Like every other Tim Burton movie, “Dark Shadows” features charismatic, quirky and energetic characters against a drab, dark and washed out backdrop.
In the film, Burton favorite Johnny Depp is bathed in a gallon of makeup in order to become Barnabas Collins, a 16th century aristocrat who lives in a large mansion and runs a profitable fishing business in the town of Collinsport, Maine. We are given a short and narrated prologue detailing how Barnabas had an affair and then broke the heart of his servant, Angelique (Eva Green). Unbeknownst to him, Angelique turns out to be a witch, who kills off Barnabas’ wife and parents in a jealous rage, then turns him into a vampire so that he may suffer by being buried in a coffin for eternity. But years pass, and Barnabas’ coffin is dug up by construction workers who are building a McDonalds. He returns to his manor, now in 1972, and finds that the only remaining family he has lives in a shadow of their former glory as a new fishing business has nearly driven them bankrupt. With his undead abilities and creed of family values, Barnabas then steps up to rebuild his family’s honor. He then discovers that the rival fishing business is run by his old flame and rival, Angelique, who has been using her magic over all the years to keep herself alive as well as do all she can to ruin the Collins family. Thus the struggle for love, revenge and family carries out.
The greatest crime Tim Burton committed with this film was getting a great cast and not using them to their full potential. Michelle Pfeiffer plays the new head of the Collins family that seems a little too content with allowing a vampire to take over her business and live in the same house as her child. Helena Bonham Carter plays an alcoholic psychiatrist who doesn’t seem to be in the film for any particular reason. Jackie Earle Haley from “Watchmen” and the new “Nightmare on Elm Street” appears as the Manor’s groundskeeper, but does little more than look greasy and complain about his job. I was delighted to hear the booming voice of Christopher Lee and then completely disappointed to discover he only had one insignificant scene. Finally, Alice Cooper shows up as himself, performing a few songs at a party the Collins family throws, but also failing to have a significant role.
Much of the plot seems random and arbitrary. There is no well-defined rhyme or reason. Many scenes first appear to be hinting at the significance of the film, but the audience soon discovers they aren’t actually all that important. The ending was cliché and rushed, and one must really question the quality of the writing when a character actually says, “Yeah, I’m a werewolf, let’s just not make a big deal out of this, ok?”
This film would have worked better with more comedic relief. The trailers all portray it as a comedy, but there were rarely moments when I felt like I was supposed to laugh, and even less when I actually did. Most of the humor comes from that trope of a man from the past trying to deal with modern society. Burton needs to learn that it takes more than Johnny Depp being Johnny Depp to get an audience laughing.
If you’re the type of person that will adore any offspring from the bromance of Depp and Burton, “Dark Shadows” should at least be an easy way to kill two hours. Otherwise, you should really just do yourself a favor and see “The Avengers” a second time instead.