“Burton and Depp Lighten Up ‘Dark Shadows’”
Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter
Directed by Tim Burton
For the big screen version of “Dark Shadows,” filmmaker Tim Burton once again finds himself working in his comfort zone – and in more ways than one. In addition to being his eighth collaboration with his cinematic muse Johnny Depp (“Ed Wood,” “Sleepy Hollow”), the film also re-teams him with his real-life partner Helena Bonham Carter (“Sweeney Todd,” “Alice in Wonderland”), his longtime composer Danny Elfman (“Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”) and his decade-long producer Richard Zanuck (“Planet of the Apes,” “Big Fish”).
Then there’s the subject matter, which is obviously close to Burton’s heart: the classic television series of the same name that aired on ABC from 1966 to 1971. Unlike other soap operas back in the day (or in the days since), “Dark Shadows” had a supernatural storyline that featured werewolves, witches and a vampire named Barnabis Collins (yes, that’s Collins, not to be confused with Cullen – the vampire played by teen heartthrob Robert Pattinson in the “Twilight” movies). As performed by the late Jonathan Frid (who passed away on April 13 at the age of 87), Collins became the most popular character of the gothic soap opera when he was introduced a year into its five-season run.
But as played by Johnny Depp for the feature film, Collins is more of a fish out of water in what amounts to an offbeat comedy that doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as the TV series did – and the movie is all the better for it. The result is an entertaining film that features gorgeous makeup design, incredible costumes and top-notch production values. The storyline is the least engaging aspect of the film, but it still works, thanks to a fun vibe which resembles that of another big screen update of an old television series about a spooky dysfunctional clan: 1991’s “The Addams Family.”
Two-hundred years ago, Barnabis Collins was a rich and powerful businessman in the seaport town of Collinsport, Maine. But when he makes the grave mistake of breaking the heart of a witch named Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), she turns him into a vampire and buries him alive. When he’s released in the year 1972, he returns with a thirst for revenge (and blood) to Collinwood Manor, where he finds the estate and the rest of the Collins family in tatters. Only by helping them come to terms with their dark secrets can he settle an old score and return Collinwood to its former glories.
“Dark Shadows” is a bit of a slow burn, but once it gets going, it’s good. The backstory about warring fishing companies takes a while to manifest itself, the pacing is sluggish, and it feels long at 1 hour and 52 minutes. But it grows on you as it progresses, thanks to its bizarre humor, a groovy 70’s soundtrack and amusing performances from the likes of Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer (as the Collins matriarch), Helena Bonham Carter (as the family psychiatrist) and, of course, Johnny Depp.
Tim Burton has always been an incredible visionary, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the amazing production values compensate for the weaker story elements to make “Dark Shadows” more entertaining than not. In addition to the terrific costumes created by Colleen Atwood, the film also features glorious production design by Rick Heinrichs, both of whom – surprise, surprise – worked with Burton before on “Alice in Wonderland” and “Sleepy Hollow,” respectively. So, with results like these, who can blame Burton for staying in his comfort zone?
Verdict: SEE IT!
-Scott Mantz (on Twitter @MovieMantz)