Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Dark Shadows – A Comedy With Bite (Movie Review)

Director Tim Burton brings the cult classic series “Dark Shadows” to the big screen in a film featuring an all-star cast, led by Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter.  In the year 1750, Joshua and Naomi Collins, with young son Barnabas, set sail from England to start a new life in America, where they build a fishing empire in the coastal Maine town that comes to carry their name: Collinsport. Two decades pass and Barnabas (Johnny Depp) has the world at his feet. The master of Collinwood Manor, Barnabas is rich, powerful and an inveterate playboy…until he makes the grave mistake of falling in love with a beauty named Josette DuPres (Bella Heathcote) and breaking the heart of Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). A witch in every sense of the word, Angelique dooms him to a fate worse than death—turning him into a vampire, and then burying him…alive.

Dark Shadows, on the surface seemed to be a great vehicle for director Tim Burton’s unique talents.  In his hands,Dark Shadows could have been a straight up dark thriller, a comedy, or a hybrid of both which is his usual modus operandi.  Once again, Burton has crafted a darkly humorous tale about a bunch of misfits that don’t easily fall into society’s stereotypes.  If you wonder what the final result of this movie is, imagine if you combined the atmosphere from Sleepy Hollow, the fish out of water antics from Edward Scissorhands, and the pitch black humor of Death Becomes Her, the end result would be very close to Dark Shadows.
After being buried for two centuries, Barnabas (Johnny Depp) is accidentally discovered and freed by a construction crew.  He’s quite thirsty after all of this time and he quickly kills all of the men after apologizing in advance.   Now that it’s 1972, Barnabas has a lot to catch up on and that’s the best part of the movie and the main source of the movie’s many humorous scenes.  Simple things like roads and the sight of a McDonald’s sign throw him into a tizzy and Depp is at his best conveying his horror or fascination at each of these new changes.  When Barnabas returns to his ancestral home Collinwood Manor, his bewilderment only increases when he sees that the estate has fallen into disrepair and that the once-booming family business has been mostly crushed by his old nemesis Angelique (Eva Green) who is still very much alive and running the town.

The remaining Collins are a mixed bunch with secrets of their own, including family matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), her loser brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) and his children Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz) and David (Gully McGrath) as well as the family pyschiatrist Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter).  Barnabas confides his true nature to Elizabeth in order to convince her that he is the original Barnabas who belongs in the manor and once he also shows her his hidden treasures, she agrees to keep his secret and allow him to stay with the family.  The rest of the family warms up to him once he reverses the family fortunes and rebuilds their business.  That success doesn’t go unnoticed by Angelique (now known as Angie) who isn’t happy to see the Collins family make a comeback.  Having cursed Barnabas because he loved Josette instead of her, Angie’s fury is reawakened when Barnabas falls in love with Victoria (Bella Heathcote) who happens to be a splitting image of Josette.
The rest of the movie is basically the battle between Barnabas and Angie with little more involved.  There isn’t a deep plot in this movie and there’s many plot-lines that go nowhere like the ghost Josette who not only grows up with Victoria and the unexplained fact that Victoria is a doppelganger of Josette.  There must be a lot of deleted footage that contained other paths that were left unexplored.  Dark Shadows is fun to watch but it’s also somewhat aimless and simple, which is a shame since this could have been even better.  This movie also serves as Burton and Depp’s eighth collaboration and the movie is a who’s who of other past Burton favorites including Danny Elfman.  While I like seeing Burton and Depp work together, it’s starting to blend together.  It’s almost as if there’s a checklist between them that they follow for each film including having Depp wear white face-paint fo every role (at least this time it’s for a good reason).   Despite the film’s shortcomings, Depp and the rest of the cast are a lot of fun to watch but fans of the original TV series may not be as pleased to see this more comedy-centric remake.

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