A film review by Craig J. Koban May 21, 2012
2012, PG-13, 112 mins.
2012, PG-13, 112 mins.
Barnabas: Johnny Depp / Elizabeth: Michelle Pfeiffer / Dr.
Hoffman: Helena Bonham Carter / Angelique: Eva Green / Roger: Jonny
Lee Miller / Carolyn: Chloe Grace Moretz
Burton’s DARK SHADOWS is a confluence of many genres: it’s a
gothic romance, a period melodrama, a Hammer-era horror flick, a tongue-in-cheek
camp comedy, a satirical Nixon-era travelogue picture, and, yes, a vampire
film, maybe as a direct result, comes off as a handsomely mounted
and crafted, but exasperatingly hit or miss affair in terms of its overall
tonal cohesiveness. I think
that Burton’s frequent lead actor, Johnny Depp (this is the eighth time
they have collaborated together) understands and embraces the sheer comic
absurdity of DARK SHADOWS, but I never gained the impression that Burton
was attentive of what type of film he was making.
This movie looks great, but lacks a consistent rhythmic tenor.
DARK SHADOWS was, no doubt, no easy task for Depp and Burton (the former
who served as one of its producers and has always professed to it being a
lifelong pet project). The
film is based on the Dan Curtis created 1966-1971 gothic soap opera of the
same name that ran for an unprecedented 1225 episodes, which is more
episodes that just about any other sci-fi/fantasy TV show in history.
The show has long since developed a cult following, so the process of
transplanting a show that had such a long
tenure on the small screen on to the big screen within a two-hour running
time is daunting, to say the least. Perhaps
this is why Burton’s massively scaled and budgeted DARK SHADOWS comes off
as a film of lavish pomp and circumstance without much overall story and
central premise of this silver screen treatment of the show is, at face
value, kind of hilarious. A
200-year-old vampire, long since buried in the late 1700’s, awakens from
his six feet under prison cell and finds himself in the lava lamped,
bellbottomed, and hippie-centric world of the early 1970’s.
The bloodsucker in question was not always a ravenous and nocturnal
creature. Born in the 18th Century fishing village of
Collinsport, Maine, the adult Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) develops a
romantic fling with the beautiful Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), but what
does not know is that she's actually a powerful witch with a serious axe to grind
when Barnabas royally dumps her so he can be with the true love of his life.
Angelique lashes out and kills Barnabas' wife-to-be, casts a spell
on him and turns him into a vampire.
To make matters worse, she turns the village against Barnabas; they
capture him, chain him up, place him in a coffin, and bury him for what
will seem like an awfully long dirt nap.
film then flash-forwards to 1972 as a young governess, Victoria Winters (the
fair skinned beauty Bella Heathcote) arrives at a mansion on the outskirts
of Collinsport to help work with a troubled young boy who sees
ghosts. His aunt, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer)
accepts Victoria in to join her odd and eclectic family unit, made up of
the boy’s sister Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), his father, Roger Collins
(Jonny Lee Miller) and his shrink, Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter).
Soon after Victoria comes to the castle, Barnabas makes a fateful
appearance, seeing as he has escaped his tomb that he was placed in nearly
two centuries ago and wishes to restore the honor and legacy of his once
a vampire - and keeping it a secret from everyone except Elizabeth - while acclimatizing
himself to a whole new century is the first set of challenges that Barnabas faces, the second of which
is gaining some acceptance
from his new “family”, so to speak.
His most crucial challenge comes on the business front. The Collins
clan has a failing fishing business that is being crushed by the town’s most
popular fishing enterprise, which is being run with a ruthless Capitalist
edge by, yup, the very same witch that cursed poor ol’ Barnabas so many
years ago. It’s one thing
for Barnabas to deal with a jaded lover from the very distant past, but
he now has to find a way to turn away her advances in the present while
securing his family's fortunes. Then
there is the issue of the governess, who seems like a dead ringer for
Barnabas’ old flame back in the 1770’s…
liked the laughably incongruent elements of Barnabas’ gentleman vampire
juxtaposed over a time period that’s positively foreign to him.
Everyone in 1972 sees Barnabas – with his aristocratic long cloak
and ascot, wolf’s head cane, mannered formality, bone white skin, sullen
eyes, and semi-Emo hairstyle – as an out-of-touch and archaic weirdo,
whereas everything the befuddled Barnabas comes in contact with just seems
plain weird to him. He observes the 70’s era objects with a puzzlement mixed
with fascination (his reactions to the golden arches of McDonald’s or
macramé plant holders or the board game Operation are unmitigated hoots).
He seems perplexed, for example, that the 15-year-old Carolyn has
not made better use of her "ample child bearing hips" and found herself a
husband. He appears even more
mystified with the sight of Alice Copper – yes, that one – who shows
up late in the film during a party, during which the incredulous vamp
calls him the ugliest woman he has ever seen.
of course, impeccably knows how to bring the requisite balance of
offbeat strangeness, ghoulish freakiness, and amusing mischievousness to Barnabas. Neither camping it up to egregious levels nor playing him so
seriously that he comes off as an off-putting downer, Depp makes Barnabas both
a courtly tempered and endearing family man that just happens to be a
malicious killer (remember, he does need blood to survive). He’s a tortured soul that knows he’s a damned member of the
undead, but has a disarming manner of being polite at just about any
moment with his long-winded and regal enunciations.
Depp seems equal to the task of playing up to the character's macabre
hilarity, as is the case during one darkly droll scene where he partakes in a
fireside discussion with some local hippies and dishes out far-out
platitudes on love and commitment: “Love means never having to say
you’re sorry,” he graciously inflects, “but it’s with sincere
regret that I must now kill you all.”
only other performer that seems in on the joke is Eva Green, who has such
an unmistakably sultry allure that knows how to use her overt sexuality
and raspy voiced incantations to vamp it up to sinfully enjoyable levels.
The rest of the cast, though, seems a bit lost in the shuffle,
either having to deal with largely undeveloped characters or desperately
trying to find a way to keep up with Depp and Green’s morbid
eccentricities. More often
that not, the script feels bogged down with too many characters vying for
attention and screen time. A
subplot involving Victoria – whom is introduced early in the film as a
central figure of importance – is kind of hopelessly lost and/or
through the remainder of the narrative.
She is reintroduced later – and conveniently – as the third
party in a tenuous love triangle involving herself, Barnabas, and
Angelique that’s never satisfyingly developed.
DARK SHADOWS is every much a plentiful and luxurious feast for the eyes
and imagination as anything Burton has committed to the screen.
Yet, the director has done so very many films in the past with an
ominous, gloomy, and gothic sensibility (EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, BATMAN,
SLEEPY HOLLOW, and SWEENEY
TODD, just name a few) that perhaps it's time for him to explore
new visual and thematic territory. Beyond
being visually strapping and having an unsurprisingly strong and eminently
watchable Depp at the helm, there’s not much more really
going on during this resurrected cult TV show turned film.
DARK SHADOWS is too often like a decadent costume ball – or make
that "happening" – without much of a singular identity.
There’s simply just too much happening here.