5 June 2016 | TheLittleSongbird
Hugely disappointing compared to the classic TV show, and is hugely problematic as a standalone film
While it had a bit of a slow start, with technical limitations being obvious and the characters not being as interesting, from the moment it switched to colour and introduced its most iconic character Barnabas Collins (unforgettably played by Jonathan Frid) the 1966 'Dark Shadows' is a classic.
It is easy to see why it was so popular back in its day, and it is equally easy to see why it is remembered so fondly now. Despite its flaws (which were forgivable in a way), this reviewer spent many days and hours watching it with sheer joy, it really helping me get through many stressful and mentally straining times this year at music college (though there were many great times too, and saw a huge progression and several seemingly impossible achievements).
Sadly, this 2012 film version of 'Dark Shadows' was hugely disappointing. As an adaptation of the show, it just doesn't compare and understandably can (and has been) be seen as a travesty to die-hard fans. Tim Burton and Johnny Depp apparently claim to be fans of 'Dark Shadows', but to me that wasn't obvious at all. There was more of a sense that Burton hadn't even seen the show, seeing as the tone and spirit feels completely wrong, or he thought he could improve upon it.
On its own as a film, it has its good points but several major flaws that to be honest for this reviewer were more obvious. It is a shame as I am a fan of Burton's 80s and 90s stuff, especially 'Edward Scissorhands' and 'Ed Wood' which are two of my all-time favourites, but after his career low-point 'Planet of the Apes' he became hit-and-miss. While it is better than 'Planet of the Apes', along with 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' and 'Alice in Wonderland' 'Dark Shadows' is very much a lesser effort from Burton.
There are good things. It does look great, with splendidly Gothic and vibrantly colourful sets, wonderful and atmospheric use of colours, effectively ghoulish make-up and appropriately kooky costumes that suited the characters very well, while it's beautifully and stylishly photographed as well. The music score is groovy, rousingly orchestrated, haunting and a long way from forgettable or generic, if not one of Danny Elfman's best or most inspired scores, with some clever song choices. There are some amusing, well-written lines in the script, loved the line about Alice Cooper and it is most successful when Barnabas is struggling to fit in, and a few of the cast acquit themselves well.
Johnny Depp is no Jonathan Frid and he has given better performances (though also much worse, it is one of his better performances in any of his later collaborations with Burton), but he is clearly having a lot of fun as Barnabas without overdoing it and is one of the most involved members of the cast, he also is very charismatic. Michelle Pfeiffer is one of the most successful at injecting a genuine and faithful personality, while Eva Green is both sexy and intense. Cameos by Christopher Lee and Alice Cooper are well-utilised.
Unfortunately, a number of the cast don't come off well. Jackie Earl Haley, who is very good at being menacing and sometimes low-key if he needs to be, looked bored in a role that is so much in the background that there was almost no need for him. Helena Bonham Carter overdoes it and comes over as out of place, while Chloe Grace Moretz is irritating in a negatively stereotypical role. Much of the acting is either over-compensated and bland, being able to do very little to nothing with their dull and often unrecognisable in personality characters, and while it was interesting to see Frid his appearance is far too short to leave a lasting impression. The chemistry between the characters, one of the show's biggest strengths, is barely there.
'Dark Shadows' script has its moments, but these moments are too sporadic. Tonally it is very unfocused and muddled too often, it rarely seems to know whether to be eccentric comedy or full-blown melodrama. It attempts to do both (amongst others) and never completely succeeds at either, the comedy is too sporadic and can be childish and overdone and the melodrama is unmoving and overwrought. Story-wise it's a mess, it never really comes to life, has twists that come out of nowhere and are completely misplaced (especially the werewolf subplot), parts that drag endlessly and contribute very little to the plot and parts that looked alright on paper but executed in a half-baked way.
As a result, the Gothic atmosphere is almost completely lost, with it only being obvious in the production values, while the sex scene choreographed to Barry White is too broad and overly-wild and the ending is overblown to ridiculous extremes. Burton's direction does well with the style is but severely lacking in the story and the substance, where there is a complete lack of heart and soul.
Overall, not awful but disappoints hugely both as a standalone and especially as an adaptation of a classic show. 5/10 Bethany Cox