Dark Shadows – A Retrospect
May 2012 14
Written by Nishanthini Ganesan
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The long-awaited film Dark Shadows was finally released in Singapore on the 10th of May, 2012. Based on the 1967 American gothic cult series, Dark Shadows, created by Dan Curtis, this film is another Tim Burton-Johnny Depp collaboration, also starring Helena Bonham Carter. Sadly though, unlike many others, Dark Shadows does not do too well.

Many fans of classic Tim Burton films might be a tad unsettled by how the plot of this film unfolds. When Barnabus Collin’s backstory is told at the beginning in classic Tim Burton narrative-style, we assume that he will be the main character. We would probably have assumed the same from the placement of the characters in the promotional posters. Therefore we believe the story will be told through his eyes. As the movie transitions to present day however, we begin to watch the plot unfold through the experiences of the new governess to the Collins children, Victoria. When Barnabus Collins gets dug up again, we return to telling the story in an objective point of view through his experiences. Victoria also disappears for a large part of the remainder of the film, and during the climax. 

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Barnabus Collins himself, as a character, is by no means a tragic hero. In fact, I must admit that I didn’t like him much for breaking Angelique’s heart in the first place. The failure of the main character to draw feelings from the audience is one reason why the movie as a whole, failed to impress. Why we do not sympathize enough with Barnabus is due to the fact that we do not see his character respond to the tribulations he was thrown under by the witch Angelique. We adore him, love him even for his awkwardness, but we fail to understand his pain because we are not brought deep enough into his psyche and that I feel, is the greatest fault in this film. There was no character who went on a journey and found the answer to their troubles, or an ending to their pain. There was only a vampire with a strong set of values that were emphasized time and time again in the film. It is a noble act to make a film to showcase the importance of a filial piety, but I felt that many elements that should have been present in the film to were missing. Many a time, spoken dialogue took the place of what should have been portrayed by action instead.

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The climax of the movie, the fight scene between the Collins and Angelique, was nothing more than a confusing battle of strange creatures. There was a strange twist at the end that felt more like a joke thrown in for humor’s sake. Overall, the ending failed to produce any sense of Karthasis. The uplifting sense of drama and emotional spectacle that we have come to love, and unfortunately expect, from Tim Burton was present, but it came across on screen as a mere mess. I would even go as far as to say that the sex scene between Angelique and Barnabus procured more excitement from the audience that the supposed climax itself.

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There were also several creative decisions made with regard to the storyline that did not work well with me.

There will be important information on the plot of Dark Shadows in the following paragraph and therefore I advise reader discretion.

I will use the murder of Helena Bonham Carter’s character, Dr. Julia Hoffman, by Barnabus Collins as an example. The murder did nothing for the plot, besides giving a reason for Angelique to hand Barnabus over to the police. Even then, she could have done it as easily with his confession regarding his killing of the construction workers. The murder of Dr. Hoffman had little to no effect on the other members of the Collins family that I would rather it had never happened at all. That being said, the character of Dr. Hoffman in the film did not come off strongly either. I trust Helena Bonham Carter’s acting skills, and therefore I will not speculate as to the cause, whether it be the script itself, or the portrayal of the character.

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However, it cannot be said that this film isn’t visually stunning. It showcases the classic dark, gloomy, German Expressionist style that many have come to associate with the master director himself. The cinematography and lighting were spot on and the scene of Barnabus Collins and Victoria taking a walk by the sea is a perfect example of the strangeness yet propriety of Tim Burton’s use of the mobile camera in tracking odd movements.

The costumes, done by acclaimed costume designer Colleen Atwood, must be given special mention to. It would take a long time for an audience member to forget the necklace Barnabus wore for a large part of the film. However, one could not help but to notice how droopy Angelique’s breasts looked in the famed red dress she wore to the happening, in contrast to how they looked in the promotional posters and in her other ensembles.

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The makeup in the film, specifically on Barnabus Collins, felt carelessly done to me. We are accustomed to seeing Johnny Depp’s cheeks made hollow with the use of makeup. It has been done in many Tim Burton films, including Edward Scissorhands, to give him the skeletal look that many, specifically women, have come to love. However the difference between their presence in Edward Scissorhands and Dark Shadows, is how obvious the attempted exaggeration of Johnny Depp’s features appear on screen. Even the use of hair product on his hair was painfully apparent in some shots, making it look artificial and I simply cannot pass this off as a creative decision.

As a Tim Burton fan, it does pain me terribly to write this review as Tim Burton is by no means a bad director, but one must, ironically, look at the bright side. If Tim Burton goes past the dismal Dark Shadows and goes on to make another good film, I feel that it would strengthen his position as one of the reigning directors in Hollywood. Even great directors like Stanley Kubrick had films that were by no means, critical successes. They were by no means proud of them, and neither were their fans. What I will be proud of however, is the tiny legion of Tim Burton fans who will stand by their hero even after watching this film.

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If you have been hiding under a Dark Shadow, you may find the trailer to the film here.

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