Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dark Shadows (2012)

Title: Dark Shadows (2012)

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller, Chloe Grace Moretz, Bella Heathcote


Tim Burton’s always been one of my favorite directors. The guy is an artist through and through and it shows on his films. He always puts such emphasis on the mood and look of a film that even if the film is crappy (which has happened) you can rest assured you’ll at least see something that will look interesting. But even I must admit that he’s turned into a pretty hit and miss kind of director. Some of his films reach perfection like Sleepy Hollow (2004) and Ed Wood (1994); which to me are his brightest days behind the camera, some are halfway decent like Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), and some are downright disastrous abominations like Planet of the Apes (2001) and Alice in Wonderland (2010). This is why whenever one of Burton’s films comes to the big screen; I always give them a chance. I could end up watching one of the good ones. Now take in consideration that I was never a follower of the old Dark Shadows television show, I only saw a couple of episodes sporadically. I’ve never seen any of the previous Dark Shadow films either so I’m judging this one solely on its own merits. This review comes to you from a Tim Burton fan whose been dissapointed with his recent batch of films. So, the question remains, was Dark Shadows a good Tim Burton film?

Dark Shadows is all about Barnabas Collins, a young man in love with a girl called Josette DuPres. At the same time, a powerful witch called Angelique Bouchard also has the hots for Barnabas, and she doesn’t take kindly to rejection! So when Barnabas rejects her advances, she puts Josette under a spell and sends her to her death. As for Barnabas, he gets locked inside of a coffin, buried alive and cursed to live the life of a vampire! Fast forward 196 years later, and some people unwillingly unearth Barnabas who is now faced with the fact that he’s been buried for nearly 200 years. Barnabas is now headed towards  a culture clash of gargantuan proportions! He must quickly learn the ways of Lava Lamps and Rock and Roll. He also discovers that the Collin’s family is no longer as prominent and rich as it once was. So now, Barnabas’ has only one major concern in his mind: restoring the Collin’s family to it’s former glory. Will he achieve it?

So I went into Dark Shadows kind of skeptical, would it be one of the good ones, or would it be a sucky Burton flick? If you ask me, with his recent slate of films, Tim Burton has been kind of selling his soul for money with films like Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). Would Dark Shadows be one of these fluffy colorful get rich quick films? Or would this be one of those Burton films that he puts extra care and attention to? My answer is yes, this is one of the good ones! First off, I enjoyed the humor. Going into this I was expecting Tim Burton’s version of The Addams Family. You know, a cooky, spooky, funny family, and that’s pretty much what I got, only thing is that this film is aimed more towards adults. It has sexually explicit jokes, and lots of dark humor. My only gripe is that this film should have been ‘R’ rated. I mean, you’re having a female character giving Barnabas Collins oral sex for Christ’s sake! Make it an ‘R’ rated film and you don’t have to shy way from the blood and gore which brings me to the one and only thing I didn’t like about the film, in terms of the gore it felt restrained.

Tim Burton, working his magic with Johnny Depp

Let’s take for example Sleepy Hollow (2004) which I consider to be Burton’s masterpiece. It’s a fairytale, it’s dark, it’s gothic, it’s gory…and it was rated ‘R’ which was the perfect thing to do. After all, this was a movie about a guy who goes around decapitating people, there’s no way around it, Sleepy Hollow, though based on a fairy tale (which are usually aimed at kids) needed to be rated ‘R’ so you wouldn’t shy away from the gory nature of the story, from the horror. If you ask me, Dark Shadows should have been an ‘R’ as well. Aside from the fact that it’s a film filled with a sexual situation or two, Barnabas is a vampire, a blood sucker. One scene that has Barnabas feeding on a group of young kids should have been a blood bath, instead, Burton cuts away and we don’t see the potentially gruesome scene, even after all the build up that goes on before it. I guess this is the way films are made today. Everything has to be watered down PG-13, just to play it safe. Just to make sure you’re film will make as many millions as it possibly could. Well, you know what, I got news for you Hollywood; Sleepy Hollow was ‘R’ and it still made a huge amount of money. But whatever, filmmaking is equal parts business and equal parts art, I’m sure here Burton was just following orders from studio execs not to go over the top with the blood and gore. I’m just saying; this film needed a bit more gruesomeness. Still, this is a minor hiccup with the film, what else worked about it?

Well for starters as it is expected in a Burton film, the art direction was superb. I loved the look of Collinwood, the mansion that the Collin’s family inhabits. It’s this gigantic old mansion filled with room after cob web filled room, with dark hallways and secret passages. At times, with certain shots, I felt like I was watching an old Hammer film, which is probably exactly what Burton was going for. Burton did a good job of mixing that look that horror films from the 70’s had with his gothic, artistic sensibilities. The result is a film with a very different color palette then your usual Burton film, the film is colorful, but the colors are kind of muted, the way the colors looked on the old Dark Shadows television shows. I would say that Burton was successful in replicating the way Dan Curtis’s films and television shows looked. But the film still has Burton’s ‘gothicness’ to it. And by the way, I want to applaud the fact that CGI was kept to a minimum on this one, finally, this film like a real film and not like a bunch of actors are standing behind a green screen. The CGI is used the way it should be used, whenever it’s necessary. Mr. Burton, The Film Connoisseur salutes you for this!

Dark Shadows is a spooky flick filled with everything from ghosts, to witches, to vampires and even werewolves, a horror fan should be happy with this film. I also enjoyed the phantasmagorical images Burton came up with in those scenes dealing with the ghosts that inhabit Collinwood. This is a horror film, but it’s also a comedy, and the characters are funny in their own kooky ways, with that mordant Burton sense of humor which is present in many of his films. Dark Shadows marks Burton’s eight collaboration with Johnny Depp, who is great as Barnabas, the character is likable even though he’s a villain which is a tough feat to achieve, its Barnabas that will keep you entertained through out, great character. Some complaint that this movie is slow, or boring, but I found it to be great fun, the dialog, the sarcasm, the witt, honestly at times it felt like The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) of the horror world. You know, the story of a family trying to recover its former glory. And for those that complaint about this film being ‘boring’ just remember that Dan Curtis’s films were never action packed films, they were always quiet, spooky tales about family. And this is what this film captures well, it captures that fog filled cemetery, with the ghosts creeping about the hallways of the mansion, the dark corridors...the gigantic ominous looking house with a history. I’m guessing what some people might not like is that this version of Dark Shadows is a comedy, and the old show wasn’t, but if you look at the campiness of those shows today, you might find comedy in it.  

In terms of the comedy, I say the film succeeded. I was laughing like a mad man with some of the jokes, especially those dealing with Barnabas and his clash with the 70’s, great fish out of water stuff there. The comedy is a bit subtle, and it’s more related to the dialog than slapstick or physical comedy, so what these characters say and the way they behave is what should keep you giggling. The film reminded me of The Addams Family (1991) in many ways, let’s see, we have the eccentric family members, the gigantic and spooky mansion, the family treasure and the strangers who want to get their hands on it, and finally, the honor of the family name. These are all elements that both films share, but Dark Shadows adds the element of sexual obsession to the mix, though Gomez and Morticia had a little of that going on as well. So both films are similar, but Dark Shadows is decidedly more adult in a way.  Final words is that this was a satisfying Tim Burton film, and I’m glad because I’ve been waiting for a good Burton film for a while, glad I didn’t give up on the guy. He’s still got it in my book.

Rating: 4 out of 5



Dan O. said...

Not as exciting or as funny as the goofy trailers promised, which is what really bummed me out in the end. I think it's just time for Burton and Depp to take some time apart from one another. Who knows, it may both do them some real good in the future. Good review.

Franco Macabro said...

I guess I must have been in a good mood that day, cause I actually found it funny, but its comedy relies more on sarcasm and dialog than on slap stick.

I like Deep and Burton's collaborations, I wouldnt mind seeing the together again, but i also enjoy seeing them trying new things, wouldnt want them to burn out.

I guess Depp is Burton's favorite, same as Scorcese had Deniro and DiCaprio, or Carpenter had Kurt Russell.


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