For those of you with plans to see the new Tim Burton/Johnny Depp movie, Dark Shadows, I would like to warn you that this review contains many “spoilers.” You may not want to read it until after you’ve been to the theater. But reading it first just may save you some money and keep you from wasting a couple hours of your life.
Let me just start out with the fact that when I was a kid, all my family members were above average fans of the "Dark Shadows" TV show. We watched every day. We even had the board game (yes, there was one. I still have it.). I continue to be a fan and have the music from the show on my IPod. I am a genuine fan of “Dark Shadows.”
I also want to advise that I am not a fan of Tim Burton or his movies. As a matter of fact there is only one Tim Burton movie that I genuinely like: Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.
From the first time I saw the trailer for this movie version of Dark Shadows, I was appalled. The movie looked awful. Even with all the buzz throughout the past year about this picture I wasn’t aware that it was supposed to have a comedic element to it. But putting that aside what was presented as comedy, in the trailer, was not in any way funny. It bordered on “offensive” to real Dark Shadows fans. I declared my personal boycott of the film.
But then Jonathan Frid (the original Barnabas Collins) died about 2 weeks before the film’s release. I read that he had a small cameo appearance in the new film. I decided to go see the movie just to see Frid one last time.
I decided to go into the theater with an open mind; give the movie a chance. From the first note of the music all the way and the narrative that tells the story of the Collins’ family up to the cursing and entombment of Barnabas, Burton had me. I was almost convinced that I may have been wrong and that the movie was going to be interesting after all.
But then the construction workers unearth a coffin. A 200+ year old vampire emerges and murders all in the vicinity with the fervor of a 300 pound Weight Watcher entering a “Golden Corral” announcing he’s “fallen off the wagon.” He then “mistakes” the McDonald’s golden arches for the sign of the devil and heads for the family mansion. The life was sucked out of my optimism quicker than the blood of one of those first victims.
From that point on, consistent with the trailer, the jokes evoked more emotionally painful winces than laughs. The residents of Collinwood were disturbingly weird, embarrassingly stereo typical, and not the least bit interesting.
I did get a bit amused with the character of Julia Hoffman being portrayed as an over-the-top alcoholic. There was always that subtext about that character in the TV series but it was never openly portrayed.
The movie then goes on to introduce a plethora of plots and sub plots which are never fully or believably played out. Among them are:
A female patient escapes a mental hospital, becomes governess to the youngest Collins family member and is haunted by a water logged female ghost.
· Barnabas reveals his true identity to the current matriarch of the Collins family, Elizabeth. They enter a partnership to keep secret collection of valuable art pieces which will serve as the financial means of returning the family to prominence.
· Angelique, the jilted lover of Barnabas and the witch who cursed him to be one of “the living dead” turns out to be an iconic citizen and the most powerful business owner in the town of Collinsport.
· Barnabas begins to rebuild the Collins seafood business by reopening the fish processing plan and using his hypnotic powers to recruit fishing boat captains to switch and work for him.
· Star crossed lovers, Angelique and Barnabas, reunite in fit of supernatural passion that almost literally brings down the house. The witch gives the vampire a “partner with me or else” ultimatum.
· Dr. Julia Hoffman proposes an experimental treatment with Barnabas’ blood to turn him back to being human only to use the project as a means to sustain her own vanity.
None of these plots are played out in a believable way. They did nothing but come together as a confusing mess of an ending.
There were other things about the movie that were questionable as well.
How could the Barnabas walk around in the daylight? It appeared that all he had to do was wear sunglasses and stay out of the direct rays. That’s not a vampire that’s a redhead.
As a way of accomplishing their social resurgence the Collins family decides to host a dance (way too many sophomoric references to the event as a “ball”) which seems to serve only as an excuse to have Alice Cooper perform. This is also the place in the film that Jonathan Frid and several other cast members from the original TV program made their cameo appearances.
The film concludes in a confusing conglomeration of “surprises”, special effects, and a fight to the finish. The last 10 minutes were filled with events that only kept me asking “why did that happen?”
When the credits rolled the only thing I found myself doing was shaking my head in disbelief. What did I just see? Whatever it was it was awful.
Now don’t get me wrong. There were things about this movie that I did like. There were times that Johnny Depp seemed to capture the demeanor of the original Barnabas Collins as played by Jonathan Frid. Helena Bonham Carter’s Julia Hoffman also provided glimpses of the way she was played by Grayson Hall.
I also liked the expanded view of the town of Collinsport. On the TV show the town was nothing more than the occasional exterior still shot. The movie version brought the town of Collinsport, Maine to life. It gave a specific location of Collinwood in relationship to the rest of the town. I really liked that. It gave an added dimension to the world of Dark Shadows.
My final word in regard to the 2012 version of Dark Shadows is this. I truly believe that this will be the last we see of Dark Shadows on the big screen. Tim Burton has done irreparable harm to both the story and the characters of this franchise. (I call this a franchise because since the 1966 debut of the TV show there have been 2 movies with the original series cast, 2 new TV versions and then this film). There's no going back to "Dark Shadows" being taken seriously by the public.
Of course I could be wrong. No good story with interesting characters is ever dead in Hollywood. And Dark Shadows is just that.
But as far as this current incarnation is concerned I’m going to pretend it never happened. Just forget what I saw in the theater and remember the excitement and memories that I connect to the original TV series. Those will always remain in the dark shadows of my mind.