Saturday, May 26, 2012

'Dark Shadows' review

Folkloric creatures have never been in such a high demand as they have been recently. It appears as though audiences have been growing increasingly desperate for empathetic portrayals of monstrous characters. Ever since the Twilight saga became an international hit, our cinemas, TV screens and bookshelves have become haunted by these undead creatures of the night, to varying degrees of effectiveness. 

When audiences hear Tim Burton, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter together in the same sentence, their little ears pick up, expectations reach new, dizzying heights and money literally gets thrown at the box-office. After all, Burton directing a gothic comedy starring Johnny Depp as a heartbroken vampire taken out of his comfort zone and thrown into a completely new century? What's not to love? Sadly, the question on audiences lips by the end of the film was less "What's not to love?" and more "What is there to like?"

Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is the son to a couple of highly respected and wealthy individuals in 1752, his handsome appearance and undeniable charm causing the beautiful Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) to fall for him. After rejecting her, it becomes obvious that Angelique is actually a witch, cursing the Collins family, turning Barnabas into a vampire and burying him alive for two centuries. He is inadvertently released into the year 1972, in which he discovers that the Collins family have become disgraced by the current descendant's personal greed or supernatural quirks and overpowered by the might of Angelique's rival business. Barnabus spends the rest of the film struggling to adjust to the 20th century life (or rather, death) and attempting to restore the Collins family to their former glory.

Before any critical analysis of the film takes places, I find it necessary to point out that 'Dark Shadows' is an adaptation of a sixties soap opera of the same name. The series was renowned for its melodrama and romantic scenes, and many fans of the show are annoyed at Burton's film going down a more comedic, slapstick route. The trailer provides the audience with the funniest scenes of the film, and due to clever editing, even includes gags that do not exist within the film itself. The trailer looks funny, audiences buy tickets to go see this comedy... only to realise that it isn't a comedy, but rather a bipolar film than cannot decide whether it wants to by comedic, or romantic, or overly dramatic. None of this would be necessarily bad if the different genres were executed well, but the comedy often seemed forced, the romance came across as nauseatingly cliched and desperate and the attempt at drama often induced more laughter than the comedy itself.

The scriptwriting is, quite frankly, embarrassing. The audience were expected to deal with a multitude of irrelevant information and character inconsistencies to match, and even if they manage to cope with all that? They still have to sit through bad joke after bad joke to get to the funny scenes... the majority of which they have already seen by watching the trailer. And as far as the ending goes, I know that the film was supposed to portray the original series' sense of melodrama, but the ending seems forced and desperate, despite almost everyone in the screening being able to see the 'twist' coming.

It's impossible to deny that the cast have been blessed with some serious talent, but it becomes plainly obvious that the mixture of poor scriptwriting and direction results in these actors talents going to waste. This is especially the case for Chloë Grace Moretz as the anarchistic teenager Carolyn Stoddard. Her character, much like her, is young, but acts like a much older character. She is very sexualised and highly over-dramatic, and Moretz's portrayal of this character is incredibly grating to watch as a result, my friend leaning over to me every-time her character was on screen to whisper in my ear "She's high. She must be high". Johnny Depp is known to be a scene stealer, but sadly, his performance didn't really stand out from the rest of the cast. Of course, he still gave a brilliant performance, but compared to his other character's, Barnabas Collins didn't give him that much to work with. The audience are supposed to feel sympathetic for this heartbroken and cursed man, and simply laugh off his immorality, but the inconsistencies with his character make him seem hypocritical, ensuring that the audience questions themselves more on the reasons behind his actions rather than simply getting carried away with Depp's performance in itself. It's debatable and merely a matter of opinion, but I think that Helena Bonham Carter saved the film from slipping completely into chaos. Carter was the true scene stealer in this film, which is sad, considering her relatively small amount of screen-time. She disappears into her character of Dr. Julia Hoffman, an alcoholic psychiatrist. She provides the film comic relief as well as genuine drama. If only the film gave her more screen-time...

Tim Burton's films, if nothing else, are renowned for their gothic beauty, which is a quality that is in abundance here. The meaningful shots are missing, but considering that the film is a mixture of melodrama and comedy, there's no real need for them. The simplicity of 'Dark Shadows' direction is a refreshing change from the CGI laden 'Alice In Wonderland'. The sets were predominantly realistic and barely relied on CGI, it wasn't until the final part of the film that they really needed to use it (and even then, we really wish that they hadn't). Direction can be simple, but in order to justify the simplicity, the storyline and/or acting needs to be spectacular. Sadly, this was not the case. As a result, audience's are 'treated' to a relatively uninspired (for a Burton film, at least) piece of film-making with below par acting (for the cast, at least) whose main highlight is the wonderful soundtrack.

Some people love the film, they are able to enjoy the melodrama, the strained comedy... they are able to forget the cast's past performances and judge them purely on this film... they are able to appreciate the gothic cinematography and the simple style of direction. If you think you're able to do this, then by all means, go to see it. If however, like me, you think you'll resort to picking apart the film's plot, comparing the cast's past performances their ones in this film and become upset by the drop in quality when it comes to Burton's directing, I recommend you give this one a miss.