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‘Dark Shadows’: What the heck was the point?

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Jason Wallis

Posted: Friday, May 18, 2012 7:34 am

It seems that the light of summer has already begun to dim. The very worthwhile “The Avengers” continues to dominate the global box office, and will for some time, but the release schedule for the coming month or so is a tad worrisome.

This week we’ll look at Tim Burton’s predictably awful “Dark Shadows” adaptation, but the negativity will hopefully be cushioned by a brief discussion of the Greatest Films of All Time (see below).

Next up is “The Dictator” (I’ve heard one too many “Battleship” horror stories at this point), then “Men in Black 3” (it apparently cost something like half a billion dollars to produce and market, which strikes me as some kind of unpardonable sin begging to be punished). So yeah, dark times ahead.

Some movies are bad. We watch them, curse them, and then forget about them as we move along to new mediocrities. However, even with the worst films, it is usually clear what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish — they may fall flat on their faces and earn your eternal hatred, but at least their goal was apparent.

“Dark Shadows” is a whole other kind of bad movie, the kind so pointless and inexplicable that it burrows deep into your consciousness and leaves you desperately searching for answers: What in the Sam Hill did I just witness? What was the overarching purpose of this sick charade? Who thought this was a good idea, and why? And what can Johnny Depp now hope to buy that he couldn’t already afford?

This is all the more puzzling because Tim Burton, of course, doesn’t typically make bad movies. Even if they’ve leaned toward the silly end of the spectrum lately, Burton’s films (from the great, like “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” and “Ed Wood,” to the less-than-great, like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Big Fish,” to the downright awful “Planet of the Apes”) have always at least felt alive, and bursting with creative energy.

And while “Dark Shadows” is as impressive as anything the director has ever done in terms of costume design, art direction and cinematography, it feels uniquely hollow.

The plot (involving the return of 18th-century vampire Barnabas Collins to his hometown circa the 1970s,  following 200 years of imprisonment and torture) isn’t really a plot at all, but rather a loose framework that Burton interprets as an invitation to meander around aimlessly for two hours. In all seriousness, I’m not sure I can name even five notable events that occur over the course of the “story.”

Such a film could conceivably be saved by a talented and game cast, but with the exception of Eva Green as the witchy villain, everybody seems to be sleepwalking through their roles. Depp, playing yet another gimmick character in a big-budget Hollywood movie, just looks jaded at this point, or perhaps baked out of his gourd. Either way he’s a bore.

Chloe Moretz, usually adorable, appears to have been suffering from chronic constipation during filming. Even Helena Bonham Carter, Michelle Pfeiffer and Jackie Earl Haley are wasted in under-written roles. Thus, the whole thing becomes a joyless, pointless exercise in kitsch wherein nobody appears to be having much fun at all — especilally the audience.

"Dark Shadows" is rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, sexual situations and mild drug use.

Critical mass

Once every decade, the prestigious Sight & Sound Magazine conducts a comprehensive poll of the world’s leading film critics in an effort to produce the ultimate list of the 10 “best” films ever made. The results change slightly from year to year, and it’s always interesting to observe the shifting preferences of cinema’s most accomplished scholars. Now, I am obviously not experienced or well-read enough to seriously challenge the prevailing logic of the cinematic elite. But in all fairness, I do have a proxy degree in film studies and peerless taste. And, of course, a soapbox. So, submitted for your scorn, here are my picks for history’s 10 most remarkable movies:

  • “Apocalypse Now” (1979, Francis Ford Coppola)
  • “Carrie” (1976, Brian De Palma)
  • “Chinatown” (1974, Roman Polanski)
  • “Citizen Kane” (1941, Orson Welles)
  • “Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964, Stanley Kubrick)
  • “The Godfather” (1972, Francis Ford Coppola)
  • “Jaws” (1975, Steven Spielberg)
  • “Midnight Cowboy” (1969, John Schlesinger)
  • “Pulp Fiction” (1994, Quentin Tarantino)
  • “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1980, Steven Spielberg)

You may note the inordinate number of movies made in the 1970s, and the fact that nine of the 10 are American productions. To those who would question the superiority of American filmmaking (particularly as it pertains to the New Hollywood movement of the ’70s), I would say that you’re too wrapped in oppressive European aesthetics to realize that one of the most important responsibilities of a truly great film is to be entertaining. And I’m sorry, but as much as I admire titles like “Cries and Whispers” and “La Ronde” and “8 1/2” and “Battleship Potemkin,” there’s no way I’m ever going to voluntarily watch any of them (or dozens of other foreign/“art” films that would be welcome in my top 100) 20, 30 or 40 times, as I have several of the picks on my list. So there.

If you wanna fight about it, shoot me an email or call me out on the Lodinews.com boards, because I’d love to go round and round on this issue. And to further fan the flames, please peruse this alternate list. Call it “the next 10”: “A Clockwork Orange,” “Don’t Look Now, “Exotica,” “The Godfather, Part II,” “Kill Bill,” “Last Tango in Paris,” “Magnolia,” “Nashville,” “Seven Samurai” and “Taxi Driver.”

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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