Published May 10, 2012It's shocking how many talented people came together to produce such a lifeless and slight film. There's the list of usual suspects in Burton's increasingly desultory canon – Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, writer John August (The Corpse Bride, The Nines) and composer Danny Elfman – along with capable veterans Michelle Pfeiffer, Jonny Lee Miller, Jackie Earle Haley and Chloe Grace Mortez.
It's not the cast that renders the film so toothless and banal though – the aforementioned performers seldom engage autopilot mode, even when doing lacklustre work. Burton, August and co-writer Seth Grahame-Smith can shoulder the blame for giving us a two-joke movie that plays like a shoddily constructed Adams Family with none of the pizzazz.
Nearly all of the humour in Dark Shadows is derived from one of two things: that people don't know Barnabas Collins is a vampire and must otherwise explain his peculiarities, and that he's been freed after 200 years of imprisonment and therefore doesn't understand contemporary attitudes or doohickies of the '70s.
Knowing that this is adapted from the bizarre soap opera of the same name from the '60s, the garish makeup and melodramatic emotions are understandable, but that doesn't make the aesthetic any less awkward or the limp character motivations forgivable.
Barnabas's parents were wealthy fish dealers, building the town of Collinsport around their industry. After shtupping the maid, another woman catches Barnabas's eye. Her love scorned, the maid, who's conveniently a witch, kills the young Collins's parents and his new infatuation. Overcome with grief, Barnabas leaps to his death after his lover, only to find he's suddenly become a vampire. Because, apparently, you can make someone a vampire whenever, if you know the right mojo in this story, even though later in the film simply being bitten (no feeding required) or ingesting vampire blood will also do the trick.
Whatever, right? What do script inconsistencies in a Burton movie matter at this point as long as it looks cool? Except it doesn't. For the first time in the director's career, not even the art design or visual presentation make much of an impact, unless you're the ultimate sucker for gothic mansions. Whatever he has to show us in Dark Shadows, we've seen superior iterations of before.
And what does that leave viewers with? Not much more than a handful of solid performances (especially Jackie Earle Haley as groundskeeper Willie, seriously!), a few unexpected saucy sexual references, a plethora of cheap jokes and a score as maudlin and forgettable as the rest of the film.
For the love of cinema, let's hope Burton rediscovers his creativity with Frankenweenie. (Warner)