FILM REVIEW: Dark Shadows
Your humble movie critic offers a few thoughts about Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, as Dark Shadows hits theatres this weekend.
Expect the expected
Oh look. It's another Tim Burton film. You can instantly tell: there's a spooky house, foggy nights and a Danny Elfman soundtrack. If nothing else, Burton is consistent. By now, we all know his colour scheme by heart (velvety purple with black lowlights), never mind his fondness for candles, cobwebs and gothic mansions. His cinematic life is a Disney Haunted Mansion ride that never stops. Following his weird version of Alice in Wonderland that became a massive hit, Barton now presents another impressive, star-studded cast for this homage to a campy, cult hit, TV soap opera from the mid-60s.
The spooky story
Dark Shadows sees Johnny Depp portray Barnabas Collins, a member of a wealthy, 18th century American family with a fishing empire. When he spurns the affection of a maid/witch, he is cursed to live as a vampire and trapped in a locked coffin. Flash forward to 1972, when Barnabas awakes and finds his estate in shambles, the Collins family business teetering on disaster and the woman who cursed him alive and well. And all that happens in the first part of the film!
A demented Depp
This may be heresy to some, but I'm not a massive Depp fan. I've grown tired of his variations on that quirky, goofy guy with good hair. Still, this character is so extreme -- so out there -- that it works. Depp's Barnabas is funny, not because he's a vampire but because he's a relic. He speaks with an accent that sounds like a combination of Thurston Howell III and Loki. His notions about women and progress are practically medieval, making him a charmingly foppish fish out of water as he encourages his teenage descendant (played by Chloe Moretz) to put her "birthing hips to good use."
Burtonland is always a beautiful place to visit. Dark Shadows begins with the sea, waves smashing against the rocks off the coast near Collinwood. A thin mist hangs in the air and a lonely tree is perched on the cliffs above. It's a landscape equally at home in Corpse Bride or Big Fish.
But there's gorgeous and then there's overdone. Only in a Burton movie would a fireball be coloured pink. Only in his world are regular human characters so deathly pale they make Casper look like George Hamilton.
And, of course, what would a visit to Burtonland be without a visit from Helena Bonham Carter? The director's real-life partner and muse plays a doctor to young David Collins. While it's great to see Burton reunite with former collaborators, like his Batman Returns villain Michelle Pfeiffer, his reserving a seat at the Collins table for Bonham Carter smacks of directorial indulgence.
Worth a trip to Collinwood?
Dark Shadows is recommended, with reservation. The best bits come as Barnabas adjusts to life in the 70s. Depp commits 100 per cent and Eva Green - as the obsessed witch Angelique -- is an elemental force, a Cruella de Vil in the flesh. Also, there are images I'm still savouring, like the pale blue dead girl floating in the air, her sad eyes as wide as saucers.
However, the movie goes merrily off the rails at the end. Take a closer look: the writer behind this Frankenstein of a script is the same person responsible for the upcoming mash-up Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
Dark Shadows is a lark for hardcore Depp fans and aficionados of the original series. But Burton needs to step into the light and try something new before becoming a dark prince parodying his earlier work.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5
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