Published Thursday, 10 May 2012
Their new film Dark Shadows is frightening, but not in a good way. It is a ghost train wreck and if I were either of them I would be hiding in dark shadows when it is released this week.
Johnny Depp and Tim Burton were once the offbeat darlings and ultimate odd couple of Hollywood, who first started working together in 1990 on the brilliant and bizarre Edward Scissorhands. Eight movies together later and that razor sharp Depp / Burton relationship now feels less like scissorhands and more like spoonfingers.
Dark Shadows is yet another labour of love, a big screen version of a fondly remembered but largely forgotten TV series. This had alarm bells ringing for me, a half-baked idea to resurrect a childhood memory. This is the most dreaded film of all, the pet project. That's when a bad idea is followed through to its inevitable dismal delivery.
It is not unusual for Hollywood to plunder vintage TV shows for big screen adaptations; everything from The Untouchables to The Fugitive, Starsky and Hutch to The A-Team. What is unusual is to pick a terrible TV show that most people outside of America have never seen and never even heard of.
Dark Shadows is a gothic soap opera, a curious Crossroads complete with creaking sets, plodding plots and ham acting. Hard to know what this film is trying to be; The Munsters without the humour? The Addams Family without the spookiness? Either way please don't ask me about the plot. I had no idea what was going on. There are hippies, witches and werewolves with Alice Cooper performing in a haunted house. Enough said.
Johnny Depp caked in Gary Newman make-up plays Barnabus Collins, an entombed vampire, who is inadvertently dug up after two hundred years. Also dug up from Carry-On Movie cast-offs are most of the lame jokes that make you buckle instead of chuckle.
Johnny Depp's character is supposedly from Liverpool but talks more like John Inman than John Lennon. Tim Burton has lost the narrative flow of filmmaking, this is a hideous botching of feeble scenes with dialogue unfit for any cut-price pantomime. Shot at Pinewood Studios, Dark Shadows is over-lit, under-written and disappointedly old fashioned.
You only have to look at the end credits (if you make it that far) to see the glaring deficiency. There are no fewer than eleven producers, thirty four make-up artists and hundreds and hundreds of highly skilled film technicians working on elaborate sets and state of the art visual effects.
However, there is only one screenwriter.
If only all of those talented people had spent more of the mega-budget on writing a great story instead of creating an unearthly mess. Johnny Depp and Tim Burton may have started out as a beautiful friendship but for me it has become a cursed collaboration. I said the same about their last film together, the truly appalling Alice In Wonderland, which only went on to gross more than $1 billion at the box-office worldwide.
Famously, Johnny Depp never watches any of his movies. I always thought this a strange choice but in this case it is a wonderful idea.
Dark Shadows (Cert 12a) is now on general release.