Anyone would say that director Tim Burton has decided to jump on the vampire bandwagon, as he decided to take ‘Dark Shadows’ a popular gothic soap opera from the 60’s and make it into a movie; an idea that might bleed into a couple of extra projects under the same theme. Burton of course made this his own, using a vibrant darkness aka his signature style all throughout it. There’s no denying that he’s a master of his art and that can be seen in the beautiful sceneries, costumes, make up, and even special effects. Thanks to Burton’s talent as well as strong acting the semi hollow storyline and the silly romance don’t manage to ruin the movie.
The film is set in Maine, it begins with the Collins family history from 1750 when they left Liverpool to settle in the New World, to make and spread their wealth. All goes awry for this successful family when a witch, Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) becomes infatuated with young Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp). Unfortunately, Barnabas falls in love with Josette DuPres (Bella Heathcote); vengeful the witch curses the family and anything they touch. Her worst offense is turning Barnabas into a vampire and locking him away as punishment. He’s freed from his imprisonment almost two decades later in 1972; where he surfaces to find that although his family name still lives on, it has fallen into ruins. He joins his remaining descendants: Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz) and David (Gully McGrath) who’ve hired a live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter). Together Barnabas hopes to bring his family name back to its former glory.
The first thought after seeing a picture of this whole cast together in costume was, “here’s a quirkier version of the Addams Family”, and they are not far from it. The film encompasses the TV series it is based on well as it took its formulaic elements: the paranormal, including vampires, witches, ghosts, werewolves, and even time travel. It’s clever to put a wealthy proper man turned vampire from the 1700’s to explore a life during the 1970’s, one of the most peculiar times in history. There’s some chuckles along the way, plenty of references to stuff from the 70’s, jokes full of double meaning, sexual tension and an interesting yet unmoving cameo by Alice Cooper. There’s things that threaten to harm the gothic coolness of this movie, such as a childish love story, a “sexy” hormone charged teenager, a storyline that doesn’t seem to follow a clear pattern, ending with a culminating yet easy solution that’s somewhat anti-climatic and desperately dramatic. I will blame most of the corniness of the film on the fact that this is based on a soap opera.
Depp has satisfied many fans dreams by playing a vampire and he does it masterfully, this being his eight collaboration with Burton, it’s easy to see how comfortable and natural they are together. Green was fantastic at being evil, sexy and powerful all at once. Pfeiffer delivers a balance between the odd and the normal, and although her acting is strong at times it merely feels like she’s delivering lines. Bonham Carter, Burton’s partner and one of his favorites, plays a similar role to those in most of his movies.
Some of the jokes are a little forced and the previews have given away too many of them, some also seem to want to satisfy the PG-13 audience. On the other hand, there’s scenes that are taken too far and although I know Burton is a master of the macabre, my least favorite is Depp slapping a woman more than once, no matter how evil she is I was uncomfortable viewing it.
It’s understandable that trying to bring a beloved gothic soap opera, which lasted for about 5 years, to the big screen is a challenge. If the project is developed on to make a couple of extra chapters, this could help fill in some of the holes in the story such as the vampire’s “new” love interest background as there are still some questions. The humor although at times silly, helped the story move along and perhaps I’m missing some things since I never saw the soap opera. I was able to over look the flaws of the film being distracted by what Burton does best, which is use his darkness to create a mysterious, elegant, beautiful and attractive film. I also enjoyed seeing Depp as a vampire; he was charming and naively funny. This duo hasn’t managed to achieve the greatness they have before in the last couple of their films together, and this one can be added to that list; but yet this is still a fun enough movie to watch with your older kids.