I am not a long time Burton fan. I didn’t grow up watching The Nightmare Before Christmas. I didn’t grow up on Beetlejuice or Edward Scissorhands or his vision of Batman. The first time I watched a film of his, was back in 2005 with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (I have never understood this film’s hate. It was highly enjoyable and much more accurate to Dahl’s story then Gene Wilder’s version). I caught up with his filmography in 2008 with his film masterpiece, Sweeney Todd.
In 2010, I went to his art exhibition in Melbourne and even shook hands with the man himself. I have a lot of respect for Mr Burton. His partner is my favourite actress and has been since I was roughly ten and saw her in Hallmark’s Merlin. I like Burton’s take on fantasy. I like his visuals. I like his actors. I did not like Alice in Wonderland. It didn’t feel Burton. It didn’t feel true to him. Much to my disappointment, I did not like Dark Shadows either. Is my love affair with all things Burton really at an end? I sincerely hope not. His art exhibition proved to me that there is still oodles of inspiration and imagination and story left in him. If only he would stop taking vanity jobs, and get on with it.
So what is Dark Shadows about? I’m not sure if I even got that straight. Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) wrongs a witch (Eva Green) by jilting her love, and ends up with a revenge vendetta; his lover dead, and Barnabas cursed and buried deep as a vampire for centuries, a curse also on the family name. Flashforward to the 1970s: A governess gets a job with an aristocratic family who has fallen on hard times. Barnabas is reawakened and wants revenge on the witch, who still both loathes and loves him. Who will win out, and can Barnabas still win back his reborn lady love? Sound confusing? It is. And I haven’t even gone into the side characters yet, such as a random son/father plot that came out of nowhere, something about a werewolf, a psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter, who was so awful there was a moment there where I was ashamed to be a Helena fan. Fingers crossed for Les Miserables and Great Expectations) who falls in love with Barnabas and meets a sticky end, and Michelle Pfeiffer’s (utterly wasted) turn as the matriarch trying to hold her family together with only faded pride for company.
The movie switched points of view so many times I lost count. I couldn’t identify with characters at all. None of them were likeable. None of them had fleshed out stories. Don’t get me wrong; there was a story buried deep within this movie, but Burton needed to pick one and run with it. Alternating between a fish out of water tale, a love story, a horror, a comedy, and a pastiche, by the end of the movie I’d stopped caring, and started laughing, and not in a good way.
My friend, Elise, describes movies in inclines and declines. Shutter Island gets the thumbs up from her because the story draws you right in, pulling the rug out from under you in clever, emotional ways every time you think you’re onto the script writer. Elise spent most of Dark Shadows rolling her eyes and laughing at how far down the slippery slope the film was falling. The first ten minutes were ok, but then the steep decline began, and it didn’t let up all the way to the bitter (and inevitable sequel driven) end.
Dark Shadows reminds me an awful lot of Mars Attacks! which was a spoof of big block buster sci fi, alien invasion films of the 80s/90s. The problem with Dark Shadows is that it is a spoof of a very particular tv show sit com, and the joke isn’t funny if you don’t know the source material. Heck, even if you do know the source material, it might not be funny, depending on how much you took the original show seriously the first time round. My friend, Tegan, asked confusedly afterwards, why Burton and co. didn’t just film the whole project in a backshed and release it that way. That way, he might at least have gotten on with making a decent block buster.
In some ways, it really felt like the joke was on us. Certainly, the film was no expert comedy, and heaven knows, Burton has really reached new lows with this film. One scene involved his partner sucking off his best friend. I was scarred and disgusted. Where is the clever, quirky humour of the old Burton? Where is the class? This time, it was all about the lowest Hollywood denominator. “Ha!” Burton chortles in his London home. “Look at the cast I can assemble! Look at the big name production company! And the script? Who needs one? Let’s see how many are sucked in for a second time! Mars Attacks! was not enough to teach the audience a lesson about Hollywood excess!”
Mercy Burton! I most solomnly do swear I have learnt my Hollywood lesson! Please… please… please go back to films like Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow, and Sweeney Todd. Please. Come on Burton. We all know you are better than this. Prove it to me next time. I’m begging you, before I too, jump the Burton ship.
Dark Shadows: 2/10 inky stars, for the rocking music track, and for Michelle Pfeiffer, perhaps the only actor in this film to make it to the credits with her dignity intact. Welcome back love. I’ve missed you.