Johnny Depp’s “Dark Shadows”: Does It Bite?
How can a movie gross nearly $30 million in its opening weekend and still be termed “anemic” by box office analysts? When it’s Dark Shadows, the latest cinematic collaboration between Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton. And when it cost $150 million to make. And when The Avengers just grossed more than $100 million—in its second weekend.
Dark Shadows faced a number of marketing challenges from the get-go. It’s based on a campy/creepy 1966-71 soap opera that no one under the age of 50 remembers, even though it was cryptically referenced in this week’s episode of Mad Men (which was also entitled “Dark Shadows”). And the movie’s tone varies wildly, veering from slapstick shtick to grotesque gore, although the trailer ultimately accentuates the goofball gags.
Simply put, Dark Shadows is a mess. It’s not the actors’ fault, for the most part. With his cadaverously pasty pallor and Edward Scissorhands manicure, Depp makes a convincing enough vampire as Barnabas Collins, who’s awakened from a near-200-year underground slumber in 1972. As one of his sole surviving relatives, Michelle Pfeiffer seems to struck her own deal with the devil (or at least a very good plastic surgeon); she doesn’t age. And the household is rounded out by a panoply of talented three-named actors—Jackie Earle Haley, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jonny Lee Miller and Helena Bonham Carter (the director’s wife). Only Eva Green disappoints, as the witch who cursed Barnabas; she feels like a cheaper substitute for Angelina Jolie, who probably didn’t want to work with Depp again after the travesty that was The Tourist.
Blame for the film’s creative and commercial failure falls squarely on the shoulders of Burton. He’s long ago proven his visual panache, but he still needs to focus less on stylish set decoration and more on straightforward storytelling. (Sweeney Todd was the rare exception to this rule.) And he needs to learn the difference between funny strange and funny ha-ha. Seriously, there were more laughs—and scares—in the two-minute “Large Marge” scene of Burton’s 1986 feature debut Pee-wee’s Big Adventure than in all 113 bloody awful minutes of Dark Shadows.
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