Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dark Shadows

           Johnny Depp's undead vampire has more life in him then this disappointing take on the late sixties TV show. While Mr. Depp is terrific, biting the scenery as Barnabas Collins, the rest of the cast suffer in very poorly underwritten roles. Director Tim Burton does a great job recreating the look and sounds of the early seventies (the musical choices, in particular, are pure pleasure) but he can only do so much with a top notch cast working with a weak script.

            The original show which ran from 1966 until 1971 was a daytime soap opera disguised as a Gothic horror story. It put a new twist on an old genre and was a cult sensation. The new film borrows the basic idea of the show but strives for a more comedic approach. Mr. Depp never plays a false note and gives a wonderful performance and of course, gets all the good lines. Michele Pfeiffer is wasted with nothing to do as the current matriarch of the Collins family. The same can be said for Helena Bonham Carter as the family's live-in psychiatrist. Her character is supposed to be treating young Mr. David Collins, who believes his mother haunts the mansion.  We never see them in scenes together and David himself has very little to do until the film's climax. Chloe Grace Moretz plays the teen daughter of Ms. Pfeiffer and while her role has more depth, it also has a twist that comes ridiculously out of nowhere. Johnny Lee Miller plays another Collins family looking as bored as the audience. At least Jackie Jackie Earle Haley has some fun as the boozy family caretaker.

           The best scenes are between Mr. Depp and Eva Green, who plays his adversary, Angelique. It is Angelique, a very wicked witch, who first turns Mr. Depp into a vampire and has him buried alive when he spurns her love. When he returns 200 years later to 1972, she has ruined his family by a series of curses and by becoming a successful business rival. Their renewed love/hate relationship adds a desperate spark of life to the film.

            Mr. Burton is famous for his unique visual style and storytelling but here he gets lazy using an idea from "Death Becomes Her" for a big scene involving Ms. Green and a final shot that we've all seen way too many times. Both he and Mr. Depp have shared their love of the old series and strive to do it justice in their own fashion but unlike Mr. Depp's character, the script should have remained dead and buried.

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