heathcote), he ends the relationship.  A powerful witch, Angelique has managed to remain alive though the years of Barnabas’ burial and proves herself as a formidable enemy of the Collins family.  She has taken over the cannery in Collinsport, crushing the Collins’ business and leaving them in dire straits.  Barnabas uses his charms and skills to revive the family business but must battle his former lover, who will stop at nothing to make him hers again.

As I had never watched the old Shadows program, I decided to watch the first few episodes on Netflix the night before the screening.  I have to say that I really enjoyed what I saw. Yes, it does have some cheesy and slightly silly moments.  It obviously had a modest budget, and the acting gets a tad over-the-top sometimes.  Then again, the show was produced as a daytime soap, but still has a certain coolness factor.  So, watching Burton’s film poke fun at the show, and not really in a loving way, really irritated me. Burton had the potential to make a really awesome and thrilling vampire movie and he squanders it here.  I will give the movie some credit.  The “fish out of water” humor employed for Barnabas’ arrival in the 70s does have its moments.  I will admit that I laughed more than once.  Still, the constant jokes, winks and nods to the 70s era gets old really quickly. I get it.  It’s the 1970s.  It’s kitschy, cute, and adorable, but let’s move on please!  

The screenplay and story by Seth Grahame-Smith and John August delivers a somewhat expected and predictable plot with scant surprises.  People who adore the old television series will probably like how faithful Smith and August remain to the story elements and characters created by Dan Curtis, but will probably be annoyed that Burton and his writers chose to play the whole thing for laughs, and not always funny ones. Burton has such tremendous talent as director and is a visionary when it comes to giving his movies his definitive style, but why he chose to go with a comedic script, when he could have made a dark and serious vampire film, baffles me. 

The fact that Depp, who claims to adore the source material and the Barnabas character, agreed to make this movie as a comedy baffles me as well.  He does offer a great performance and has all of the funny lines, but watching him portray Barnabas with such earnestness for the sake of comedy, frustrates me.  Most of the cast performs adequately.  Eva Green obviously has fun with the Angelique character and enjoys devouring the scenery in this role.   I will say that Chloe Grace Moretz disappoints me with her dull, flat, and uninteresting performance as Carolyn.  The character, here, is portrayed as an apathetic and rebellious teenager, but it almost seemed like Moretz felt apathy toward acting in this role.  I feel that she has way too much talent to be so under-utilized here. 

So I really cannot recommend spending money to see this film in the theater.  I strongly advise waiting for this as a rental.  Some people may find this movie moderately entertaining, but I honestly believe that true fans of the classic TV show will despise the comedic take on their beloved soap.  While I am not a die-hard fan, as I just really discovered the charms of this cool show, I can see the potential for greatness that Burton and his writers squander with this lame adaptation.

 

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