The viewers who went to see Dark Shadows during its opening weekend almost all agreed on one thing – it was pretty poorly represented by the trailer that came out some time ago. The trailer emphasised the comedy elements and kept things pretty light and . . . . . fluffy. Thankfully, the movie is shaded more like its title would suggest. It’s far from an all-round crowd pleaser but it’s a step back in the right direction from Tim Burton, features a great cast and mixes in a number of amusing moments with a blend of melodrama and occasional edginess that should please fans of the man.
Johnny Depp plays Barnabas Collins, a man cursed by a jealous witch (Eva Green) and turned into a vampire after losing the love of his life. To top everything off, he’s then chained up and buried in a box to suffer for eternity. Well, that was the plan. He’s actually brought back to the surface almost two centuries later to find that the world has changed a hell of a lot since he last saw it. It’s now the 1970s. Yet some things remain constant. Like the Collins name and the ill fortune of the family members (in matters both financial and personal). Things look up when Barnabas discovers a woman (Bella Heathcote) who is the double of his lost love but a large cloud hangs over everything when it quickly becomes apparent that the woman who caused Barnabas the greatest pain is still on the scene. And still after his love or his destruction.
The other thing to bear in mind about Dark Shadows is that it’s based on an old TV show. A soap opera that happened to feature a number of characters who were vampires, witches and other creatures of the night. I’ve never seen the show and I don’t know how popular it was at the time of its original airing but I must say that Mr. Burton SEEMS to get this aspect (the blended tone) of the thing completely right. This is a soap opera on the big screen that happens to feature a number of supernatural and quirky characters. Part of the plot follows Barnabas as he considers trying to reconnect with a woman he views as his one true love, part of the plot (the biggest) shows the battle between Barnabas and the witch Angelique, part of the plot is given over to family tensions and growth and part of the plot even dwells on the redevelopment and growth of the family business. With a couple of proper vampire attacks (Barnabas may be our leading man but he IS a vampire and thus sometimes has to . . . . . . . . . kill people and drink their blood) and a few supernatural surprises up its sleeve I can’t imagine a better mix of material to replicate that small screen drama template on the big screen.
Yet it’s that mix of material that leaves half of the cast languising in the background, sorely underused. Depp and Green, understandably, get all of the best bits but Michelle Pfeiffer and Jackie Earle Haley also do well with their decent characters. Bella Heathcote feels like she’s hardly onscreen but at least when she is there she gets decent treatment from the script/plot strand, which is more than can be said for Jonny Lee Miller and Chloe Grace Moretz (though the latter gets a few good scenes in the first half of the movie she’s sadly left hanging for most of the second half). And as for the inclusion of the doctor character played by Helena Bonham Carter, you’ll definitely be wondering just why screentime is given over to her when she seems to be almost completely redundant. Cameos by Christopher Lee, the cast of the original show and Alice Cooper stand out as highlights while Gulliver McGrath, playing the youngest man in the Collins household, does okay with the little he’s given.
The script by Seth Grahame-Smith could have been a LOT sharper and wittier but I ended up liking the final result that was settled upon. This isn’t a movie to try and label Beetlejuice 2 or an unabashed high point in the filmography of Tim Burton but it is a great mix of fun characters, great design and dark humour more in line with the better movies from his past as opposed to the shudder-inducing awfulness that was Alice In Wonderland. There’s also a great soundtrack, a barely noticable score form Danny Elfman is overshadowed by some great songs from the 70s, and no need to pay extra for 3D. Bonus points.
DIRECTOR: TIM BURTON
WRITER: SETH GRAHAME-SMITH
STARS: JOHNNY DEPP, EVA GREEN, MICHELLE PFEIFFER, HELENA BONHAM CARTER, CHLOE GRACE MORETZ, JONNY LEE MILLER, JACKIE EARLE HALEY, BELLA HEATHCOTE, CHRISTOPHER LEE
RUNTIME: 113 MINS APPROX