So I saw Dark Shadows. The movie, the new one. At the bargain cinema, which is pretty much the only cinema I ever go to. I was also lucky since Tuesdays they have a special deal to get inexpensive popcorn and a drink, so all in all I spent less than $6 and had a pretty fun couple of hours.
To preface, I used to watch the original in my younger days, and I would look forward to seeing it every day. I am a big fan of the original series, and if you all only knew how tempted I am to put aside some money so that eventually I can get that complete set they just released…! But I digress.
Honestly, it’s my favourite Tim Burton film in a very long time. But usually there is something about his films that, in every one, tends to ruin the enjoyment for me and prevents each one from being perfectly enjoyable. Sometimes this feature is more prominent than others, sometimes it’s easier to look past.
Given, Burton did not write the script. That was by the author of Pride & Prejudice and Zombies, which was a perfectly serviceable satire. Initially the script was supposedly much darker, which I’m not sure would have worked well with Burton’s directorial style; there was a certain concession to the film and the way it was presented and acted that I don’t think would have worked with a very dark script. You couldn’t have just redone House of Dark Shadows with Burton as director.
The chiefest problem with Dark Shadows is unfortunately rather prominent: the character of Barnabas is the least likable, least interesting character in the whole film. If anyone but Johnny Depp had played him, he would have had absolutely no charm or charisma whatsoever. It’s a strange direction for the script, since he features so much in it but isn’t a very likable or interesting character. He comes off more as hypocritical, willfully stupid, and violent, none of which are features that should be attached to Barnabas Collins.
The film also takes too much time in building up attempts at humour that just aren’t funny, like the hippie campfire scene. In Pride & Prejudice and Zombies, most of the jokes worked especially well for those aware of the source material or the time period; in Dark Shadows, there tend to be set-ups that don’t take advantage of either but use them as framing, which misleads on the timing of the humour and makes it fall flat. This time would be far better used in actual development of the story, rather than set pieces that are essentially little more than overblown attempts at humour that fail, almost every time.
Some of these half-baked jokes also raise questions they shouldn’t, like the inconstancy of Barnabas’s feeding. He seems to have a regular thirst, but sometimes he will feed on a dozen people, sometimes one, and never in any appreciable pattern. Similarly, while it was neat to see Alice Cooper actually looking rather shockingly youthful in his extended cameo, it added absolutely nothing to the plot. This just presents another reason why many of these extra scenes, which are really throwaway anyway, should have been omitted or greatly reduced in favour of plot-building or character-building ones.
However, it’s likely we’ll see a director’s cut DVD released, if they’re wise with the release at all. If so, I’ll probably be much more satisfied with what is there. Let’s hope that’s the case! I can imagine that they didn’t want to take a chance running over two hours on an untested experiment as this sort of was, and the film already runs nearly two hours anyway.
Anyway, that’s the things I didn’t like out of the way. Now to everything I did like!
The rest of the cast and characters were pretty much evenly excellent, across the board. I would like to give special praise to Michelle Pfeiffer for channelling Joan Bennett as the tough-as-nails Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, kind of a bitch but out of necessity, tender within and strong throughout, and a pillar of support for her dysfunctional family.
I would also like to say that somehow, Helena Bonham Carter channelled Grayson Hall for her performance as Dr. Julia Hoffman. Hopefully in the DVD release, we’ll see restored scenes of her more prominently in the film, since she was woefully underused. However, I can hope they’ll make a sequel where she can take centre stage.
Eva Green made a really and truly sympathetic Angelique who, though rather merciless and cruel, was far more compelling than Barnabas in the story. Of course, drawing off the rich mythos of the TV series, she should be anyway. While Eva’s Angelique was not the same character of Lara Parker’s portrayals, she was still quite interesting and likable. In fact, I found her more interesting and likable than Barnabas, in the film.
It was an interesting choice to present many songs in their entirety in the film, although curiously absent was the iconic theme from the TV series. There were little nods to its soundtrack, which were appreciated. Most of the time, playing the full song (such as ‘Top of the World’ by the Carpenters) worked surprisingly well.
Really, although my expectations were low for this film, they were exceeded completely. I think it was neither the abomination that some thought, nor was it a masterpiece of film. It wasn’t as good as it could have (or perhaps should have) been, but it wasn’t abysmal either. The two hours went by very quickly for me, and I at least found it entertaining enough for that to happen.
I hope for a sequel, if only for it to give us more than the first film was able to do. Maybe in the sequel, we’ll get a handsome Quentin to fawn over, and maybe the competition will make them write Barnabas better. We must see the return of Dr. Hoffman, and more of Elizabeth will never be unwelcome. It’s unquestionable Angelique will be back — she never, ever said die in the series — so perhaps she can pair up with Gerard Stiles?
In any case, I look forward to seeing what gems the DVD release has on it. I hope that there will be a version more enjoyable on it, which adds in scenes that were for some reason cut. Perhaps they can also get rid of some of the scenes that had no business remaining in the theatrical release. I can see no reason why a director’s cut shouldn’t go to two and a half hours, at least — there’s plenty of material that surely must have been cut out.
But what was there isn’t bad, especially for something that looked so absolutely awful in the trailers. The 1972 setting is very well-realised, and even the opening credits look like they were lifted from a film of the time! The fashions are so perfect that I wanted the whole cast’s wardrobe, and the acting is more or less uniformly excellent.
There are a few little parts where it falls a bit, stumbling mainly over its own uneven tone and similarly uneven script. There were a few scenes, chiefly ones that built up an attempt at humour, where I said to myself, ‘they’re trying too hard’. Yet they weren’t trying hard enough at some of the more serious scenes, especially ones building Barnabas’s story.
Still, I thought it was a good one. It’s far better than most attempts I could compare it to, to revive a beloved classic series in some way or another. I’ve seen so many beloved stories turned into true horrors — in the purest sense — which leave fans regretting they had ever wished for their return.
If they do a sequel, and I’m hoping they do, surely they’ll learn from the good and the bad of the first and make it tighter and more enjoyable overall. Occasional humour is welcome, but attempts at humour that derail the plot should be avoided. Romance is ubiquitous in a soap opera, of course! And action was very good at the level it was presented.
I’m cautiously optimistic. I really do hope for a sequel. It’s definitely more deserving than plenty of films that get sequels.
So in short (I know, too late), it’s one to see, even if only once. Give it a view once it hits Netflix, or rent the DVD once it’s released, which I’m sure will be closer to Halloween.
And if you haven’t seen it, check out the original series! It’s worth it!
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