In 2010, something strange happened. Despite being a thoroughly ordinary movie, Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland somehow managed to gross over $1billion. That haul made it the 10th most successful movie of all time (although there’s a good chance it will be dumped out of that list by The Avengers and maybe even Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises later in the year), an astonishing result for a film that received a mixed critical reception.
Alice In Wonderland was the seventh movie that Tim Burton has directed that also starred Johnny Depp, and Dark Shadows becomes the eighth. Based on a (apparently terrible) American soap opera that aired in the 60s, Dark Shadows is the story of Barnabas Collins (Depp), a boy who came to America with his father in 1752, and who grew up to become a local playboy when his father established a successful fish canning business. But he broke the heart of a servant girl, Angelique Bouchard (played by Eva Green), who was in fact a witch, and she took her revenge by killing his parents and the girl he did love. She then turned Barnabas into a vampire, turning the town on him and burying him alive.
When he is accidentally awoken in 1972, he returns to Collinswood, the family mansion, with the intention of restoring their business to its former glories. But he discovers that Angelique runs the most successful business in town, and seeks revenge on her.
If you’ve seen the trailer for Dark Shadows, you’ll probably be expected a comedy. But you’ll be sorely disappointed, because Dark Shadows is one of those films that is preceded by a trailer that has all the funny bits in it. The film is a huge disappointment, and even worse, it is hugely dull. I’m a big fan of Tim Burton’s work, and Edward Scissorhands is in my top 10 favorite movies list, but Dark Shadows is by a long way Burton’s worst movie. Despite a very strong cast, it’s boring, almost entirely unfunny, and lacks the charm and unique qualities of Burton’s best work.
The look and style of the film is very much in keeping with Burton’s work, from the gothic look of Collinswood and the costumes the characters wear, to the Danny Elfman score that sounds like most Danny Elfman scores do on Burton movies, only not as good. The film’s biggest problem is the script, with the story just lacking any real excitement or drive, plodding along to a tedious finale that is far less interesting than one with Johnny Depp as a vampire fighting Eva Green as a witch should be. Because the script is so poor, it means that a strong cast doesn’t really get much of a chance to shine. Depp’s Barnabas is his least memorable Burton character, and a subplot involving Helena Bonham Carter as a shrink living with the Collins family who attempts to become immortal by transfusing Baranbas’ blood into her body doesn’t really go anywhere. Michelle Pfeiffer plays Elizabeth Collins, the family matriarch, but doesn’t get a lot to do either, while Jonny Lee Miller plays Roger Collins and only has a handful of lines.
But it’s not all doom and gloom; Eva Green is terrific (and outrageously sexy) as Angelique, and Chloe Moretz also impresses as a moody teenager. Unfortunately, that’s about all the good things I have to say about Dark Shadows. Burton has a busy year lined up in 2012, as he’s a producer on Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, due out in June, and also has the remake of his debut short Frankenweenie to come in October, a movie which marks his return to stop-motion animation for the first time since 2005’s Corpse Bride.
Dark Shadows promised much, but fails to deliver in a disastrous fashion. Do yourself a favour, instead of watching this, watch Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow or Batman, you’ll feel much better.