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The UnPopular Opinion: Dark Shadows

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

Tim Burton remains one of the most unique filmmakers in Hollywood. With a visual flair and story style that is all his own, Burton has managed to turn iconic characters and franchises into his own phantasmagorias. From BATMAN to PLANET OF THE APES, Tim Burton has been a critical darling and pariah. Since his smash hit ALICE IN WONDERLAND, Burton was able to create a string of films that were either long in development or his own passion projects. While most did not sit well with critics nor make much of a dent at the box office, there are some gems mixed in with the mediocrity. One of this underseen films is DARK SHADOWS, Burton's adaptation of the cult classic soap opera. Part Munsters and part gothic horror, DARK SHADOWS is Burton at his campy best and features one of Johnny Depp's best post-PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN performances. Now, almost six years after it bombed at the domestic box office, it is time to revisit Collinwood for the best horror comedy of the decade.

Like with his films ED WOOD, MARS ATTACKS!, and SWEENEY TODD, Tim Burton has always been adept at translating stories that fall just outside the mainstream into cinematic eye candy. DARK SHADOWS, despite running for over 1200 episodes on ABC, never quite became the pop culture phenomenon the marketing for the feature film made it out to be. While I was aware of the original serial for years before the movie was in production, I was never a fan or had seen any full episodes. I would venture that the audience for a DARK SHADOWS film is much like the culture of the fans surrounding Firefly or Doctor Who: dedicated but minor. What Burton was able to do with DARK SHADOWS was both pay homage to the original television soap opera while also telling his own variation of a supernatural family with melodramatic tendencies. The final product is a campy and fun romp that feels like the closest thing Burton will do to making his own ADDAMS FAMILY feature.

The UnPopular Opinion, Horror, Comedy, Drama, Dark Shadows, Tim Burton, Eva Green, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfieffer, Bella Heathcote, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jonny Lee Miller, Helena Bonham Carter

By definition, soap operas are overly melodramatic and campy. So, when adapting DARK SHADOWS for the big screen, Burton made sure to focus on these elements to the point of satire. While the film is an over-the-top comedy at it's core, it also plays with genre staples like vampires and monsters to great success. But condensing a mythology that spanned numerous chapters on the small screen, it was difficult for audiences to acclimate to seeing all of that shoved into a two hour film. Still, Barnabas Collins could have been played closer to Johnny Depp's suave MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS character but this being a Depp/Burton collaboration, there was zero chance of this being played straight. Johnny Depp's schtick in ALICE IN WONDERLAND and CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY is melded with his more grounded roles in ED WOOD and SLEEPY HOLLOW to produce a character who is a true fish out of water. Thrusting a character two centuries into the future is surely going to result in comedic fodder which becomes the focus of quite a large section of the film, but Burton's eye and Depp's quirkiness make it far from intolerable.

The other great element to the success of DARK SHADOWS is the vast and brilliant cast. Michelle Pfieffer should have started a massive comeback with this role which shows she is not only still a gorgeous woman but can play both dramatic and comedic roles. Jonny Lee Miller and Jackie Earle Haley are great as is (then) newcomer Bella Heathcote in the damsel in distress role. Helena Bonham Carter is her usual great self and Chloe Grace Moretz, while slightly out of place in her role, manages to round out the great ensemble. Everyone here chew their scenery with abandon and could all anchor their own standalone adventures as they would have on the small screen version of DARK SHADOWS. There is more than enough backstory and material here to see everyone return for a second chapter, something that will never happen despite decent overseas box office returns. Once again, domestic audiences sunk the chance to see more unique material on the big screen.

The best element of DARK SHADOWS cast is Eva Green. I left her out of the previous cast roll call because Green manages to steal every scene she appears in. In a lot of ways, Eva Green is the heir apparent to Tim Burton's muse, Helena Bonham Carter. Having appeared in this and the also underrated MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN, Eva Green has an otherwordly quality that makes her both sensuous and ravishing along with being an incredibly talented actress. Green holds her own opposite Depp here, something very few actors, male or female, are capable of doing. Green fully inhabits the character of Angelique Bouchard and turns her from could have been a cliche witch into a layered villain. Already set to appear in 2019's DUMBOI, I would not be surprised if Green started to take the lead role in Burton films from here on out, maybe even having male characters intended for Depp to be gender-flipped so she can take the role. 

As always, DARK SHADOWS is also dripping with atmosphere. The opening sequences set in the 18th century are stylistic perfection but the movie really picks up when it moves into the 1970s. Tim Burton's palette has always been wrapped around the retro stylings of decades past and he puts it to masterful effect her. Like a demented version of The Brady Bunch, DARK SHADOWS' Collins family look plucked right out of an episode of the original series. The editing by Bruno Delbonnel along with Danny Elfman's score take the technicolor insanity on screen and twist it into what the best Burton films have: a fever dream of pulp and horror with a slightly child-like bend. All of these elements blend with longtime Burton screenwriter John August's collaboration with Seth Grahame-Smith to make DARK SHADOWS into a pop culture time capsule.

The UnPopular Opinion, Horror, Comedy, Drama, Dark Shadows, Tim Burton, Eva Green, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfieffer, Bella Heathcote, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jonny Lee Miller, Helena Bonham Carter

With cameos from original DARK SHADOWS castmembers as well as the late Christopher Lee, DARK SHADOWS works as both an original property for new audiences as well as a treat for fans of the old soap opera. In either case, DARK SHADOWS can be enjoyed as horror comedy, a comedic horror movie, a pulpy camp satire, or even a scenery chewing ensemble picture. Whichever way you choose to digest DARK SHADOWS, it is a fun movie. Is it one of the best Tim Burton movies? Probably not in his top five efforts but it definitely is more fun than a lot of movies release in 2012 or since. You could do a lot worse than a couple of hours with this great cast. Plus, you get to see the moment when Eva Green was finally able to out-weird Johnny Depp. The King is dead. Long live the Queen.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to [email protected], spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
Source: JoBlo.com

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