To say that Tim Burton, much like his man-crush cinematic paramour Johnny Depp, is simply going through the motions these days, is not really a shocking, or even remotely surprising way to start a review of the director's latest film, Dark Shadows. Always having tendencies toward one trick ponydom, Burton is a filmmaker who never strays too far from the kitschy, Gothic well that has been his so-called bread and butter, and perhaps bloody red jam as well, lo these past near three decades of his post-Disney feature film career. On the other hand, he is also a filmmaker who has made some of the more uniquely stylized films of these same said near three decades. Films like the effervescent Beetlejuice and pop-goth Edward Scissorhands, the sinister Sleepy Hollow and sentimental Big Fish, the oft-maligned Mars Attacks! and the meet-cute stop motion Corpse Bride. Films like the grandiose spectacle of Sweeney Todd and the subtle brilliance of the director's one film that comes closest to being able to be called a masterpiece, Ed Wood. But now, with both this film and his last, Alice in Wonderland, it seems like just the same old same old. Granted, this same old same old sure is pretty to look at, but even visually it seems like we have seen this all before, which in essence, we of course have.
Now just because a director seems to keep his cinematic stretching to a minimum, doth not necessarily a bad filmmaker make. On the contrary, directors as varied as David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese (to name but a few that fit into the classic auteur theory realm of film studies) are filmmaker's whose artistic signatures ring out with audacious bravura, and, though some would, I would not call any of them bad directors in any way, shape or form. But then again, when directors like the aforementioned three do repeat certain imagery and/or motifs, they tend, at least in their better works, to manipulate into a brand new (or newish) form. Burton has done this in the past but it seems, these days in particular, like he is merely going through the motions as they say. It seemed that way with his blandish middle of the road Alice in Wonderland (how bad does a Tim Burton film have to be when in comparison, the Disney version appears more vibrant and even subversive!?) and it seems that way again, with Dark Shadows.
As far as the story goes, for those who care, it is the tale of a 200 year old cursed vampire who returns to the modern day (where modern 1972 that is) to reestablish his family's good name and to perhaps finally get revenge on the witch who cursed him in the first place. The film, as I am sure just about everyone knows, is an adaptation of the ABC soap opera of the same name that ran from 1966 to 1971 and featured a sinister vampire by the name of Barnabas Collins. I remember not only watching the show in what must have been syndication in the mid to late seventies, but also playing the Milton Bradley game where you had to construct a skeleton in a coffin, or some such thing. Of course the aforementioned Burton boy toy Johnny Depp plays the infamous Mister Collins, and he plays it, well, he plays it, for better or for worse, just like one would expect Johnny Depp to play such a part. Not to say Depp is not a wide-ranging actor - because he is and has proven it on numerous occasions - but he seems to just be phoning it in nowadays. Of course when one is getting paid as much as Depp, the highest paid actor in the history of cinema, perhaps one does tend to get a bit lazy at times. And that is just what Dark Shadows seems to be - lazy. Other than the one true highlight of the film, Eva Green as the sexy, age old witch (she is the only one who seems to bring any real glee into her performance) Dark Shadows is not necessarily a bad film, but something perhaps much worse - a lazy one.