Film Review: Dark Shadows

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Collins 1972 A.D

When Tim Burton, not so much the grand auteur, more grand guignol of pestiferous American cinema, debuted with Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure all those years ago, who would have wagered that his sweet spot, that is to say, the span of his best work, would be a mere five years? When Batman Returns was criticised for being plot-free, Burton shrugged his shoulders and conceded that storytelling wasn’t his strongest suit. This hardly mattered to those who were seduced by its gothic aesthetic; it was a mood piece, everyone understood that. Burton was Angela Carter with a movie camera; he favoured overstatement and excess; but where was the blood-red meat?

The likes of Beetlejuice, Batman and Edward Scissorhands buy you a gargantuan stockpile of goodwill. Over the next 16 years Burton slowly depleted it. Mars Attacks proved that kook was no substitution for wit, Planet of the Apes had none of his signature style; he then botched a story that many thought tailor made for him, Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Sure, it was about confectionary but who would have banked on Burton’s version being so confected (or having such a saccharine ending)? Those who heralded Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street as a return to form forgot that the musical, inherently shallow, flattered Burton; he had a great eye, but, Todd confirmed, no voice.

In many ways Dark Shadows plays like a Burton parody; it seems as though the wag behind it, whoever they may be, has perfectly understood the director’s shortcomings and has reproduced them mercilessly. You have to admire the effort invested in the film’s ornate, but curiously unaffecting design; that each scene is a tableau; that the humour is undercranked. Johnny Depp personifies the problem; he’s simultaneously too much and too little, a difficult trick to play on the audience. He plies his shtick, making his Barnabas Collins a morbid, verbacious dandy (I thought of a superior Kenneth Williams in Carry On Screaming). It’s a slight turn; inert like those scenes.

Just as Burton meanders from one inconsequential sketch to the next, so too does Depp, and all the while there’s nothing to grab us. You can tap your toe to a colourful Carpenters’ song, enjoy Bruno Delbonnel’s efforts in lighting Alice Cooper so he’ll appear 40 years younger than he is, and admire the fancy dress, but you’d trade it all for sharp gags, cultural comment (there is none bar a dig at those naïve hippies) and a story you cared about.

Pages: 1 2

Directed by: Tim Burton

Country: US

Year: 2012

Running Time: 113 mins

Certificate: 12A for The Carpenters, Johnny Depp's shtick and one instance of Christopher Lee.


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