While he had a terrific stretch of work for a long time and boasts a fantastic back catalog, director Tim Burton has seemed to fall on hard times lately. This is in a creative sense, not a financial one, surely.
The film in question this time is an update of an old vampire-themed soap opera from long ago, ‘Dark Shadows’.
In the 18th century, Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is a member of the Collins family, who have established a huge fishing port in Maine, naming it Collinsport. He is a young man who falls for a maid named Angelique (Eva Green). It turns out, she is a witch, so when Barnabas turns his affections toward Josette (Bella Heathcote), Angelique kills the senior Collins and curses Josette, causing her to leap to her death. She then turns Barnabas into a vampire, cursing him to eternal life while the townspeople, aware of his affliction, lock him in a coffin underground.
That is the end for Barnabas…until centuries later, he is unearthed by a construction crew that the vampire quickly does away with. He stumbles back to his beloved mansion to find a family living in it. They are his descendents: Elizabeth Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), her daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), Elizabeth’s brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), and his son David (Gulliver McGrath). Also lurking around are David’s live-in psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) and the caretaker Willie (Jackie Earle Haley). The Collins family has also recently brought along a governess, Victoria (Bella Heathcote) who happens to catch Barnabas’ eye because there is something familiar about her…
Upon hearing that Barnabas is back, Angelique makes it her mission to take down the family and to continue to make his afterlife a(n) (un)living hell.
Will the Collins be able to work together to save the family business and the town from the clutches of an evil, undying witch?
There is so much about this project that reeks of Burton-by-numbers: the again insistence of using Danny Elfman’s music, having Depp and Bonham Carter star in this (though they are probably two of the stronger contributors here) and continuing his trend of remaking/updating old projects. This time, he took a very serious old soap opera and made it into a comedy. Huh?
The tone of this has a very ‘Addams Family’ feel and yet, very few members have anything of value to contribute to the story. All of the conflict is between Barnabas and Angelique as their unresolved love/hate continues to affect those around them, centuries later. Victoria is floating around as Barnabas’ legitimate love interest, but she doesn’t seem to get enough screen time to develop any chemistry with her co-star. Elizabeth and the Collins’ children have absolutely nothing to do except to react to Barnabas and to fill minuscule scenes in the middle and to reveal a few surprises (one or two of which seem to be completely pointless) in the grand finale.
Almost all attempts at humor are a variation of milking the fish out of water theme. Barnabas has never seen modern technology! Let’s point that out along with how weird he is for being out of touch and…he’s a vampire! How bizarre! Other sources of wit are mostly attempting to contrast a very dramatic/serious moment with a bit of slapstick out of nowhere.
Special features include: nothing on the rental edition.
‘Dark Shadows’ is a loser all the way around. It’s not consistently funny enough to be a comedy, it’s not scary and it doesn’t retain a gloomy atmosphere to really appeal to anyone.
Depp remains one of the more charismatic and watchable actors of modern times, but if the material around him is garbage and there isn’t anyone else to help carry the load, a project can still be doomed.
Rated PG-13 117 minutes 2012