Dark Shadows

Dark-Shadows

I remember the first time I ever stepped foot in a cinema. The year was 1992 when my seven year old self walked into the last remaining Movie Palace in the Bronx: Loew's Paradise Theater. As I walked into the beautiful and massive auditorium I looked up at the screen before me just as Michelle Pfeiffer, donning a sleek catwoman costume, cracked the heads off several mannequins with her whip. My brothers, who took me to my first cinema experience, were/are notorious for walking into movies after they've already started - a practice that I condemn.

What mattered was that first initial impression, and perhaps the timing was right, for I fell in love with the experience and would spend the next ten years begging to be taken to the cinema at every opportunity (once I was old enough and earned my own money I took myself of course). It should be mentioned that 1992 was also the first time I watched Edward Scissorhands on television (which sprang my love of film: the medium where you can realise your dreams). Without knowing it I started on a track that would lead me to a career in film today - and was of course the start of my love for Tim Burton, though I had no idea who he was (or that both these films were related) at the time.

As an adult I can look back on Burton films and judge them accordingly. I see their importance in my life and in the world as well as their flaws and misgivings. Considering how high concept they are though you have to have a bit of forgiveness - it takes a lot to create a believable world where things don't quite work by our known standards of law and physics. Nonetheless Burton has always managed to make two types of movies and make them well (in my book), the Family film (Alice in Wonderland, Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Big Fish, Beetlejuice, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Frankenweenie, Vincent) and the PG13 variety (Sweeney Todd, Planet of the Apes, Sleepy Hollow, Mars Attacks, Ed Wood, Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands, Batman).

Going to see Dark Shadows I had no idea what to expect. I didn't watch any trailers (as I prefer not to), I didn't even know that it was based on the old 1960's American soap opera but what I would have gathered from the posters and Burton's recent trend was that it would be a Family film.

I was wrong.

So then, you would think that if it's not one it's the other right? Well this film is stuck in the middle of something messy. It was Family, PG-13 and something new - something I would consider rated R*. I looked up at the screen watching children speak of masturbation, seeing Johnny Depp engaging in lewd and promiscuous sex, and bearing witness to unnecessary (attempting to be humouring) murder. It was a grown up version of Beetlejuice with the attempted seriousness of Sweeney Todd (though Sweeney Todd was by far his most adult film to date it stood in line with what we could expect from Burton – akin to Sleepy Hollow). This film is a first for Tim Burton, the beginning of something new and unexpected and I honestly don't know if I should be applauding him for the effort or shying away altogether.

It has taken me four days to write this post, and even now I do not know where I stand.

What I can comment on though, while my opinion of the new style still formulates, is the story itself. I promise to give no spoilers.

The film started out great. There was a sense of storytelling (which I love) and already we knew we were in for a story full of lost love, despair, and revenge – great combo. We moved past the introduction and met our heroine and she seemed very promising. Then… our focus changes to Mr. Depp and it’s almost like our heroine is no longer part of the story. We spend a little bit of time touching base with the other characters without really spending quality time with them and then we’re back to Mr. Depp. He makes some weird jokes, he kills people, the audience give out uncomfortable giggles and then we’re presented with the stakes of the story – what our characters are fighting for.

Hmm.. at this point I don’t know where the story is going anymore or who I should be caring about or despising. The one character I do care for and am highly intrigued about (our heroine played by Bella Heathcote) is hardly around anymore and instead I’m stuck with a hero (Mr. Depp) who fights for his family but does so at the cost of innocent people around him. Am I supposed to like him? You can turn murder in film into comedy but only when it’s self defence or fighting for a cause. To be fair Mr. Depp plays a vampire and that’s what vampires do – they kill people – but I just couldn’t find it funny, nor could I grow to care for our dear Barnabas Collins (Mr. Depp).

Ok, I just bashed a Burton film… I think my soul just wretched in agony.

The story had holes, the characters had holes, and nothing or no one was developed enough for me to care about what I was watching. What started out with so much potential ended up being a complete dud.

The one area the film excelled in, which is no surprise really, is in its visual style. Set in 1970’s Maine the town had the look of a New England Fishing Village ala Burton – magnificent! The hair, the clothes, the architecture – brilliant! But when have we ever been let down by Burton’s visual brilliance? (There was one moment that I can remember actually – Mr. Depps Hair in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – I mean come on, really?)

Being completely unsatisfied and without an explanation to this travesty I went to the trusty Wikipedia and read up on the original 1960’s soap opera. I was pleased to discover that many of the faults I found in the film were actually present in the original series (such as the fact that the main character changed – yet stuck around – after the first season). So being an adaptation they stayed very true to the original. OK. That is understandable… wait no it’s not! When you adapt you have the opportunity to make things different, make things more coherent, make things better! I can understand being a fan of something to the point where you think it’s perfect (Edward Scissorhands and Batman Returns are perfect) but if you were charged with adapting them, especially for a different form (a long running series turned into a two hour long film) you’re going to make some changes, and make sure they are good changes.

I can’t believe I’m going to say this. Burton and Depp need to call it a day and go their separate ways. (that came out of left field)

I’m upset. I need to just stop writing before I hurt myself.

*The MPAA has actually given the film a PG-13 rating

Related Posts:
Review of Sweeney Todd
Meeting Tim Burton

Dark Shadows Dark Shadows Reviewed by Unknown on 13:03 Rating: 5

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