a few things about dark shadows (the movie)

Johnny Depp is as good as you'd expect (which is very good), but the role is pretty squarely in his wheelhouse. Johnny Depp playing Barnabas Collins is about like Orson Welles playing Falstaff – it seems surprising it took him so long to get around to it. The best part of the movie for me was Michelle Pfeiffer. She is magnificent as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, the head of the Collins family (and clearly the most intelligent character in the movie). Pfeiffer dominates every scene she's in, which is all the more striking because in some of the later scenes she's playing the only character without supernatural powers.

I do wonder who is the intended audience for this movie. It's not really the wacky comedy that the trailer promises (most of the "fish out of water"/"weren't the 1970s weird?" jokes are in the trailer, in fact), and it's not really clear what it's trying to do or why. Which was also true of the show at times, of course. But the movie tonally all over the place, which the show never was (the show was mostly relentlessly serious).

The plot has some holes in it, and there are a lot of things which are hinted at and then dropped abruptly, but so what? It's Tim Burton. Relax and enjoy it. Sometime I need to check the credits for his movies to see if he even uses a continuity supervisor. I would guess not.

The movie seems set up in a lot of ways to lead into a sequel, which is unusual because Burton is not exactly Mr. Sequel, but maybe that's just what happens when you're adapting a soap opera. It is difficult to imagine that the movie will be so popular that there will be demand for another one.

The movie continues a grand tradition, which is that Barnabas inexplicably falls for wide-eyed, dewy innocents, while cruelly spurning the infinitely more interesting (and fun) Angelique, just because she turned him into a vampire (and perhaps because she was a servant 200 years ago). As she says to him in the movie, "Oh, Barnabas, get over it!" He really should, but he never does (though he is willing to have some very active sex with her). Some guys just don't have a clue.

There is a nice gag based on the breakfast scene in Citizen Kane. Who would be more likely to be down at the far end of that long table from the rest of her family than the surly teenager? (And what teenager wouldn't be surly, growing up in this family?)

The movie looks great, of course, and the music is good. There is a heavy use of 1970s pop, but it's always appropriate and enjoyable, even including an appearance by Alice Cooper, which works really well.

The cameo by the original cast members is quick, but very nice. It's good for a moment to see Quentin, and Maggie, and the real Josette, and the real Angelique, and, for one last time, the real Barnabas Collins.

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6 Responses to a few things about dark shadows (the movie)

  1. Dalya Moon says:

    I heard some early reviews that the movie wasn’t as fun as the trailer made it out to be. “Trailer Fraud” I guess? Sounds like you still enjoyed the experience.

  2. I think it was a bit of trailer fraud, but I didn’t mind, since I would have seen it no matter what the trailer was. But will there be an audience other than DS obsessives? I have no idea. That’s why I didn’t do a formal review. I would have no idea how to talk about the movie to regular people (you know, people who didn’t choose Collins as a pen name). :-)

  3. I was interested in your thoughts on this. It’s not high on my personal movie radar (with as few movies as Dear Wife and/or I get out to see, well… we’re very choosy: to wit, I’m not even going to be seeing The Avengers in the theater, even if it sounds like it was great). I may not see a lot of movies, but I do try stay abreast of movie news as much as possible.

    I did notice in some reviews that it wasn’t really a comedy the way the trailers made it out to be, although it clearly did have comedic elements. That started to make me wonder the same thing you ask here, which is “okay, if it’s not a comedy per se, then what’s the audience?”

  4. I’m also going to wait for DVD for The Avengers, I think. My next movie in a theater will be Prometheus (as we’ve talked about before — it did end up being rated R, by the way).

    My theory about DS is that Alice in Wonderland was successful, so Burton had some leeway about what to do next. Depp and Burton were DS obsessives growing up, and they decided to go ahead and do it. (Pfeiffer was another one — when she heard they were making the movie, she called up Burton and said she wanted to be in it.)

    So, they made the movie they wanted to make, and then the studio had to figure out how to market it. So, they decided to push the comedy angle, because that was the best option.

    The weird thing is that so many of the reviews I’ve read take the opportunity to trash Alice in Wonderland, which I really liked: http://u-town.com/collins/?p=1339. It doesn’t matter whether they’re praising or condemning DS, they take a shot at Alice. Oh, well.

  5. Tiyana says:

    What?!?! The Avengers was amazing! ^_^ Very funny, as well.

    Dark Shadows, to me, was just darkly straaaaaange…and predictable. But it wasn’t all-out terrible.

    • Well, I didn’t look at both movies and say, “Well, The Avengers looks okay, but I’ll bet Dark Shadows is better!”. :-)

      But I had to see it, because at an impressionable age my mind was warped by some 500 hours of Gothic soap opera craziness. It had this effect on others, as well (in addition to Burton and Depp and Pfeiffer), since Dark Shadows came up three times in Thomas Pynchon’s novel Inherent Vice (as I talked about here).

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