Dark Shadows ★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

This is yet another movie in my shared UltraViolet library, watched with my niece. She watched it while I was asleep earlier in the week, so it's fitting that she should fall asleep while I watched it tonight. She seems to really dig it, because she'd already seen it before both of these viewings, and when it came time to pick something to watch tonight, she didn't hesitate or even ask me about it.

I've never seen (to my knowledge) a single episode of the TV series upon which this movie was based, so I can't speak to its relationship thereto. I did, however, go into this viewing as a longtime viewer of Tim Burton's works and that's the context for most of my observations and remarks that follow.

My niece will be 13 in a week, and I found it interesting to contemplate while watching Dark Shadows why it should hold such sway over her attention. It's become common, even fashionable, for viewers of my vintage to bemoan how Tim Burton has become a pastiche of himself, his once-inspired era of creativity long faded into the recesses of yesteryear.

I'm not so sure about that.

Sure, I saw the obvious recycling of Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and nods to Batman Returns, but I doubt my niece was conscious of them. Instead, she's able to enjoy Dark Shadows for being what it is, oblivious to its place in the Burton filmography. Through those eyes, it seems that the same magic Burton wove for us is still being woven for viewers the same age we were when his earlier "golden age" ran through theaters and VCR's.

Though I did recognize and even find myself enjoying the standard Burton flare, I was disappointed by its meandering attention span. There are several arcs and character relationships in the film - or at least, alluded to in it - but only the rivalry between Barnabas and Angelique gets any meaningful screen time. There were so many moments that introduced ideas that I was almost confused by how few of them felt developed in any meaningful way.

For instance, the entire reason "Victoria" is even in the home is to take the position of governess for young David. At no point do we ever see the two of them interact outside their initial introduction at dinner the night she arrived. Then there's the matter of David's father, Roger. What purpose did his sleaziness serve? When Barnabas buys him off and he leaves David crying, we've had absolutely no reason to invest in him or to believe they have any meaningful relationship worth crying over.

I tip my hat to the cast. Burton's films can generally be counted on to be built around a solid ensemble with good-to-great chemistry, and this is no exception. Eva Green holds the screen so well with her deliciously wicked Angelique that Johnny Depp doesn't wholly dominate the picture. Michelle Pfeiffer gives one of the more balanced "straight man" performances in a Burton movie in quite awhile. It's not easy having to be the grounded character the flashier ones play off of, but Pfeiffer brings it off.

In the final analysis, it's going too far to say that Burton has lost his touch, though it's fair to say that Dark Shadows held greater potential than it reached.

How Dark Shadows Entered My Flickchart

Dark Shadows < Frozen Fever → #1675
Dark Shadows > Young Mr. Lincoln → #1263
Dark Shadows > Where's Poppa? → #1053
Dark Shadows > The Mark of Zorro (1920) → #947
Dark Shadows > Idiocracy → #895
Dark Shadows > Oz, the Great and Powerful → #868
Dark Shadows < Cinderella (1950) → #868
Dark Shadows < Dr. T & the Women → #868
Dark Shadows < I'll Wait for the Next One → #868
Dark Shadows < Hotel Splendide → #868
Dark Shadows > Despicable Me 2 → #867

Dark Shadows entered my Flickchart at #867/1683