Monday, May 14, 2012

Review of Dark Shadows

I really wanted to like this movie and it should have been a winner considering that it once again paired up Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, but alas, Dark Shadows represents two hours of my life that I will never get back.  Dark Shadows stars Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer and Eva Green. This movie was based on the television series Dark Shadows which ran from 1966-1971.  I must admit that I am not familiar with the series so I cannot judge how closely the movie aligned with the series.

Barnabas Collins and his family sail from Liverpool to the U.S. where they establish themselves in the fishing industry and become the richest family in the town Collinsport, Maine.  The family builds  Collinwood Manor.  This should have meant a happy life for Barnabas but when his parents are killed mysteriously he spends his time investigating the dark arts, certain that some form of evil is at play.  He continues to run the business in between sleeping with Angelique Bouchard.  When Angelique asks that he declare his love, he is forced to admit that he does not in fact love her despite sleeping with her.  When Barnabas falls in love with another woman, Angelique curses Barnabas and he becomes a vampire.  She bewitches Barnabas' true love and jumps to her death from a cliff.  Angelique then sets the townspeople against him and he is buried in a coffin for almost two hundred years.

When Barnabas is accidentally dug up by a construction crew, he finds the world much changed.  He discovers that not only are his descendants still alive, but so is the witch who cursed him.  He sets about attempting to restore the family fortune, denying the charms of Angelique, learning about this new age, and falling in love with Victoria Winters, who is clearly the reincarnation of his lost love.  Barnabas uses archaic language that is meant to humorous, for instance his idea of complementing a woman is to comment on her child bearing hips.

Depp completely commits to the character of Barnabas and plays up the quirky dated character who he is playing, but in mind it is not enough to make the film entertaining. There are times when Barnabas is downright irritating and camp.  At several points throughout the movie, I found myself looking at my watch wondering how much longer I still had to sit through the film. Cameos by Alice Cooper not withstanding and comments about him being the ugliest woman that Barnabas has ever scene was not enough to save this film.

If you have seen the commercials advertising Dark Shadows, then you have already seen the best parts of this movie.  Burton went into this attempting to give the viewer classic gothic horror with a touch of comedy but it all fell incredibly flat.

I was not pleased that Angelique's total motivation for acting was being spurned by Barnabas.  In the end Barnabas rightfully told her that she didn't love him but saw him as a possession.  I understand that this movie began in 1752, but if Barnabas could have carefree sex, why couldn't Angelique.  It would have made much more sense to have Angelique enraged because of something Barnabas had done.  It further sets up Angelique up to play the role of "the devils succubus," because she consented to sex with Barnabas while his lost love remained ever pure because all they ever did was share a kiss.  Even when Barnabas consents to sex with Angelique in modern times, it's not because he wants sex, but because she has bewitched him.

Victoria Winters', is hired to be a governess to David Collins in the wake of his mothers death.  Victoria was institutionalized by her parents because of her ability to see ghosts.  She talks about this as the worst time in her life and she also makes it clear that she sees this as a betrayal by her parents. In the institution Winters is subjected to painful electric shock treatment.  Obviously, what happened to her was terrible, but it is presented as wrong because she wasn't technically neurologically atypical and instead had an extra ability.  I would have been much more comfortable had it been clear that no one deserves this sort of treatment despite their neurological standing.

Before Barnabas' appearance,  Elizabeth Collins Stoddard played by Michelle Pfeiffer was the matriarch of the family.  Under her care the family home has fallen to near ruins and the once lucrative business is not producing anything substantial.  Barnabas shows up and points her towards the secret compartments holding Collins riches and he sets things right.  Despite the fact that Pfeiffer is a good actress she spends much of the time in Depp's shadow.  Her character is never really developed though she is presented to be the supposed equal of Barnabas. 

When Barnabas meets Dr. Julia Hoffman, he is amazed that women can now be doctors.  She hypnotizes him despite his denial of the possibility of this and learns that he is indeed a vampire.  In a moment of attraction, she even gives him oral sex.  When Barnabas discovers that she has been taking his blood not to give him a cure, but in the hope of turning herself into a vampire, he kills her.  Apparently wanting to be like him, instead of working on his desires is betrayal. 

I know that this movie was set in a small town in Maine, but once again there was a complete erasure of people of colour as well as the GLBT community.  How long is Hollywood going to continue to make these completely erased films and then expect us to support them happily with our money?  I don't even recall seeing a person of colour in the backdrop.  There is no way that this was accidental.

As with all Burton films, we got the dark gothic backdrop.  The cinematography in some scenes was really quite compelling, especially during the party in which Alice Cooper makes an appearance.  The problem is that it felt like the movie just stumbled along with no real connections between the characters and the plot.  No amount of special effects can make up for that kind of deficiency.  I went into this movie expecting to see something like Sleepy Hollow or Bettlejuice and instead I was given its pale shadow. My advice on this one is to wait and rent it.  You won't get the time back but at least it will be cheaper than paying to see in the theater.