An imprisoned vampire, Barnabas Collins, is set free and returns to his ancestral home, where his dysfunctional descendants are in need of his protection.An imprisoned vampire, Barnabas Collins, is set free and returns to his ancestral home, where his dysfunctional descendants are in need of his protection.An imprisoned vampire, Barnabas Collins, is set free and returns to his ancestral home, where his dysfunctional descendants are in need of his protection.
Johnny Depp Through the Years
Never mind if you haven't any inkling of the cult '70s daytime soap opera on which this is based- a swiftly told prologue recalls the setup by telling of the Collins' voyage to America, their instrumental role in the founding of the Maine seaside town called Collinsport by starting up a successful fishery business, and most importantly, of their heir Barnabas' unfortunate run-in with a jealous witch Angelique (Eva Green). Spurned by Barnabas for another named Josette (Bella Heathcote), Angelique hypnotises her to throw herself off a cliff while turning Barnabas into a vampire and imprisoning him in a coffin.
It will be nearly two centuries later by the time some construction workers inadvertently free him, awakening Barnabas to an unfamiliar era where he promptly mistakes the golden arches of a McDonald's for Mephistopheles. That's not the end of the fish-out-of-water jokes that passes as humour- other than the anachronistic values about women and childbirth that Barnabas still clings to, he is just as out of step in front of a TV playing a Karen Carpenter show or among a bunch of hippies.
Fans of the original series may object to the deliberately campy tone that Burton and his screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith (with an extra story credit to Burton's frequent writing partner John August) adopt for the movie, but those less bound by expectations will lap up Johnny Depp's delightfully quirky rendition of Barnabas. As always, Depp is a master at facial reactions, with every twitch and raised eyebrow perfectly calibrated to elicit maximum hilarity. Depp and Burton are fully aware of the campiness, but both embrace it so wholeheartedly that you can't quite help but be won by their fidelity.
There is also much more than just Barnabas' anachronism of course, with Smith giving the film its due weight in Barnabas' mission of restoring the former Collinwood empire to its former glory. Since locking Barnabas away, Angelique has spent her time building up her own booming fishing business. In the meantime, the Collins have been content to let their lives fall into decay like their sprawling mansion- among the dysfunctional members the matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), her dissolute brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), her impudent teenage daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz) and Roger's disturbed young son David (Gully McGrath).
However kooky they may be, Barnabas regards them one and all as family- and as Depp's opening voice-over emphasises, blood is indeed thicker than water. Burton-Depp's collaborations have always demonstrated a tremendous amount of heart for peculiar characters, and this latest reaffirms their love for characters of different quirks and idiosyncrasies.
Restoring the empire to its former lustre earns the ire of none other than Angelique itself, the ensuing love-hate relationship between the pair giving the film a mildly sexual edge as well as a thrilling climax which culminates in a visually sumptuous showdown. Admittedly the pace does amble on with little narrative tension for most of the movie, but Burton eventually satiates the thirst for bombast in summer audiences with an extended ending made with most of the film's inflated budget unheard of in the days of the TV series' miniscule own.
To be fair, some of that has obviously gone into the ornate sets by production designer Rick Heinrichs as well as the elaborate costumes designed by Colleen Atwood. As is Burton's signature, the imagery stands out as much as the characters do, and the finale is a perfect example of the visual richness of Burton's warped imagination brought to life with CGI. But Burton is not foolish enough to rely simply on these modern-day devices, relying too on good-old fashioned casting to ensure that his film is also a rapturous delight.
Any actor besides Depp would probably be upstaged by the fine female cast, each of whom shine not simply because of Atwood's colourful costumes. The standout would probably be Green, who plays Angelique with bewitching aplomb, projecting sass and menace with razor-sharp precision and setting off dangerous sparks with Depp as ex-lovers. With Green's showy performance, it's easy to ignore Pfeiffer's more understated but no less loopy own, the actress who once played Catwoman in Burton's 'Batman Returns' clearly relishing one of her best roles in recent years. Bonham Carter unfortunately gets sidelined in this film, her act as a neurotic shrink underwritten and quite out-of-place amidst the other unfolding plot lines.
Amidst the new faces, Burton also pays homage to the original actors of the TV series by inviting four of them- Jonathan Frid, Lara Parker, Kathryn Leigh Scott and David Selby- to appear briefly in the film, as well as the era's definitive musician Alice Cooper for an extended cameo. Despite his irreverent take on the material, Burton is clearly in love with the artefacts of the '70s, and the film's awesome soundtrack with the likes of Moody Blues and the Carpenters is testament to that.
So yes, fans of the TV series will have to accept that this big-screen adaptation is a reimagining of the original. Yet for those without that historical baggage, it is with any of the Burton-Depp collaborations that have come before it a thoroughly enjoyable visual feast filled with offbeat characters that turn out ghoulishly endearing. This is clearly a passion project for both Depp and Burton, and 'Dark Shadows' as its deliberately idiosyncratic title suggests is an unusual summer season offering that packs its own unique brand of kooky appeal.
- May 10, 2012