Sunday, June 10, 2012

DARK SHADOWS (2012)

Written by Seth Grahame-Smith


Directed by Tim Burton


Where & When: Mann's Chinese 6, Hollywood, CA. May 15, 2012 5:30PM


The most amazing thing about Johnny Depp's career as a movie star is that he achieved it without ever having to rely on his ruggedly handsome face. He managed to do it on his own terms by playing many colorful eccentrics and quirky oddballs that were (for the most part) far removed from the actual actor. Depp is fearless as there's no character too bizarre or grotesque for him to explore. It's clear he has no interest in playing it safe or expected as he enjoys hiding behind heavy make-up and extravagant costumes to become something that might only exist in his own imaginary world. The few instances when he attempted to portray more conventional people, he was much less successful and even appeared slightly bored. Although it took some time before the public came around to fully embraced these strange characters but by the time they met Captain Jack Sparrow in the "Pirates of The Caribbean" franchise, he was welcomed with open arms and a major star was born.

Mr. Depp's latest creation or rather, recreation, is the soap opera vampire, Barnabas Collins in the film, "Dark Shadows" which is based on the 1960's television program. The actor has once again teamed-up with director, Tim Burton for the ninth time (including both live-action and animation) as they both shared an affinity to the original show. Although the film pays a warm and loving homage to their memories but as an engaging entertainment, it's not quite as successful.

During the eighteenth century, the Collins family left England to move to America. They end up in Maine where they achieve great success by creating a fishing port. The town became known as Collinsport, and the family built a spectacular manor and called it Collinswood. Their only child, Barnabas grew-up to become handsome, wealthy and eligible which serves him well as this allows him to have his pick of any of the ladies in town. However, he has the misfortune of having a brief affair with his servant, Angelique (Eva Green) before becoming smitten with the lovely, Josette (Bella Heathcote) as the jilted woman turns out to be a witch. After she jealously causes the demise of his new lover right before his eyes, Angelique bitterly turns Barnabas in to a vampire. She rallies the townspeople against him so that they chain him inside a coffin and bury him where Barnabas Collins will have to spend the rest of eternity.

Cut to two hundred years later, a working crew, while doing construction, discover the ancient coffin. Barnabas is released from his tomb and, unfortunately for the men, he's very thirsty. He manages to find his way back to Collinswood manor only to find his old home in sad shape. He meets his descendants who still live in the decrepit house; his cousin, Elizabeth Collins-Studdard (Michelle Pfeiffer) who runs the household, her brother, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), his troubled, young son, David (Gulliver McGrath) and Elizabeth's rebellious teenage daughter, Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz). This family is so highly dysfunctional that even David's psychiatrist, Dr. Hoffman (Helena Bonham-Carter) lives in the home although it's questionable how much help she actually is as most mornings are spent struggling to recover from a hangover.

A recent arrival has joined the house; Victoria (also played by Ms Heathcote), as David's new governess who startles Barnabas by her striking resemblance to his lost love and finds himself being drawn to her.

Elizabeth is the only one who's aware of their lost relative's true nature and explains to him how the family ended up in this troubling misfortune due to a rival fishing company that is run by witch who imprisoned him. Angelique, willing to let bygones be bygones, is more than happy to rekindle their romance but Barnabas wants no part of her which leads to an explosive showdown between her and the vampire

Mr. Burton started out his career as an animator for Disney so, it's not really surprising that as a filmmaker he tends to place a higher importance on the visuals. There has also always been elements of darkness and  kitsch to his work and "Dark Shadows" is no exception except this time it's actually quite appropriate. He is helped to achieve this by the impressive work of cinematographer, Bruno Delbonnel as he mutes the colors that highlight the inky blacks and icy blues to create an atmosphere that is perfectly gloomy and costume designer, Colleen Atwood who has worked regularly with Burton (and won her third Oscar with their last collaboration on 2011's "Alice In Wonderland") delivers her clever twist of the garish, over-the-top fashions of the 70's.

Although there are quite a few witty lines that provide some out-loud laughs but the script is convoluted and doesn't offer much of memorable story. The real problem is that the movie doesn't know whether it wants to be a campy comedy or a dramatic horror tale leaving the audience off-balanced. As "Dark Shadows" progresses, it rapidly loses steam with the laughs becoming fewer until we reach a wildly manic ending that feels rushed and unsatisfying.

Mr. Depp has created another fun and memorable character and it's clear he's having a good time. After Depp, the other highlight is Ms Green who brings delightful menace and tough sexy charm to her role as the demented witch. It's always an absolute pleasure seeing the amazing Ms Pfeiffer on the screen but her visit is too short and she's not at all utilized to the best of her abilities.

Despite some wonderful visual razzle-dazzle and a hilariously creepy performance by Mr. Depp, this updated "Dark Shadows" ends up not feeling improved or invigorated. It only comes across like some old, creaky relic but with some fresh paint slapped on it.