Tim Burton’s (SLEEPY HOLLOW, BEETLEJUICE) new movie, DARK SHADOWS, is based on a 1,225 episode long ABC soap opera that aired from 1966 to 1971. The series was known for supernatural storylines and would often feature vampires, witches, ghosts, werewolves, and other fantastic monsters. While the series has long had a cult following, it might seem strange to resurrect it after all this time, particularly given the agedness of the original fan base; but the supernatural themes of the series are just the kind of thing that Tim Burton loves, and we love to see him do.
Barnabas Collins (portrayed by Johnny Depp), arguably the most popular character from the show, takes center stage in the movie. He is cursed to be a vampire by a scorned lover and imprisoned for nearly two hundred years. Upon awakening he resumes residence in the family manor and endeavors to restore Collins name to greatness. The film takes many of the prominent characters from the series and whisks them together into an homage of sorts to the soap opera, but with the distinct feel of a Tim Burton movie.
While I have been a longtime fan of Tim Burton, I have not really enjoyed some of his more recent films. It’s not that CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY and ALICE IN WONDERLAND were necessarily bad, they just weren’t my particular cup of tea; however, I don’t believe I was the target demographic for those movies, so I try not to be too harsh about them. DARK SHADOWS, on the other hand, is an exceptionally fun movie that beautifully illustrates the talents of Mr. Burton.
Burton does a fantastic job at maintaining traditional soap opera characteristics while keeping things within the time frame of feature film. The acting as well as the dialog is intentionally overly intense and dramatic, just as you would find in a soap opera, and the characters are as archetypal as any seen on daytime television. Johnny Depp (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, THE RUM DIARY) steps into the role of Barnabas Collins, and wears the shoes comfortably. While I am a fan of Mr. Depp, at times it feels like some of his previous roles bleed over into newer ones, thankfully, I never felt that in DARK SHADOWS. Depp gives an engaging performance, bringing just the right mix of comedy and antiquity to Barnabas, making him likable, despite being a murderous vampire.
In addition to Mr. Depp, DARK SHADOWS has an outstanding supporting cast. Eva Green (CASINO ROYALE) is a scene stealer as the deliciously smarmy Angelique Bouchard, the talented Michelle Pfeiffer (STARDUST) steps in as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard the family matriarch who teams up with Barnabas, Chloe Grace Moretz (KICK-ASS) as Carolyn Stoddard the rock and roll obsessed teenage daughter of Elizabeth, Jonny Lee Miller (DEXTER) as Roger Collins the lecherous leach of the Collins clan, Gulliver McGrath (HUGO) as David Collins the seemingly troubled son of Roger, Helena Bonham Carter (ALICE IN WONDERLAND) as Dr. Julia Hoffman who is charged with treating young David, Bella Heathcoat (IN TIME) as Victoria Winters the new governess brought in to teaching David, and Jackie Earle Haley (WATCHMEN) as Willie Loomis the caretaker of Collinwood Manor and servant of Barnabas. *Whew* Quite a long run down, but this great ensemble is what makes the movie so enjoyable. There is good chemistry between them and the clashing archetypes are at turns endearing, funny, and dramatic. Each of them does a great job embodying their character, and they play them up enough to make it fun, but not so much that its distracting. The cast is a large part of what makes this movie fun.
Now I must confess, I did watch some of TV show when I was younger, specifically summer of 7th grade, but I quickly grew bored with it, as I’d imagine any young male teenager would with a soap opera. While I don’t remember much of the show, I do remember really liking the sinister overtones, and I think curiosity, more than anything else, is what drew me to see the new movie. And while DARK SHADOWS certainly has some sinister moments, the protagonist is a vampire after all, Tim Burton throws in a healthy amount of comic relief. The line between the dark, macabre side of life and the happily ever after fairytale side is one that Tim Burton has often tread, and he seems to have a lot of fun with it here. Burton is very playful with the cinematography, and combined with the dialog it keeps the movie well on the lighter side in spite of the films abounding nefarious deeds. And while I prefer Burton when he is doing darker films, a lighter tone was definitely the right choice here and I was not at all disappointed with the feel of the movie, but that’s not to say the film isn’t without its flaws. DARK SHADOWS is mainly a love story, a delightful gothic romance, but there are also multiple subplots running throughout. However, the subplots are annoyingly underdeveloped and wrapped up far too quickly, if at all. I constantly felt like I wanted more, and while that is often a good thing, it was rather bothersome feeling it through more than half the movie, and with DARK SHADOWS clocking in at only 113 minutes, one has to wonder why they didn’t take more time to flesh out the subplots a little and make the whole movie more robust.
Overall, I was fairly satisfied with the movie. Johnny Depp was a lot of fun as Barnabas Collins, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him play the role again. The supporting cast, particularly Eva Green, were a delight to watch and they made their characters come to life. Tim Burton delivered a nice dose of kooky fun, which any fan of his more recent films should love. If you are a long time fan of DARK SHADOWS, I’m not quite sure how you will like the film, but if you are at all curious, I would recommend giving it a try. While this movie may not go down as one of Tim Burton’s greats, I certainly enjoyed it and would recommend it to his fans.
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10