MAY 13, 2012
Rare are the wide theatrical genre releases that I don't see at midnight on the Thursday to Friday evening, but I suspected that Dark Shadows, despite a fun looking trailer, would be the sort of movie that put me to sleep early and often, so I opted to wait for an early weekend showing. Indeed, I actually dozed off for a minute during the climax at this 1:30 pm showing, so who knows what I would have missed if I tried at midnight. I might have been out before Johnny Depp even showed up.
I realized something quite peculiar about the film as the credits rolled - this may be the first film I've ever seen where the trailer was both misleading and yet guilty of giving away every major story point. The trailer emphasizes the humor to a great degree, but apart from a McDonald's sight gag, I think pretty much every major "fish out of water" joke in the movie was given away in its promotion, as that stuff amounts to a small fraction of the 110 minute movie. And that's really the only source of humor in the film, apart from mild sexual innuendo here and there and winking cameos by the late Jonathan Frid (the original Barnabas) and other TV show castmates. In fact it's much more melodramatic at times; most scenes play out like stock soap opera moments (i.e. two people talking in a room) but without the sort of heightened camp approach that made a movie like Soapdish such a delight. I was actually kind of impressed that Burton chose not to go big with these scenes - it's closer to a straight adaptation than say, the Brady Bunch Movie, which was basically mocking the source material. I've never seen a frame of the show, but I assume the people who took it seriously won't be too offended with the romantic and dramatic scenes of the film.
They might, however, be just as offended as a clueless viewer such as myself that the story is so paper-thin, to the extent where nearly every single plot point of note was shown in the film. The trailer shows that Barnabas was cursed by a woman who smiles too much, reawakens in 1972, rejoins his family, and restores their family business while trying to resist the advances of Smiley (Eva Green, named Angelique in the film but her omnipresent smile makes my name better). The movie doesn't add much more; the only things the trailer didn't go into are minor subplots that are in no way necessary, such as the Johnny Lee Miller character's greedy nature. When the cannery exploded (shown in trailer), I figured it would kick off a big third act, but in reality there was only like 15 minutes left in the movie from that point (some of which was ALSO in the trailer - Robert Zemeckis will love this movie).
And there aren't nearly enough scenes of the family together; there's a cute dinner scene where he keeps inadvertently revealing his age (the cover story is that he's a distant cousin from England) but for the most part everyone is separated - after the introductory scenes I don't think Chloe Moretz really converses with a single other character besides Depp for the rest of the film. Also, at first only Michelle Pfeiffer knows he's a vampire but he's revealed to the others so shortly (and unceremoniously) after that I have to wonder why they bothered, because no one really seems to care about his vampirism or confront Pfeiffer about the ruse. You could also remove Miller or Helena Bonham Carter's characters from the film without it making a lick of discernible difference (other than "Wow, Burton actually made a movie without his wife for once!" in the latter's case).
At least it's successful on a technical level. The ghost FX are quite good and the Collinwood mansion is a marvel of set and production design. Danny Elfman's score isn't as "Deet deet deedly" as I feared, and there's even a slightly scary attack scene early on after Barnabas is resurrected, showing Burton still has some idea of how to stage a scene (it actually reminded me of the first big attack in Batman, so he's actually just copying himself, but doing it well!). And they did a fine job of faking Maine (it was shot entirely in England), plus some of the big establishing shots actually made me wish I was watching in IMAX.
And Depp is in good form, finding the fine line between being a menacing vampire and our romantic hero, and overall being more restrained than he was as the Mad Hatter or Willy Wonka. I have grown a bit weary of Burton's seeming inability to cast anyone but Depp as the lead role in his films, but I assume he'd be a good choice even if Burton wasn't involved. The rest of the cast is fine; it's always nice to see Pfeiffer, Moretz gets to have some fun in a horror flick for once, and Jackie Earle Haley is a hoot in a thankless role as, essentially, Groundskeeper Willie. Green's scenery chewing grew tiresome after awhile, however, and I was too baffled by Carter's role (as an alcoholic live-in doctor for a character she never speaks to) to get a handle on her performance. The final scene of this indicates she'll be given a bigger role in the sequel if one happens; I can't say I'm counting the days until it sees release.
Finally, it's just a weird option for a "summer" movie. There's not a lot of action, and the horror elements will likely turn off Depp's usual fanbase (Alice and Wonka made more in their first few days than Sweeney Todd did in its entire run), which would be its best defense against Avengers and (Universal hopes) Battleship. Seems like it might have made a better alternative option for the Thanksgiving season, but what do I know? Seems the more I like a Burton/Depp film the less money it makes (I really like Ed Wood and Sweeney Todd, which tanked/disappointed, respectively - on the other hand I loathe Alice and it made a billion dollars), so congrats to their assured success on another I find underwhelming!
What say you?