The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Pretty is not enough

with 30 comments

For some reason most people I have encountered so far in the film fandom seem to have something against Tim Burton. Tim Burton is like that fat boy with thick glasses and geeky hobbies and ugly clothes that didn’t fit. Alone at the best, bullied at the worst.

It’s probably not a cool thing to say, but I’ve actually liked the Tim Burton movies I’ve seen in the past, at least the ones I still remember (Batman is just a void in my memory, completely wiped out by the Dark Knight.)

I love the melancholy of Edward Scissorhands and the ghost story atmosphere in Corpse Bride. I enjoyed the crazy fishing stories in Big Fish. I even liked Charlie and the Chocolate factory, unlike many others seem to do. I haven’t seen the movie from the 1970s and my children loved Burton’s take, and that’s what matters most if you’re a parent.

I tell you this so you understand that I approached Dark Shadows with an open mind, hoping that the negative voices I had heard about it only came out of the foundless bullying. Sadly enough I failed.

Like a tunnel ride
Let me tell you straight away that Dark Shadows is pretty. Very pretty even. But prettiness can only take a film so far. I expect more.

Watching Dark Shadows reminded me of one of the tunnel rides in amusement parks, the ones you take if you’re like me and can’t stomach roller coasters or merry-go-rounds.

Either it’s presented as a “train of horror” or a “fairy tale ride”, they’re always the same. You see a bunch of tableaus passing by as the train moves along. They’re often pretty to watch but never engage you. It’s like a shop front where you see those dummies in plastic with empty eyes, dummies who never have lived and never will. Regardless of how much you try to embrace them or as much as touch upon them you can’t. The glass window keeps you at a distance.

I think the biggest problem is that they didn’t have a clear idea of what kind of film to make. Is it a comedy? A sad romance? A piece of drama about unhappy love? Or a horror film? Is it a movie intended for children or for adults? It’s tone is shifting and shifting and shifting, but it never mixes. You’re just jumping between the fragments, confused, like a failed béarnaise sauce.

[Warning for mild spoilers] I really wanted to care about this man who was cursed to be a vampire by a witch he ditched some hundred years ago, who returns to the world of living in 1972, only to find that this witch still is alive and still taking out her anger with him at his family for a reason I never understand. (Hey, she’s a witch; why not just make a love potion?)

I wanted to like him the way I love other miserable, tormented vampires, such as Lestat in Anne Rice’s novels or Angel and Spike in Buffy.

But all of a sudden he killed a bunch of innocent, friendly hippies, without showing the slightest remorse, and all my sympathies went down the drain. He claims that a part of his soul dies whenever he kills someone, but if that is the case, he certainly doesn’t show it.

This scene made me uncomfortable and I wondered what all the the 11 year olds in the theatre thought about it or what they made of the scene where one of the women who all dig the vampire for obscure reasons suddenly goes down on him.  I blinked, baffled: “did that just happen?” But what do I know, perhaps I’m just old fashioned.

While a lot of effort and probably money has been put into the visual design, there is something very careless about the construction of the story and the world. Even if it’s all imagined, a fantasy world building on magic, you need to set up rules for this magic, natural laws that are consistent for that world. And I think it fails on this part.

Here we have vampires who one moment will be set on fire unless hiding in darkness, but the next scene they’re walking outdoors in sunlight with very little protection and seem to be fine with it. And how to they make new vampires? I’m aware of that there are different traditions, but every book every film, needs to find a method and stick to it. The Dark Shadows’ method is confusing. Do vampires come out of bites? Curses? Blood transfusions? Does it matter in which way you die if you become a vampire or not? There is no pattern.

The final nosedive
Despite all those complaints I was fairly entertained by the grown-up-fairy-tale and Burtonesque atmosphere until the last 20 minutes. That’s when the film takes a steep nosedive downwards, losing all sense and logic.

It’s like a grand finale at a circus, when they bring out all the artists on the floor at the same time, the clown and the acrobat and the elephant keeper. It’s too much at the same time, and to make it worse, they’ll even bring in new creatures out of nowhere and for no reason, which makes you shake your head in disbelief. “Whoaa! Why? Where did that come from?”

I wish I could love Dark Shadows more than I do. I don’t want to be one in the crowd, one of the Burton bullies. I’m basically a fan.  But I can’t lie.

Cracked porcelain skin looks cool, and houses on fire are entertaining for a while, but it’s not enough to make this into a good movie.

Dark Shadows (Tim Burton, US, 2012) My rating: 2,75/5

My friends in the Swedish blogger network Filmspanarna also watched this film. Here are their takes (in Swedish):

Fiffis filmtajm
Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord
Har du inte sett den
Fripps Filmrevyer
Vrångmannen & Surskägget

Written by Jessica

June 14, 2012 at 8:00 am

Posted in Dark Shadows

30 Responses

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  1. […] en svag trea vilket betyder 2,5 Filmspanar-ikoner. Läs nu vad mina vänner tyckte om Dark Shadows: Jessica, Sofia, Henke, Fiffi, Har du inte sett den? (podcast!) och Vrångmannen (som hade sett filmen […]

  2. […] med exempelvis The Avengers. Nyfiken på om jag (igen) var tjurigast i gänget? Fiffis Filmtajm The Velvet Café Jojjenito Fripps filmrevyer Har du inte sett […]

  3. Sad. “How beautiful you are” as Robert Smith sings. The film has a nice surface but it is hollow, i totally agree.

    But I did not care about all the logical pitfalls, and the weak script. I went with the comedy aspects of the film, and with little to no expectations I was fairly entertained by Depp and the other actors. Some dumb fun, some jokes, some nice scenes. But if I would have analyzed it more in depth, I would have been much more on your team.

    My rating 3/5


    June 14, 2012 at 9:06 am

    • It’s funny. Usually I’m the one among the two of us who is more prepared to overlook flaws and be generous with the rating. But not this time.


      June 14, 2012 at 9:36 am

  4. Excellent review, thanks. I’ve been looking forward to seeing it as a Tim Burton fan, so it’s sad to hear that it lacks the interesting and original story lines he normally throws out!

    Cirque Du Cinema

    June 14, 2012 at 9:28 am

    • Thank you! Now don’t let it keep you from watching it if you’re a Tim Burton fan. Perhaps you’ll like it more than I did.

      He certainly throws out a bunch of storylines in this movie. The problem is that he doesn’t tie them together all that well. Some of them are compelelty forgotten for a long while, like the first character you’re introduced to, which disappears for one hour in the middle of the film without any explanation. She’s just overlooked.


      June 14, 2012 at 9:38 am

  5. Ha I am loving the addition of a .75 score!! Is that new?

    I actually quite like Burton’s work. BATMAN is one of my most favourite films, I have no shame!!

    I haven’t seen this yet, and will await a blu-ray release I think. Thanks Jessica

    • Haha, you noted! I was on the fence between 2,5 and 3. It was a 3 throughout most of the movie but dived down towards the end so eventually I ended up at 2,75 and it felt just perfect.
      I won’t make it a habit though. Basically I have a 1-5 scale, spieced up with 0,5 marks.


      June 14, 2012 at 10:02 am

  6. […] Övriga Dark Shadows recensioner från Filmspanare: Sofia Jojjenito Fiffis filmtajm Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord Fripps Filmrevyer Vrångmannen & Surskägget Jessica […]

  7. Can’t say I’ve been all that interested in seeing this one Jessica. Your great review has confirmed my suspicions. I think I’ll avoid for the time being. I’m a bit sick of Burton to honest.

    Mark Walker

    June 14, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    • Frankly I wonder if Burton isn’t also a bit sick of himself. There is something repetitive about this. I think he’s in desperate need for some sort if reset. A new start. Perhaps it’s time to let go of the firm hugging of Depp? They need some time away from each other.


      June 14, 2012 at 12:55 pm

      • I think more for Depp’s sake, he needs a little distance from Burton. Burton is not the original talent he once was. In fact, I’m starting to view him as a ‘one trick pony’.

        Mark Walker

        June 14, 2012 at 2:49 pm

  8. I feel like I’ve been getting burnt out on Burton. He’s someone I’d call a good, sometimes even great director and I’ve seen all of his features pending Dark Shadows, but I have almost no interest to catch up with this one. I would say, I do like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but you really owe it to yourself to watch Willy Wonka, so great.


    June 14, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    • I would say you safely can pass on this one. And yes, I know I owe Willy Wonka to see it. The question is availability. I’ll check my library.


      June 14, 2012 at 2:00 pm

  9. I actually really like Charlie as well!

    You are totally correct in the fact that they disregarded the vampirelore way too much. That might have slipped by in the 60’s and 70’s but in this day of Twilight and True Blood-raves its just appears careless.


    June 14, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    • That’s a fine point Sofia. Admittedly, I have avoided Twilight but True Blood has brought a more sophisticated and darker vampire to our generation. I can’t accept anything other than that. Although, I did enjoy the movie of Buffy the Vampire slayer. Hated the series but enjoyed the original film.

      Mark Walker

      June 14, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    • Admittedly vampires aren’t always the same. The natural laws vary between different brands and perhaps this causes so much confusion that they assumed that “anything goes”. But it doesn’t.


      June 14, 2012 at 8:36 pm

  10. Burton usually has some deep undertones and a lot of artistic leeway with his films, he didn’t really seem to take it with this. My mom is a huge fan of the original series (she recently learned it’s on netflix, like 400 dvd’s, my queue is taken for like, the next 2 years.) Everything I’ve seen points that it’s as cheesey and well, bad, as the original series. Perhaps the aim was to be a nostalgia rush tot he older generation, though outside of my mom, I don’t know anybody who really watched it.

    I have to admit the few movies I’m excited for are ones I feel are original, or more original anyway, there are so many licensed movies or revivals that just make no sense. I heard a Tonka movie is on the way, they just did Battleship, I’ve heard rumours of Adam Sandler in Candyland? And Dark Shadows? Lets revive a like, 1960’s daily soap opera as a blockbuster film? Who thinks of this stuff? I know it’s really hard to pitch movie titles these days, and being able to be like ‘well kids, they like tonka trucks, and parents, they know the name tonka trucks, and our studies show that since parents know tonka trucks, and kids like tonka trucks there’s a good chance kids will bug their parents to see da movie’ to get it greenlighted, but honestly I think it’s doing more damage than good.

    That’s my rant for now and I might do a blog post on this kind of train later, because I think it merits discussion and more room for explanation than I care to do in a comment, so stay tuned folks!

    • I agree there are way too many revivals and too few original ideas around. So many movies coming out from Hollywood seem to be either sequels or remakes or adaptations of hugely popular and safe brands such as comics. I guess it works sufficiently well in the box office – otherwise they wouldn’t do it. But I wonder if people won’t grow tired of it in the long run.


      June 14, 2012 at 8:44 pm

  11. You write that the film loose all sense and logic the last 20 minutes. Do you think the first 80 minutes of the film HAS a lot of sense and logic to it? 😉

    I´m really impressed with your review and I wonder if we saw the same film? You managed to create a yummy soup out of almost nothing. 🙂


    June 14, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    • Well, the first part didn’t exactly make sense either, but you have to admit that it got messier in the end. Someone opened the wrong cupboard and all sorts of things fell into the soup. Not all of them suitable for eating tbh.

      I’m a very wordy person as you know and I think I could write twice as long about this film, moaning about stuff, but also liking some of i, but I imagine there is a limit of how much people want to hear about it.


      June 14, 2012 at 9:12 pm

  12. I haven’t seen Dark Shadows but I totally agree pretty is not enough for ANY film to work. I could easily argue that with Snow White and the Huntsman.


    June 14, 2012 at 10:34 pm

    • There are movies that enchant me mostly by looks, such as Run Lola Run, but those movies are never as messy as this one. While not being exactly deep, they’re at least solid in what they do, if you get the difference.


      June 15, 2012 at 12:26 am

  13. “I think the biggest problem is that they didn’t have a clear idea of what kind of film to make. Is it a comedy? A sad romance? A piece of drama about unhappy love? Or a horror film? Is it a movie intended for children or for adults? It’s tone is shifting and shifting and shifting, but it never mixes. You’re just jumping between the fragments, confused, like a failed béarnaise sauce.”

    LOL. That was a GREAT line. 😀

    It also sums up my biggest gripe with this movie. It shifts in tone wildly from comedy to drama to horror to comedy… Geez…


    June 15, 2012 at 1:21 am

    • Yeah. I think a movie doesn’t necessarily have to be a pure comedy or drama or horror movie. There are films that mix genres very well. But you need to make it so it feels coherent. LIke… Avengers. It’s advanture and it’s fun and it’s blended in a beautiful way. Here it feels as if it falls apart.


      June 15, 2012 at 8:01 am

  14. For some odd reason I just decided to check out your blog again today, and found your review here. And what can I say… your review pretty much nails it. The feeling that Tim Burton just did not know what kind of movie he wanted to make was pretty much what me and my friend had when we walked out of the cinema. As someone else here pointed out, maybe it is a perfect remake of the original series, but for someone who never watched that, it was just a confusing mess of disjunct genres, parts, styles, …
    And just to make sure: I actually love Tim Burton. I own several of his films on DVD or Blu-Ray, and when a new movie is announced I bounce up and down… but this was just a letdown.
    Maybe he really needs a rest, like you said in one of the comments…


    June 15, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    • Thanks for stopping by in this little place in your wanderings through the virtual world. It’s a bit sad when we who like Tim Burton more than most cinephiles can’t embrace this and defend it fiercly. I still believe that he’s got more inside him than to just repeat the same actors and manners in different constellations. But a break could be good. I suppose he’s well off enough to be able to afford it.


      June 15, 2012 at 4:12 pm

  15. Very good review, Jessica. I have to say, I’m a big Burton fan (I especially love Big Fish and Ed Wood) but I think he’s sort of losing his touch. Either that or his partnership with Depp is now a bit stale.


    June 18, 2012 at 2:37 am

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