Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dark Shadows (Tim Burton)

Barnabas Collins.

If ever their continuous trio efforts have thought Johnny Depp, Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter anything, then maybe it is the reality that film collaborations can only last so much, quality-wise, if every new film they create won't end up to be more disappointing than the previous one. With the exception of the very good "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street", the triumvirate has but recycled their seemingly manufactured comic sensibilities and staple gothic cum fantastical imagery to suit up and take on one project after another. Their previous film, the disappointing "Alice in Wonderland" proved that they are slowly running out of steam, and now, here in "Dark Shadows", a cinematic retelling of a classic '60s/early '70's TV series, they have presented quite an alarming fact that they just may need to take some time off and part artistic ways. Well, temporarily, at least.

Tim Burton, one of the most reliable filmmakers of our time in terms of gothic storytelling, especially with some added bits of deadpan humor that he can only call his own, is slowly becoming a passively commercial one. Although I have to say that there are still hints of faded greatness in "Dark Shadows", especially on how the film has introduced itself, it lacks emotion, a sense of purpose, and a pure narrative, with the latter being the thing that I question most about the film.

Yes, it's quite interesting to see how Tim Burton would interpret a TV series that has been aged by time, but then there's the thing we call a 'smoothly-told story', an aspect which, as we all know, is a staple Burton strength but has strangely gone AWOL here in "Dark Shadows". With a beautiful cinematography and set designs that have perfectly captured the atmosphere of the 70's which reminds me a lot of Hitchcock's "The Birds" (I know, it's a 1963 film, but still), all we need that can really put this film's engines into a creative high is a story that will be compelling and, at least, involving enough for 120 minutes or so.

Mentioning the introduction again, as we see Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) slowly transform from a mild-mannered heir to the Collins family business and fortune to a blood-thirsty vampire as a result of a curse, "Dark Shadows" has finely highlighted the classic elements of a great Burton film: A timeless and emotionally-charged gothic tale, some quirkily strange characters and a twisted take on history.

But as it proceeds to the narrative proper, which suddenly brings Barnabas and an old (and evil) flame in the guise of the beautiful Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), both of whom have lived their mortal lives in the 18th century, into the 1970s, its middle part has somehow begun to dwell on nothing really important or integral to the story at hand. Some pointlessly brief 'blink or you'll miss it' comedic scenes from Depp's character, various beating around the bushes here, some '70s musical references there, and an awkwardly aggressive sex scene. It's as if the film's introduction and climax (specifically the last 5 minutes or so) are the only ones that are worthy of Burton while the whole segment in the middle are nothing but bitter-tasting nails that have sealed shut any traces of potential. Well, why bother to feed us frustratingly rusty nails when it could have been more than gracious, umm, cinematic pastries (or any, say, figuratively scrumptious cinematic delicacies. Well this is getting awkward) of some specific kind that "Dark Shadows" could have offered.

Also, what's with the whole fish-canning business rivalry that Barnabas and Angelique have ignited in the 1970s timeline? Maybe it's a thing of faithfulness to the original TV series, maybe it has worked before in the small screens because TV shows have better chances for stretched-out narratives, but for a film that can only tell a story within a limited time frame, it's just so hard to buy.

So, as what the film has suggested, if your cursed ex-darling has suddenly returned within your reach, a man which you have both despised and so passionately loved at the same time, the first thing you are going to offer him is a mutual business concession? Wait, isn't this supposed to be a fine semi-comic film about immortality, blood-drenched vendetta and vampires? And where are the emotions that have supported the film's opening scenes very well?

"Dark Shadows", instead of carrying the cult TV series in its shoulders to bring it into the high heavens of the big screens, has sadly succumbed to a lazy story and deficient character development. Great example: just look at how poorly handled the revelation about Chloe Moretz's character was?

While directing "Dark Shadows", Tim Burton should have retained within his line of thinking that what they're doing is a 2-hour film, not a long-running, 30-minute a week, boob tube show that can certainly afford a bush-beating or two; could have saved the story. But then again, maybe he did, and it's really the screenwriting department that is particularly at fault here.

The performances, however good they are, particularly those by Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer and even Jackie Earle Haley have been rendered quite pointless because of the film's strained storytelling. While Johnny Depp, well, what would you expect? Depp is his typical self here, which is not a bad thing, but perhaps a bit too 'typical' and a bit too 'himself'.

Started up like "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" and ended like "Edward Scissorhands", both of which are Tim Burton and Johnny Depp's prime works as creative collaborators, "Dark Shadows" ended up as a cluttered proof of what may appear as an artistic exhaustion on their part as far as actor-director partnerships are concerned. Add up Helena Bonham Carter in the mix and you got a panting little film begging for its creators to have some break.


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