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Dark Shadows

May 13, 2012

If you were born after the baby boomer generation then you may not be familiar with the legacy of Dark Shadows. In 1966 Dan Curtis’ gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows, premiered on ABC. It was a show that revolved around the Collins family estate and the supernatural happenings that take place in Collins’ home. The soap opera received mixed reviews initially until its second season introduced the vampire Barnabas Collins which thrust the show into a new found popularity. Word on the street is, at its height Dark Shadows was an impressive well-loved show that upon cancellation fans threatened to protest the decision by crashing the set of the show that replaced it, Passwords. With its heavy focus on the supernatural, Dark Shadows paved the way for more paranormal oriented television shows like ABC’s soap opera, Passions and Joss Whedon’s cult classic, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Dark Shadows made such an impact that as a youth Johnny Depp claims he was obsessed with Barnabas Collins to the point of wanting to be him. That’s why it makes sense that he would jump at the opportunity to do his own portrayal of the cryptic vampire in Tim Burton’s retailing of the classic series—because it certainly couldn’t have been because the script was something impressive. But then again, considering Depp’s film choices over the decades he is prone to choosing his fair share of rotten eggs (COUGHtheAstronautsWifeCOUGH).

Dark Shadows begins with the back story of Barnaby, a once youthful attractive man courting the love of his life. However, when a jealous witch who has fallen in love with him disapproves of the relationship, she places a curse upon the Collins family and condemns Barnaby to be buried alive as a vampire. Two centuries go by and he is accidentally dug up and recovered in 1972, returning to his beloved estate to care for the dysfunctional distant relatives now residing in his home and struggling to keep themselves and the family business afloat.

It goes without saying, but Tim Burton always has and always will be a visionary mastermind and Dark Shadows is just drenched in Tim Burton-ness. Images within the film are bright and vibrant despite being contrasted against dark and drab backdrops. Set in the 1800s with low lighting and a black and gray color scheme, Burton still somehow creates a luminous world in which even the faces of characters glow thanks to digitized post effects. And although I didn’t experience the 1970s first hand, it seems to be captured authentically throughout the film. It’s not flashy and campy as most films would portray a specific decade, but instead it’s almost downplayed after the first half of the film and at times there’s even an authentic grain as if some scenes were shot on film instead of digitally.

Also the world of Collinsport, in which Barnaby and the Collins reside, almost seems fairy tale like with its enormous landscapes. Of course because it’s Tim Burton, the town in which the Collins estate is founded in sits near an enormous cliff padded with large boulderous rocks and gushing water, making this story of vampires, witches, and ghosts that much more believable because of the world they exist in is.

One would think a film about a vampire condemned to burial and awoken in the 1970s would be a romping comedy with hilarious hijinks and it kind of is, however, Dark Shadow quickly becomes a one trick pony. The story feels like it’s going around circle between Barnaby and Angelique constantly fighting, then her attempting to seduce him repeatedly. Also nearly every single joke relies on the generational gap of Barnaby and his surroundings with very few of the jokes straying from that formula. Nearly everything is set up to remind you that Barnaby is new to this world and while it makes for humorous moments it gets older than flogging a dead horse to make it pull a load (idiom fans will appreciate that).

The development of character relationships throughout Dark Shadows is rather weak and almost paper thin. Dark Shadows starts off introducing Victoria Winters, a women looking to start a new life as a teacher for the strange and youngest member of the Collins family, David. Yet after the introduction of Barnaby, Victoria is forgotten about and only briefly seen with Barnaby until the film’s climax, therefore never giving audiences the chance to get a true sense of their relationship and the connection they feel for each other through the film’s budding romance of the two. Instead Dark Shadows puts too much focus of the past and present relationship of Barnaby and Angelique. Had the focus on relationships been inverted, I would have cared about the fate of Barnaby and Victoria’s relationship instead of my focus at the film’s climax being when the credits would start.

The same weakness in relationship development can be said for the development of secondary characters as well. Featuring an ensemble of family members, most of them are wasted as just standard pawns only present to move the plot along and in different directions. Throughout the entire film I felt like I didn’t know the true intentions or understand any of the characters outside of Barnaby and Angelique. Michelle Pfeiffer’s character, Elizabeth Collins, is given an air of mysterious and mistrust at the film’s beginning but that all inexplicably goes out the window as she turns out to be a much less sinister figure than we are led to believe. On the other hand, Chloe Mortez as Elizabeth’s daughter, Carolyn, doesn’t develop to be much other than an annoying lolita whose cues never go beyond being the angst ridden vixen teenag. When she’s not delivering every line with a scowl, she appears to be trying to seduce everyone in her path.

If it weren’t for the somewhat original story and Johnny Depp, who is just phenomenal as a character actor, Dark Shadows would have been a complete waste of time. When Depp’s not on screen everything is just melodramatic time filler that never truly amounts to anything memorable. Dark Shadows isn’t terrible but it’s far from impressive. It reminds me that as much as I would like to believe that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are a dream team, the only thing noteworthy they are doing together these days and is telling stylistically different stories. Nothing more, nothing less.  Dark Shadows is entertaining to say the least but the same enjoyment can be had from watching a high budget film on the Sci-Fi Channel.

Avoid it. If you have to see it you won’t hate it but you will wish you spent your time doing something better, like probably just Netflixing those original episodes of Dark Shadows.

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