Dark Shadows - a beautiful corpse of a filmMay 11, 2012 @ 11:31 am (Updated: 2:12 pm - 5/11/12 )
With Tim Burton's help, Johnny Depp has created quite a string of charismatic eccentrics - Edward Scissorhands, Willy Wonka, Sweeney Todd, the Mad Hatter. And now we can add the 200-year-old vampire Barnabas Collins from "Dark Shadows."
Depp's Barnabas has the pasty white skin befitting a vampire, elaborate eye make-up to accentuate his power of mind-control, and carefully sculpted bangs that dart across his forehead like a demented choirboy. His fingers are unnaturally long and his fingernails are sharpened like knives. He's glamorously decked out in the full 18th century garb of a bona fide gentleman of leisure, waistcoat and all. And he speaks in the elaborate formality of the Age of Enlightenment.
It's the disconnect between his 18th-century worldview and the 1972 environment he suddenly finds himself in that is the source of much of the humor in this movie. Burton's comic take on "Dark Shadows" is ultimately a fish-out-of- water tale ... about a man who can't understand the strangeness of the 1970's. He's mesmerized by a lava lamp, for instance, and is mystified by television. When he sees Karen Carpenter singing on the tube, Barnabus' response is to exclaim "What sorcery is this? Reveal yourself, tiny songtress!" as he races around the backside of the tv set. Depp wrings a lot of good laughs out of this material but it does wear a little thin as the film goes on.
This being a Tim Burton movie, Barnabas and company live in the most fantastical environments. The Collinwood mansion is Gothic to the extreme, with cathedral-high ceilings, enormous fireplaces, imposing wood sculptures, and bejewelled chandeliers. And the costumes are every bit as gaudy and color-coordinated as the mansion itself. Burton often seems more an art director than a director, in that the look of his films often trumps the drama. That's once again the case with "Dark Shadows."
The original Dark Shadows soap opera had a completey different feel. The series, which ran from 1965 to 1971, was crudely done, thriving as best it could on a bare- bones budget and rather clumsy acting. It was all cheap sets and verbal flubs (since no retakes were possible). But despite those flaws, the dramatic heart of the story - about a tormented vampire - managed to ring true to a massive audience.
In a lot of ways, Burton's "Dark Shadows" is its polar opposite. It has the production values of a perfectionist but lacks a melodramatic heart. Burton plays the story and characters for laughs because he can't possibly take the material seriously. And having just recently watched a couple dozen Dark Shadows episodes, I personally can't fault Burton for his approach. That old series is so crickety it's hard not to laugh. But still, there's something odd about spending a fortune to do a souped-up version of an outdated tv show.
Like many Burton movies, Dark Shadows is initially quite impressive. It's slick and sleek, witty and cool, but about an hour in, I found myself asking - okay, is that all there is?
It turns out it is. And that's not quite enough.
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