Movie Review: Dark Shadows- A Wasted and Horrid Adaptation from Tim Burton That is Chaotic, Poorly Paced, and Lazily Acted

With every passing year and with every wasted opportunity it seems the evidence keeps piling up to prove that Tim Burton is in fact an overrated hack on the same level of Hollywood hell as Cameron Crowe. The mythos that surrounds Burton’s supposed originality has been heightened by a generation blinded by nostalgia. When Trey Parker and Matt Stone mocked Burton on an episode of South Park a couple of years ago stating, “He hasn’t had an original film since Beetlejuice,” they were only half joking. In fact, every single film Burton has directed has never been fully written by him, whether it was Beetlejuice, Ed Wood, or even the fan beloved Nightmare Before Christmas (didn’t direct, didn’t write, just came up with the characters). Just to be clear, there is much to admire about Burton’s artistic vision for visuals (most of the time), especially his personal artwork, and there is always a consistency for fantastic art direction in all of his films. However, where there is strength in his visuals there has been a dramatic decrease in the quality of the storytelling he chooses to tell as his own and the acting that takes place on the screen. This is especially the case for Burton’s latest film Dark Shadows, which turns out to be an ill-advised film adaptation of the 60s television show. Throughout the unfortunate mess of strangeness that is Dark Shadows there is an unbearable weightiness to the pacing and it lacks believability in conviction to the characters being portrayed, including Johnny Depp in an incredibly lackluster performance. There is no doubt that Burton and his team had a fun time making this hodgepodge of a comedy horror flick but the unfortunate outcome is a film that doesn’t exactly know what it wants to be as it juggles multiple genre personas such as generational parody, meta-horror, and even a dash of soap opera. After butchering Sweeney Todd (pun intended), dancing on Lewis Carrol’s grave, and now raising from the dead a 60s television series (do we even have to mention Corpse Bride or Planet of the Apes?), it seems Tim Burton has simply lost whatever flare of uniqueness he convinced us he might of had in the beginning of his career.

From the beginning of Burton’s career he has conned a generation to see his career and his collaborations with Johnny Depp as pure cinema magic. The true earlier works, such as Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood (possibly Burton’s best film), work extremely well especially in capturing Depp’s sympathetic and subtle performances. But where is the other evidence that their collaborations always work? Surely no one can claim that Sleepy Hollow isn’t flawed in any way or that there isn’t a gruesome silliness to the final product. Or what about the incredibly dull and creepily contrived adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which has Depp play more to his strengths as a known performer rather than develop the character in a unique fashion. This is clearly the flaw in the last couple of years when it comes to judging the performances of Mr. Depp and it continues in Dark Shadows. Depp is no longer developing or fine tuning his characters but rather modifying the roles based on a preferred audience going preference. The creators of these projects, and perhaps Depp himself, think the audiences want to see Depp’s persona, i.e. Pirates of the Caribbean, rather than see him actually act. And this is a fatal flaw for Dark Shadows because despite the whimsical tone there is an undercurrent of darkness that is thrown completely off by Depp’s familiar strutting, facial expressions, and vernacular. It has become increasingly more difficult to see Johnny Depp as no one else but Johnny Depp simply parading his eccentric self around the screen. Unfortunately Depp is no longer acting in any classical sense of the term and while that might not be entirely his fault he continues to choose these projects based on monetary gain rather than his own integrity as an actor (though it’s worth noting that Depp came to Hollywood to be a musician and never wanted to become an actor).

But surprisingly Depp is the best element to the sorry excuse of a film that we now know as Dark Shadows. Depp does have the knack for making weird character strangely alluring and his tale on Barnabas Collins has charisma despite it being overly familiar. To anyone who was a fan of Dan Curtis’ original television series it should come as no shock that the film version is a complete disappointment even though you aren’t really part of the audience these filmmakers and writers were aiming for in the first place. Instead of hiring a writer who could at once pay homage as well as parody the original series (because we all know there is plenty to playfully mock), such as Edgar Wright or someone equally familiar with pop culture, the screenplay was written by Seth Grahame-Smith who was a writer for an MTV show “The Hard Times of RJ Berger” and who has also written what appears to be an equally butchered adaptation of his own novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (coming soon to a theater near you unfortunately). Grahame-Smith ended up being way over his head when his screenplay for Dark Shadows was complete. His attempts to throw in multiple storylines that never seem complete end up battling each other for screen time creating a true cinematic mess. The result is a project that has poor pacing, characters that never seem fully developed or useful, and a meandering plot that never finds its way to the ground for sensible movie watchers. And to throw in a horror element into this review imagine if this was the writer chosen to tackle a sequel to Beetlejuice (some might think that’s a joke, but it’s already been announced).

Dark Shadows is another ill-fated adaptation in the last decade that Burton has chosen to direct and every single flaw can be predicted in the terribly structured script he finalized. Burton isn’t the original writer and creator we deemed him to be and he can’t even choose the best script from the ones being handed to him. Some might come to his defense that he might not be the one choosing the scripts and he might just be hired onto projects studios and producers see best fit for him. However, Burton is too big of a name to merely be placed without consent and judging from his casting choices it is clear he has full on creative say in how his projects are handled. So all of the creative faults fall on his shoulders and he has a career full of projects gone wrong which have been named in full length here. Granted his films have an atmospheric moodiness to them that are always highlighted with unique art direction, but that isn’t enough. Sometimes a beautiful structure can still be deemed useless. And useless can describe a majority of Burton’s films, especially the latest in his series of adaptation abominations Dark Shadows. The only positive compliment that can be bestowed upon this, as Barnabas Collins would say, “wretched creature,” is that it is completely forgettable. Just another large budget Hollywood mishap that could have been better in the hands of a more competent creative team.

Grade: D+

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