Tim Burton is that friendly neighbor in need of a cup of sugar; he’s taken to remakes and adaptations with ease, always delivering his signature style and quirky moments audiences have come to expect. Dark Shadows (2012) falls into this “cup of sugar” category along with other recent films he has directed, such as Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Sweeney Todd (2007). Although I’m sure Burton could direct another film which features a whimsical – if not slightly off-center – main character that always borrows cups of sugar from her neighbors, it has been many years since audiences have been treated to a true original Tim Burton Film, a la Corpse Bride (2005). The uniqueness and psychological depth of his originals add that little-something that resonates with the very core of its viewers, which unfortunately some remakes and adaptations lack as a whole. While they are still a legitimate art-form, they are just a neighbor in need of a cup a sugar. Dark Shadows was missing that extra bit of soul-sweetener.
Opening in the year of 1752, Joshua and Naomi Collins travel from England to America with their son, Barnabas (Johnny Depp) to start a new life. Unfortunately for Barnabas Collins, a jealous witch, Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), kills his parents and curses him to be a vampire locked in a coffin and buried underground for presumably all of eternity. Fast-forward to 1972 and Barnabas is discovered by a construction crew, who met their untimely death at the hands of one extremely thirsty vampire. Barnabas then returns to his homestead of Collinwood Manor and meets his off-beat, charismatic descendents and sets out on a mission to help restore his family to its former glory…without Angelique ruining things a second time around.
The visuals are stunning in this film, as usual; anything sub-par would be anti-Burton. One of the most compelling visual elements happens toward the end of the film, when Angelique and Barnabas are in an epic duel inside the manor. Every time Angelique take a hit or a shotgun blast to the face by Elizabeth Collins (Michelle Pfeiffer) her skin cracks and breaks away like a porcelain doll. Being a witch, it would make sense that she had the ability to preserve her perfect features, hence the visual allegory of a porcelain doll, akin to the world she has built around herself smashing into bits and pieces.
The dialogue was exceptionally quirky and was filled with golden comedic moments:
- When Barnabas seeks Carolyn’s (Chloë Grace Moretz) advice on courting women of the 20th century.
- Alice Cooper’s (the real Alice Cooper) appearance as the musical guest at the Collinwood manor ball, and Barnabas commenting that he was the ugliest woman he had ever seen.
- Dr. Julia Hoffman’s (Helena Bonham Carter) line, “Every year I get half as pretty and twice as drunk”.
Seth Grahame-Smith’s (Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies) writing career must be going extremely well; he was one of the writers for the screenplay. His flair for witty dialogue can be heard throughout the film. However, Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote), Barnabas’s reincarnated love-interest, is mostly just a shell of a character, with a quickly added dreary past of being put into a mental intuition by her parents in an effort to add some depth to her pretty face. It’s clear that Barnabas loves her for her beauty and her child-bearing hips, as they are the most fertile he has ever seen.
Overall, Dark Shadows kept true to the original TV series – with a modern twist, of course – and it was just as heartwarming. However, Tim Burton needs to make another original film. While he can put that genius mind of his to use regarding all the visual elements of a film, the innermost part of him, his life narrative and unique view of the world and relationships, will always be missing from adaptations, because they are not his story; they are another person’s.