Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dark Shadows: A Pale Shadow Of Its TV Incarnation

Dark Shadows (2012)

Director Tim Burton and producer/star Johnny Depp decided to take on Dan Curtis' cult Gothic TV soap opera Dark Shadows and pretty much bore us to death.

Writer Seth Graeme-Smith's (famous for the novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) story has absolutely nothing original, or even interesting, to say. He also had way too many characters on his cinematic plate and did not write well for most of them.

In a familiar tale involving bloodsuckers, Depp's 18th vampire Barnabas Collins is let loose upon the 20th century (1972, to be exact) and he makes undead goo goo eyes at the Collins family's new governess, Victoria (Bella Heathcote), who just so happens to be the spitting image of Josette (also Heathcote) the woman he once loved back in the day.  This is supposed to be going on while Barnabas helps the remaining Collins family descendents, led by matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), reclaim the Collins' family standing in their Maine fishing community.

I say "supposed to" because Graeme-Smith appears to have forgotten to write scenes showing Barnabas and Vicky together and falling in love again (unless Burton and his editors cut them all out).  You know, showing them doing something; spending time together and getting to know each other, rekindling the magic, or making new magic (the montage of rebuilding the Collins fishing biz does not count).  Since he doesn't, when it comes to that point in the movie where Barnabas declares his love for Victoria, we, the audience, cry out "Bullshit!"  Hey, if the movie-makers don't care, why the eff should we?  Also, for being a fish out of water tale, there aren't any quotable lines or truly memorable situations involving Barnabas as the 18th century gentleman in the groovy early 70s (Austin Powers had better and funnier scenes contrasting generation gaps).  There were, perhaps, opportunities, but nothing that sticks with you (Barnabas' fascination with teenager Carolyn's lava lamp just seemed like Depp acting silly, as if he was improvising that day).

This is a very minor effort from Burton.  Visually, it looks like someone trying to copy the style of a Tim Burton film, but it doesn't fully commit to the whimsy of an Edward Scissorhands or the Gothic creepiness of his Sleepy Hollow (featuring Johnny Depp without garish makeup!).   It feels a bit like Burton's Planet of the Apes, a workman-like effort where he was a director for hire there.  The tone was all over the place: dead serious at the beginning, morphing to Depp's silly/goofy manner and dialogue in the modern day scenes.  Also there was a suggested oral sex scene with Dr. Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter, in the Helena Bonham Carter role in a Tim Burton movie) and Barnabas that was totally out of place in this PG-13 movie.

The cast, which includes Chloe Moretz as trippy daughter Carolyn and Jackie Earle Haley as Willie the groundskeeper, is mostly fine, with Eva Green being the standout as forever-beautiful witch Angelique (its really her movie).  I think Depp's Barnabas would have been better played without the goofy pancake makeup and raccoon eyes (the heavy makeup, emphasizing the curves in Depp's face, makes him look like a little boy).  After all, original Barnabas Jonathan Frid did an outstanding job, and even became a sex symbol of sorts, without having to go to such lengths.  Someone needs to tell Depp that he doesn't always need to hide behind elaborate makeup and funny costumes when he plays in fantasy films (look at Alec Guinness in Star Wars).  Frid's plastered-to-his-forehead hair was all Depp needed.  The rest of the character should have been handled with, I dunno, ACTING.

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