I have a love hate relationship with Tim Burton. The man has put out some fantastic work in the past and I would even go as far to say that he has released some of the greatest films of all time. If I ever make a list of the greatest films ever made then Edward Scissorhands, Batman, Beetlejuice, Ed Wood, Big Fish, and most important The Nightmare Before Christmas would easily be on the list. The man has an eye for cinema and a personal aesthetic that most people could only dream to have. Not to mention when I was in high school and associated myself with the ‘gothic crowd’ for a time I could not go a full day without hearing this man’s name or seeing some sort of memorabilia from this man’s films and thanks to that the man is one of the most famous directors on the scene today.
But… on the opposite end of the spectrum there is a lot of stuff I absolutely hate that he has put out. Batman Returns, Sleepy Hollow, Alice in Wonderland, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would easily make my list of the worst films ever made and I’ll even be honest and say that I did not like Sweeny Todd in the slightest and I surprisingly find that I am in the minority on that one. (But more of that at a later date)
So really for me I am worried every time I see a Tim Burton movie because I am not sure what I am going to get. With other directors I can feel comfortable with the knowledge that I will either love or hate whatever I’m about to watch. But with Burton I’m not sure if I am going to get the genius of a tortured icon of Halloween who only wants to rediscover the spark that used to inspire him to greatness… Or am I going to get a creepy possible child molester Willy Wonka who looks surprisingly like Michael Jackson every time he steps on camera.
And this feeling of ‘Oh God what am I going to get’ followed me into the theater when myself and a group of my close friends went to the theater to see the recreation of the 1960’s soap opera Dark Shadows.
As much as I was hoping and praying that I was going to be watching the genius side of Burton, deep down I could tell from the previews that I was in for a very painful two hours. Not only has Burton (for the most part) performed poorly when dealing with remakes or working with anything with previous source material attached too it. But this film was released at the height of the Twilight, True Blood, vampire craze that was sweeping the nation. It was obvious that the resurrection of the old paranormal soap opera was nothing more than a stylized Burton cash in for the ‘Gothic Teenage Girl’ demographic to go to and drool over Johnny Depp as a vampire. It had all the elements of a Burton film without any of the charm… And I got that just from looking at the poster and watching the trailer. Yeah… Not a good start.
But I went in to the theater anyways hoping for a decent showing… And I was disappointed. This easily fits into the bad category of Burton films I would even argue that it is the third worst of his films (you have to fail pretty hard to beat Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Their are several reasons why this film fails so let’s take a look at the pros and cons of this film and find out how we this thing winded up sucking as hard as it did.
Burton’s Colorful and Creative World
If there is one thing that I know to expect when I am watching a Tim Burton movie is that no matter good or bad I am always going to be looking at a colorful, gothic, and very ‘Burton’ like world. The man knows how to catch the eye and how to create sets that are stunning and engaging. He does a fantastic job in turning a dreary and uninspiring fishing and warehouse town in New England into a ‘colorful’ world that you really want to explore and interact with. The sets, designs, and costumes are on par with each of Burton’s movies and really makes the film easier to watch. Now granted most people have criticized Burton’s design and many of which have said that they outright hate it for being the same Gothic ‘eye candy’ movie after movie. But I will argue that this is a fantastic edition to all of Burton’s films. I know damn well when I am watching a film by Tim Burton because of the sets and designs with the dramatic arches and multicolored contrasting patterns that really pulls you into the film. I personally love it and Burton succeeds at what he is good at once again.
Johnny Depp gives a Good Performance in a terrible poorly written role.
I will say this. With the way film is nowadays with the right writing, directing, and camera work you can turn a mediocre actor into a decent actor with the power of editing and retakes. Thanks to the powers of modern technology now more than ever there is a big pile of ‘okay’ actors that really look better on camera than what they really deserve.
BUT when you are given a horribly written character with some of the goofiest make up and costume design I have ever seen and you can STILL with your talent make the character a somewhat passable creation… THAT takes talent and by God Johnny Depp took a turd and polished it to high glass shine.
Johnny Depp plays the main character Barnabas Collins a young man who traveled to New England with his family from England and established one of the most financially successful companies in their small fishing town. After pissing off a witch that fell in love with him but had her heart broken he is cursed and becomes a vampire and is imprisoned in a coffin for nearly two hundred years until a construction crew digs him up.
Not only does Depp costume make him look like a depressed gothic clown but mix that with some of the biggest idiotic cliched ‘person from the past doesn’t understand our strange futuristic ways, mannerisms, and contraptions’ plus the fact that this guy murders people on an almost regular basis with very little remorse for his actions, and you should have by all accounts a character that is completely stupid and unlikable… But damn it Depp does the best with what he has got to work with. He puts his all into it just like every performance and with the shear power of his acting abilities he makes this terrible recreation of a soap opera vampire into something that is moderately watchable.
Horrible writing and a piss poor attempt to recreate a soap opera
This film was simply poorly written. Bottom line, no way of resurrecting it. Unlike Depp who is leaps and bounds ahead of most actors of this day and age the rest of the cast does attempt to put forward decent performances… But with the shitty writing it is almost impossible for them to be taken even the slightest bit seriously. The screenplay and story was created by Seth Grahame-Smith who you might know as the guy who created Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as well as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. So needless to say the man at least knows how to create a parody of literature… But he really doesn’t know how to create a parody of soap operas or for that matter screenplays in general.
With the exception of Collins, Pfeiffer’s character Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, and Angelique Bouchard (played by Eva Green) the rest of the characters are completely lost as the film bumbles through scene after scene. The female love interest (played by Bella Heathcote) COMPLETELY DISAPPEARS for the second act of the movie and only shows up so Barnabas can comment on her ‘exquisite birthing hips’. Then when she is put into peril I feel zero connection to this woman since she disappeared for a good 45 minutes of the film and have no reason to feel alarmed when she was kidnapped. Apparently Barnabas did fell worried… So good for him, but I sure didn’t.
The majority of plot lines are quickly put together and resolved like Helena Bonham Carter’s character trying to cure Collins but really just wanting to become a vampire. She is later killed by Collins and tossed at the bottom of the lake to be reserved for sequel shock at the end. But my personal favorite has to be near the third act when the witch is just destroying everything in her path trying to kill Collins and his family. Collins is sent through the roof of the teenage girls room and it turns out shes a werewolf… Let me reiterate that there was ZERO foreshadowing that this girl was a werewolf leading up to this scene. The closest thing to foreshadowing that this girl is even the slightest bit paranormal is a line of dialogue uttered by the brother saying ‘I hear her making purring sounds when she is alone in her room at night.’ First off the girl is suppose to be 16… VERY classy there Grahame with the underage masturbation jokes and second how in the hell are we suppose to relate ‘purring’ to ‘werewolf’?! This leads to one of my favorite moments in any of my trips to the theater when I could not hold it in, blurted out ‘WHEN THE FUCK DID THIS HAPPEN?!” And out of myself and the six to ten other people in that theater not one person corrected me. What I love even more is the film even seems to acknowledge this with the line from the girl right after Collins notices her, ‘I am a werewolf. Let’s not make a big deal out of it!’ YES we do need to make a big deal out of it! You just left the whole audience confused with an exposition dump in the middle of the third act climax! It is a very big deal and VERY poor writing to boot!
Simply put Grahame should stick to the realm he knows, taking historical stories and turning them into paranormal spoofs. They may not be the greatest books ever made but at least he does a decent job at making them. The man does not know how to write screenplays or even how film structure works compared to novel structure and he REALLY does not know how to write soap operas let alone parodies of soap operas.
This film is obviously a cash in and a poor one at that
Like I said earlier this film really was destined to fail from the start. Not only did the producers and Burton have little to no interest in recreating the old soap opera, they really just wanted to put their own stamp on the harlequin vampire romance genre that was so big at the time.
The characters are nothing more than existing to empower the ‘Gothic High School girls’ in the audience. The mom is strong independent woman who doesn’t need a man to kick ass since she has a shotgun. The teenage girl is suppose to be the angsty teenager who wants to run away from her oppressive family where she can be free to express herself in a place like New York. The witch is suppose to be the girl getting revenge on the boy who never loved her. Johnny Depp’s character is suppose to be the brooding guy all the girls lust and desire after and the almost nonexistent romance is suppose to be who these girls pretend to be when they go home and create their first person ship-fic that night. This becomes even more obvious when at the end the love interest is also a vampire complete with long stringy black hair, pale skin, and a look that says ‘I’m tormented and in love and now we can be tormented together for all eternity!’. There is nothing original about the film and it feels like Burton himself just wanted to get a quick cash in to make a few extra million from his Hot Topic sales.
This film is a summation of all the flack that Tim Burton receives from his career. It is nothing more than a cash in to make a quick buck off the Harlequin Vampire Romance genre and the Hot Topic teenage girl crowd. Yes the sets are very well done and the actors do put forth decent performances especially from Depp but with poor writing and a ‘who gives a fuck it will make us money’ attitude, the film did not stand a chance of being anything but a forgettable failure destined for the $5 Wal-Mart bin.
Final Score: 1/5
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