DARK SHADOWS Review

There has always been a humbly engaging tone about the collaborations between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. That may sound strange as many of their films deal with death and depression, but nonetheless, it is completely true. When watching them I have always felt that kind of warm feeling in the pit of my stomach that reassures me I am watching a movie by people who love movies. Even in their darkest collaborations like "Sweeney Todd" or "Sleepy Hollow" the energy that has come from the gothic sets and pale characters have an enduring quality that never fails to somehow strangely connect with you. The same can be said about their latest endeavor "Dark Shadows" as the story is yet again one that concerns much talk about death and demons, or more specifically vampires, but has the engaging quality of being a warm-hearted tale about the importance of family. Though the film has (surprisingly) earned mixed reviews I found it to be every bit as entertaining and funny as Burton and Depp's more popular films like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Alice in Wonderland". I was especially disappointed in the latter and found "Dark Shadows" to be more of a reassurance than anything that the team of all things strange had not yet lost their touch. This is not a judgement on the film as compared to the director and stars past team-ups but should be looked at as a singular effort. In that regard, the film is a funny take on an old TV show that was apparently best known for its campiness. Burton brings his visual flair and Depp conjures up another memorable character. What more could we ask for?

Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) is an evil witch who
has placed a curse on Barnabas Collins.
Though I had never seen, or even heard of the original show this was based on from the first still released it was clear that Burton was again up to something especially Burton-esque. what stood out all the more was the fact the director has officially become such a stable hitmaker that the studios now allow him to make a $125 million dollar summer movie with no questions asked. Given, he has had to work many years to achieve this status (and has now sat comfortably in this status for 6 years or so) it is still nice to see he can do what he wants and is creatively rewarded for it. The film feels like a genuine Burton production with little interruption from studio heads. There are the little quirks of observation throughout that are heavily supplied by the fish out of water element that has an 18th century vampire trying to seem normal in 1972. The trailer like opening gives us a brief (but expensive looking) history of the Collins family and how Barnabas Collins came to be trapped in a love triangle with the lovely witch Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) who seeks some serious revenge when she learns she is not the one Barnabas desires to spend the rest of his life with. Killing off his parents and beloved Josette Angelique punishes Barnabas by turning him into a bloodsucker and locking him in a coffin deep in the forest just outside the town his family established. Skip forward some 196 years and we find the Collins family has fallen into a rut with matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) trying to salvage any last bit of normalcy. This is a hard task to accomplish as her brother Roger (Johnny Lee Miller) is a deadbeat dad and total moocher who's son David (Gulliver McGrath) sees dead people. There is David's psychiatrist, Dr. Hoffman (Burton regular Helena Bonham Carter)who has overstayed her welcome by about two and a half years as well as Elizabeth's own daughter, Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz) who is in a very peculiar state of teen angst.

Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) reunites with his distant
ancestor Elizabeth (MIchelle Pfeiffer).
When Barnabas returns he has several plot lines to deal with and herein lies the big issue with the movie. This is so much of a problem with the film that the fact the main character is a vampire is an afterthought. Not only does Barnabas have to rebuild the family name and business to its former glory, but he also has to deal with the fact he is now a vampire and in a completely new world. Then there is Angelique who continues to torment his family bu building a rival fishing business in Collinsport. On the eve of Barnabas's awakening an unsuspecting young girl by the name of Victoria Winter's arrives for the purpose of tutoring David and just so happens to resemble Josette (Bella Heathcote in both roles). Barnabas recognizes the similarities right off the bat and makes it his quest to win her heart. This ends up being the most neglected story line though as by the end of the film the romance between Barnabas and Victoria seems not only underdeveloped but simply convenient. There is no real motive, no deep reason why Victoria was chosen to be the vampire's new Josette other than she resembles her. It is this lack of justification that worries me as the screenplay was written by Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter scribe Seth Grahame-Smith. I am about halfway through the aforementioned book (which has a movie treatment hitting theaters June 22) and it is incredibly detailed and intricate. You can tell the material has been heavily researched, but there are no traces of this in his script. It has some great dialogue and the movie overall is much funnier than I expected it to be, but the multiple story lines he gets going never seem to get as much attention as they deserve with none of them standing out above the rest.

While the main focus wants to be the rivalry between Angelique and Barnabas it doesn't leverage that enough with the sprouting romance between Barnabas and Victoria. It wants to show Barnabas re-establishing the family business (and does so in a montage) but the operation of the whole thing is dismissed as the family would rather flesh out their relationships with one another at their big fancy mansion. It is as if the film has been divided into family dynamics and Angelique with everything else being thrown by the wayside. Near the climax of the film Barnabas throws a party with the justification of impressing Victoria and establishing the Collins family has officially returned but feels more like an excuse to feature Alice Cooper and make a joke about him being the ugliest woman Barnabas has ever seen. It is funny, sure, but there is no deeper meaning to it, there is no substance to the story.

Roger (Johnny Lee Miller) and Dr. Hoffman (Helena
Bonham Carter) enjoy a depressing breakfast.
Overall, I enjoyed the tone of the film and the roster of credible actors make this a lot of fun. While Pfeiffer doesn't have much to do other than stand around and look suspicious she is fun to watch as she camps up as much of the dialogue and wardrobe as she can. Bonham-Carter is extremely under used as the strangely engaging Dr. Hoffman (Did I forget to mention she has a subplot as well?) but does get a final wink that was probably intended for something that will never happen. Eva Green who was a sly yet empowered sex symbol in "Casino Royale" allows those qualities to seep through here as well mixed with a hint of goofiness that seems self aware of the ridiculous situation her witch has put herself in. While Moretz is also a weird side not in that Burton seems to be exposing her young, attractive vulnerabilities it does have a nice relationship develop between Barnabas and David who connect through the spirit world in which David's deceased mother exists. I can understand why critics have had such issues with the story and lack thereof in the character development but the star attraction here is still Depp and he, along with the beautiful spectacle of the visuals, is not a let down. Barnabas is a playboy, a family man, and Depp plays up every aspect of this out of place eccentric. He means well but he doesn't always have the best of intentions. The best thing that can be said about Barnabas though is that he guides a movie that doesn't always know where it needs to go. "Dark Shadows" may not be the best Depp/Burton collaboration but it is so much better than those other vampire movies that keep coming out.