Review: Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Dark Shadows”

I have spent the better part of the past fortnight railing against the utter lack of creativity in Tim Burton’s most recent films. I even posted several videos parodying the fact that Burton seems satisfied to plagiarize his older work in order to churn out the next in a line of increasingly disappointing releases. Things got so bad that I began to bear Burton a level of video vitriol that I normally reserve for such schlockmeisters as Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay. OK, it wasn’t that bad, but still.

I’m not entirely sure when I turned my back on Burton. After all, I can say without the slightest hint of sarcasm that he was the creative force behind several of my most favorite movies. “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” is, of course, a classic. His “Batman” is one of the best comic book movies of all time, and easily the second-best movie depiction of the Caped Crusader (if you don’t know what the best one is, you are missing out. Big time.) “Ed Wood” is one of my all-time favorites, and, though I don’t count them as favorites per se, I thoroughly enjoyed “Big Fish” and “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

Then this happened.

Pictured: Average.

Followed closely by this.

Pictured: AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

As time went on, it appeared that Burton was allowing himself to be M. Night Shyamalan’d by public opinion. Much as M. Night fell into the habit of always making his films have a twist (since that was the popular perception of what kind of filmmaker he was) Burton has allowed himself to become a parody, someone so interested with bringing the darker aspects of light-hearted tales to the forefront that he’s forgotten what made some of his work so special. Now it’s nothing but Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter co-headlining a never-ending march of mediocrity.

Which brings us to “Dark Shadows” and, whew boy, this one hurt. This is easily Burton’s weakest film, and one of the most unenjoyable experiences I have ever had at the movies. Even my mom, who likes everything, turned to me when the film ended and said, “That was awful.”* It’s every bad aspect of Burton’s work rolled into a two-hour odious opus that overstays its welcome by … about two hours.

The performances are what makes the film virtually unwatchable. I haven’t seen this much overacting since my last high school drama camp. Every other line someone is wheeling dramatically away to deliver a line, usually one that doesn’t justify such heavy blocking.

The movie also suffers from an inability to properly distill its original episodic format. Plot points are introduced and then promptly dropped. Characters either do things without proper motivation, or react disproportionately to the events surrounding them. In short, it’s horribly directed, which I should have expected.

Bonham Carter’s performance is particularly necessary to single out because of how pointless her character is. Seriously, she does nothing aside from drink (get it? It’s funny because she drinks too much!) and participate in an erroneous, and quickly resolved, subplot. Oh, and she appears at the very end for an equally erroneous “shocking” end. How very fitting.

Depp, too, has allowed himself to become nothing more than a series of caricatures. He’s no longer an actor, not by his own standards set in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” “Ed Wood,” or “Secret Window,” anyway. He’s the equivalent of a community college student doing character creation exercises. If he’s not Captain Jack Sparrow, he’s … a character in a Tim Burton movie. It’s truly disappointing to see someone who is obviously so dramatically gifted fall into such a relentless and joyless rut. He chews scenery so thoroughly you would think he just came from a seminar on proper table manners. His mannerisms are so completely over exaggerated it’s like … he’s in a Tim Burton movie. Well, walked right into that one.

And while we’re on the subject of Depp, let’s take the opportunity to send a message to all filmmakers: The whole “he’s from the past and knows nothing about modern technology … I smell shenanigans!” plot device isn’t funny. It needs to stop. Like now. I’ll wait.

(A short time later)  

The best word to describe this film is joyless. It falls into the unfortunate rift where it isn’t campy enough to be enjoyable, but the source material isn’t strong enough to justify how serious the film takes itself. Overacting is overabundant and the film as a whole takes an unnecessarily overwrought tone and tries to be an enduring love story fraught with the cliche “what makes a man and what makes a monster” plot. And, in doing do, it fails by every conceivable standard of entertainment.

If you’re curious about the subject matter at all, do yourself a favor and just watch the original television series on Netflix. I caught a few episodes immediately after this drivel and was pleasantly surprised. I recommend giving it a watch.

Preview Review

And now a new addition: a recap of some of the trailers that preceded the film. Needless to say, with the extraordinary exception of “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter,” they range from average to awful. Of course there was the obligatory barrage of upcoming Burton works, featuring both the aforementioned adage to awesome Abe and the painful-looking “Frankenweenie.” Come to think of it, what was the last good animated film Burton had a hand in making?

There was also Ben Affleck’s new film, “Argo” which tells a story of trying to rescue some American refugees during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. It looks like it could be interesting, especially after Affleck’s last directorial work (“The Town”) was surprisingly strong. Of course, it will probably fall into the ever-common trap of misrepresenting the complexity of the Iranian Revolution and making it a matter of “Iranians bad, bad Iranians kill good Americans, must save good Americans” but it might be interesting. Here’s the trailer if you’re interested.

*Note: I only put this in specifically because she asked me not to. What can I say? I’m a contrarian.  

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