Listen, I'm a fan of Tim Burton. There was a time when I would gobble up any movie he brought out. That's perhaps a lie: I didn't eagerly go see his remake of Planet of the Apes. In fact, I'm not sure how many I've gone to see in the theatre: they seem to be consumed at home more often than not. Alright, that being said, I'm still a big fan of his movies, or at least, the older ones: 1988 through 1999 were very good years for him.
Tim Burton and Johnny Depp teaming up is not exactly news, as they've done quite a few films together, so I'm not entirely sure why I was excited for Dark Shadows. It's based on an old soap opera - seriously? - from the '70's that I've never heard of and have no interest in. The previews looked decent enough though, and Burton does gothic pretty well. Perhaps I was excited as well because there wasn't much else in theatres - this was a week or so before The Avengers came out and the torrent of summer movies were being released. The preview showed some promise though, which made watching the movie so unbearable.
The core of the issue with Dark Shadows is that it's disjointed, and perhaps for the first time I've used that word, it couldn't be any more true. This film doesn't know what it wants to be. It starts out really well, as the movie is giving us some background information on Barnabas and how he becomes a vampire, back in the 1700's. This is where Burton is at his finest: the mood, atmosphere, acting and all that are great. It reminds me of Sleepy Hollow (one of my favourites). Then we fast forward to the 1970s where the film "begins" so to speak. We're introduced to some people who don't get fully developed, and multiple story lines and themes that jump jarringly from one to another.
For instance, Barnabas comes back, and he's a fish out of water: you get the standard jokes as we experience Barnabas dealing with technology and culture. He comes out of the woods and onto a paved road, and mistakes a car's headlights for a demon or something, and it's funny. I get it. Then things get serious as the witch (Eva Green - beautiful as always) who turned Barnabas into a vampire, turns out to be running a competing fishing company - the business that gave Barnabas his fortune and whatnot. So he wants to fight back and regain the town, so to speak. And we're treating to this montage of him fixing up the old family business, and all of a sudden I have no idea what I'm watching. What about his reincarnated love from hundreds of years ago? No, she takes a backseat and barely makes an appearance again, even though she was based prominently before.
I read a review after seeing the movie that had an excellent point: for most viewers, the '70s were long ago: for me, they didn't even exist. The 1700's are also long ago. So you have Barnabas, who travels forward in time, and the audience, who is travelling back in time. It's jarring for both parties. You - the viewer - are being forced to see through Barnabas' point of view: it's fine to adjust with one time warp, but to have two is too much, and nobody else except the audience is being forced to travel twice. It takes you out of the movie at all times, and even that much harder to relate to Barnabas.
It's a comedy, then it's a horror. Then it's something else that doesn't make any sense. We get romantic story lines that are confusing, backwards characters and a finale so full of action and nonsense that it just doesn't fit with the rest of the film. It was quite bad - and disappointing.