Monday, May 28, 2012

Dark Shadows (Tim Burton, 2012) -- D+

Dark Shadows is perhaps the most slapdash film ever made by the once talented, artistic, and provocative Tim Burton, a director whose name was once a stamp of assurance to filmgoers that they would indulge some shape or form of wacky, eccentric filmmaking. Lately, it's proven to be nothing more than a ruse in offering disposable product. Joining the likes of Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Planet of the Apes, the director's latest feels flat and forced from the start, commencing with a mundane, by-the-numbers prologue, in which Barnabus Collins (Johnny Depp) explains how he was scorned and made-vampire by witch Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) in the late 18th century. Resurrected by a construction crew in 1972, Barnabus quickly finds his estate, now occupied by a new generation of Collins, and tries to turn the family's fortunes around. Burton's typically "high concept" premise, much like Barnabus's fish-out-of-water observations, feel decades late compared to the recent works by filmmakers like David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Neveldine/Taylor, Tomas Alfredson, Matt Reeves, and Edgar Wright - directors who have brazenly taken genre and given it a particular, specifically revisionist imprint. Relying on gags that range from Barnabus not knowing how a television works, to thinking a car's headlights are "the eyes of the devil, himself," to a funky-ball/"happening" featuring Alice Cooper, Burton sloppily juxtaposes, and indecipherably waddles through, genre tropes (montage here, set-piece there) to little meaning or affect. Indeed, the set-design is magnificent and Depp's schtick sporadically amuses, but Dark Shadows steadily becomes one of the more bloodless mainstream offerings in recent years, while remaining one of the strangest. While that paradox may sound enticing or even subversive, it never plays as such, since Burton is unable to speak visually as a means to undermine the rote, formulaic script. With other gags about McDonald's and confused terminology ("Are you stoned?" "They tried stoning me, my dear. It did not work."), Burton's film could be read as a cheeky allegory for his anachronistic genre interests - a lament that the times-are-a'-changin', were the film not so seemingly oblivious to its own inert, dispassionate tone and style. Instead, one word consistently comes to mind throughout the film's two-hour running time: irrelevant.


  1. I saw this one today. Beautiful to look at, but man was it lacking in terms of story and character development. The culprit is likely Burton's total apathy in regards to the screenwriting process. There's a great doc called "Tales from the Script" about screenwriters. In the doc, screenwriter John August (who wrote most of TB's films since Big Fish) says he has only been in the same room with Burton for a total of 24 hours, tops. Many of his movies have been disappointing as of late, but none more than this one. Visually, it was his most striking film in a long while. I think the actors were ready to rock, too. Sadly, the script they had to work with just didn't go anywhere and fell apart by the end.

  2. 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 Clayton.