Nicholas Goodchild

Historic and Pared Down

Dark Shadows

13 May 2012 by Nicholas in Films

Dark Shadows is, apparently, based on a TV series of the same name that aired for 5 years between 1967 and 1971. As far as I know the program never really dented the pop culture subconscious as I never knew it existed and, having seen the film, didn’t pick up on any of the references. To me it was essentially a new concept, albeit one that seemed massively reliant on the Munsters and the Addams Family.

Jonny Depp plays Barnabas Colins, a vampire from the 18th century who reawakens in 1970s America and finds his descendants have fallen on hard times. He sets about trying to reintegrate himself into his (dysfunctional) family and to set about restoring the family fortune. As well as finding himself matched against a familiar face from his past.

Those hoping to harken back to films like Edward Scissorhands, or the Addams Family will find themselves disappointed. I did spend time watching the film wondering if it was Tim Burton’s weakest work: it feels like a rehash of some of his earlier films coupled with a set up that is stronger in other works. I was underwhelmed, there was no real sense of the movie being off-kilter and the visuals were lacking. There were things I don’t remember in other Burton films, like actual sex jokes and some of the humour in general, but overall what was lost far outweighed what was gained and it was marred by a lack of originality, some poor storytelling and a noticeable problem with continuity.

The main humour in the film comes from Colin’s archaic speech patterns and confusion at the seventies. The decision to keep the film in the same era at the TV show seems a little odd, it doesn’t particularly gain anything by being set then and seems an exercise in nostalgia for something that common sense would seem to suggest isn’t particularly fondly thought of. At no point does the seventies setting seem to have been played for laughs or have any particular bearing on the story.

Speaking of lack of bearing on the story, there is a sub plot of particular characters being sensitive to the presence of spirits. However, this is never explored in one case and comes entirely nowhere as moment of importance in the case of another. It’s as if a subplot was dropped somewhere. It just seems a little cack-handed.

The continuity is also shown to be lacking when one character disappears with no explanation part way through the film and their absence is not really investigated or acted on by any of the other characters. It should be creating tension and it doesn’t. And it is thematically important to the plot.

Depp is good, as usual, but seems uninspired most of the time. Bonham Carter has her amusing moments. No one else really shines, although it is always good to see Pfeiffer in a film. It’s a film I wanted to like and feel disappointed in, moreover I can’t understand what the film set out to do and who wouldn’t be disappointed in it.