By a very rough count (and one that I am liable to still be off on), Dark Shadows is the eighth collaboration between director Tim Burton and his muse Johnny Depp. They've made some good films together (Edward Scissorhands) and some not as good ones (Alice in Wonderland) together. Yet they continue to do well financially. So the obvious question is which end of the spectrum is Dark Shadows closer to?
The movie is inspired by the '60s television show and adapted into screenplay form by Seth Grahame-Smith (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). Depp plays Barnabas Collins, who was cursed to be a vampire by Angelique (Eva Green, Casino Royale) and put in a coffin in the ground, where he laid for 200 years. And in 1972, some utility workers unearth the coffin and Barnabas rises and returns to his home, which is now inhabited by some of his descendants, most of whom are on the apathetic side. You have the family matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer, New Year's Eve) and Elizabeth's brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller, Trainspotting) is quietly trying to soak money out of the estate. Elizabeth has two kids, the older is Carolyn (Chloe Moretz, Kick-Ass), your prototypical teenager, and the younger is David (Gulliver McGrath, Hugo), who was adopted when he was younger. Elizabeth allows David's psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech) to live at the manor as well, along with the caretaker (Jackie Earle Haley, Watchmen). The newest addition to the manor is Victoria (Bella Heathcote, In Time), who not only is hired to assist with David, but is a dead ringer for Barnabas' former love Josette. Barnabas forsook Angelique for Josette and was cursed to be a vampire as a result, and he thinks because Angelique has survived the centuries, perhaps Josette (in Victoria) has as well.
On the surface, you would think a concept of bringing a vampire to modern times, or even 1972, would be an entertaining one in a vacuum, yet time after time, Dark Shadows seems to miss the mark with the gag. When presented with 1972 dialect, Barnabas responds to it literally, such as confusing the modern definition of the word 'stoned.' The first time it is mildly funny, and it gets less humorous with each occasion. Along with this unfunny story movement, you have him trying to integrate himself into the 20th century Collins family, all of whom seem to have their own secrets they are hiding from one another, including one big one that reveals itself in the third act that is beyond laughable in how incredulous it is. With those two things aside, his ongoing conflict with Angelique (now Angel in 1972, and dominating the Collins in the fish cannery business) proves to be intriguing. In her, Barnabas sees a fellow lost soul, someone who has watched friends and acquaintances disappear through the years, and perhaps there is a reluctant attraction there. But that flirtation is merely that when he realizes Angelique is still a vengeful woman.
It is that arc that manages a small reprieve from Depp's performance, which otherwise I hardly found different from most of his other work with Burton. As far as the supporting cast goes, for all the familiarity around their faces, nobody (save for Carter) does anything memorable in their roles. It is one thing to be dysfunction, but they almost are colder than the vampire with whom they share a roof with in some sort of perverse contest. I got some kicks from watching Green and Haley do some work because if nothing else, they were the only ones that had any fun with the parts. Everybody else? Cold. Dead. Fish.
Honestly, I am still trying to process whatever it is that Burton was hoping to accomplish with Dark Shadows. The film seemed to have an overwhelming sense of going through the numbers, and not caring about a third act that was not only silly, but for whatever reason left a door open for a possible sequel. I do not really mind that Depp and Burton work together so often, but if it means another one of these films, we may want to pump the brakes on such an idea.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Warner gives Dark Shadows an AVC-encoded 1.85:1 high-definition presentation that looks solid. One of the first things I was reminded of when watching the film was the visual style of The Box, with the intentional background softness coming through in this film. The film's cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (A Very Long Engagement) has his work shown nicely, with image detail in the foreground being strong and black levels looking strong through most of the film. The CG scenes tend to be on the weak side occasionally but all in all, fine work from Warner on this release.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround track delivers the goods in a better than expected soundtrack. Dialogue is clear sounding and consistent throughout the feature, directional effects in the more dynamic shots are present and sound effective, and channel panning is as well, along with in quieter sequences like when Barnabas is walking to Collinswood in the middle of the night along a dark road and cars whiz by him. When the film reaches its third act confrontation, the subwoofer gets a chance to really put some work in on shotgun blasts and bodies slammed against house walls. Longtime Burton collaborator Danny Elfman's score gets a tremendous amount of clarity in its devotion as well. The whole experience of listening to Dark Shadows is an immersive and convincing one; there was nothing I could find fault in over the course of the movie.
Warner's Maximum Movie Mode picture-in-picture function is included, but you can also play the 'Focus Points' separately (nine of them run 36:52) total. The pieces start by discussing Depp's metamorphosis into wardrobe & makeup for Barnabas, and the cast talk about said process and working with him in general. The cast is also touched upon and they tackle their various characters, and share their thoughts on working in a Burton production. Capturing the era from the set and costume design is also highlighted, along with the film's visual effects, and the final fight scene is given some attention too. It was more than I was expecting and worth the time. Five deleted scenes (5:39) are forgettable. The disc also includes a standard definition copy of the film (where the screenshots come from) and a redeemable code for an Ultraviolet copy to download/stream as you please.
Dark Shadows may have been made with good intentions, but the execution of them is faulty and the storytelling was dismal, despite some occasional moments by the actors. Technically, the disc looks and sounds great and while I would have liked more bonus material, what is here is not too bad. Worth checking out for fans of Burton or Depp, but unless you are really hardcore about said loyalties, I would not buy this.