Screens & Tech
'Dark Shadows' on losing end of newest Tim Burton, Johnny Depp collaboration
Published: May 16, 2012
No matter if your family is as wholesome as the Cleavers from Leave it to Beaver or weirdly eccentric a la the Addams Family — kin, for better or worse, is eternal. It's especially true if one of those blood relatives is actually a bloodsucking vampire as seen in the newest Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaboration Dark Shadows, an anemic and indecisive adaptation of the 1960s TV soap opera of the same name. Despite the original series' cult status over the years, this gothic mishmash of ideas and tones never develops into much more than a simple homage to its supernatural predecessor. Mix some cliché vampire parody and a cast of extremely underwritten characters and Dark Shadows deserves a sizable stake straight through its campy, undead heart.
In what is his eighth leading role in a Burton film, Depp stars as Barnabas Collins, an 18th century Englishman and benefactor of Collinwood Manor in Maine, who returns to his home 196 years after he is turned into a vampire and buried alive by his scorned lover and witch Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). Upon his arrival to the Manor in 1972, which is now inhabited by his struggling descendants, including matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), Barnabas vows to return the family seafood business to its former glory all while fending off the bosomy charms of the witch who cursed the entire Collins clan.
Written by first-time screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith (story credit goes to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory scribe John August), who has also adapted his own novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter into an action/horror movie scheduled to hit theaters next month, Dark Shadows has no qualms about ignoring all the characters that don't possess paranormal powers. This story is exclusively about Barnabas and Angelique, right down to their fierce love-making scene that feels like a cartoony version of a True Blood episode. Other storylines short-changed in favor of vampire sexcapades include the hiring of a pretty governess (Bella Heathcote) to help care for the family's young wallflower (Gulliver McGrath), and a liquored up in-house psychologist (Helena Bonham Carter) whose only concrete reason for existing is to set up a possible sequel.
Like other Burton/Depp projects that have fallen short in the past (Alice in Wonderland), there really is no way one can put the blame on Depp's drastic transformations into the whimsical characters he portrays. Depp bleeds Barnabas for all he's worth like he's done before with the Mad Hatter and Willy Wonka, but the material provided by Grahame-Smith and Burton is unsubstantial.
Let's face it: Vampires today are a dime a dozen and most TV and film contributions are only produced to maximize on their popularity. If all a creative mind like Burton can give audiences is a vamp brushing his fangs and sleeping inside a cardboard box like it was a coffin, it's about time to bury the genre — at least until it's politically correct to strap a few nukes on Barack Obama's back so he can rid the world of vampire terrorists. •
★★ (out of 5 stars)
Dir. Tim Burton; writ. Seth Grahame-Smith, John August; feat. Johnny Depp, Bella Heathcote, Helena Bonham Carter, Chloe Moretz, Eva Green, Gulliver McGrath, Jackie Earle Haley (PG-13)
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