May 17, 2012|
(USA) Comedy/Horror/Fantasy. Directed by Tim Burton. Starring Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter, Michelle Pfeiffer. Category IIA. 113 minutes. Opened May 10.
Once upon a time, a breed of eccentric outsiders led by Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood were brought to the screen with wit, sensitivity and eye-catching costumes thanks to the collaborative genius of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. Two decades later, only the eccentricity and the costumes have survived, as is evident in the duo’s eighth collaboration, “Dark Shadows.” A slick big-screen remake of the eponymous supernatural daily daytime soap that ran from 1966 to 1971 (which has a cult following that includes Burton and Depp), the film has all the expected gothic flair and high production value. But because the director-star partnership has become tiringly self-conscious and predictable in recent years, “Shadows” is as cursed as its bloodthirsty protagonist.
Headlining this camp pastiche is Depp, who plays Barnabas Collins, an 18th-century playboy whose family moves from England to Maine to make its fortune in fishing and to found the seaside town of Collinwood. Rich, handsome and suave, Barnabas has the world at his feet, but he makes a fatal mistake by philandering with sexy housemaid Angelique (a deliciously evil Eva Green). When Barnabas finds true love in the innocent Josette (Bella Heathcote), the rejected Angelique is—understandably—pissed off and reveals her real identity as a witch. She casts a spell that kills Josette and turns her loverboy into a vampire; to put the icing on the cake, she seals him in a coffin and buries him alive.
Unearthed by a clueless construction team two centuries later, Barnabas finds himself in 1972. The Collins clan, sullenly living in the now-ruined ancestral manor, has fallen on tough times. Barnabas meets his four descendants: the family matriarch, Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer); her rebellious teenage daughter Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz); good-for-nothing brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) and his young son David (Gulliver McGrath), whose claim that he can see his dead mother’s ghost worries the family so much that they hire a live-in shrink named Dr. Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) and a pretty governess named Victoria. Played again by Heathcote, Victoria’s uncanny resemblance to Josette enchants Barnabas, who’s determined to restore his family’s glory, regain control of their business and earn Victoria’s love. But to achieve all this, he must overcome one obstacle—Angelique. Now known as Angie, the ageless witch runs half of the town and vows to destroy everything he loves if she can’t have him.
Neurotic weirdo extraordinaire Depp is a joy to watch as usual, and looks perfectly at home with his eye shadow, nail extensions and ancient language. Caught in a major time warp, Barnabas’s fish-out-of-water situation provides almost all of the movie’s comic moments. If the 1970s still looks grotesque to us, imagine how a man from the 1700s reacts to it: cars and McDonald’s neon signs are incarnations of Satan; troll dolls and lava lamps are potential threats. Karen Carpenter singing “Top of the World” on TV? “Reveal yourself, tiny songstress!” he yells. Such offbeat humor is right up Burton’s alley, but the filmmaker’s decision to drive it into the ground with electronic organs, drugs and hippies leaves a dull taste—and the film never recovers.
The screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith, author of best-selling mash-up novels “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” and “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter,” is condensed from 1,225 TV episodes to 113 minutes. Curiously, even with such distillation, the film remains a dramatically languid mess. Apart from Barnabas and Angelique, all the characters are one-dimensional caricatures, each having a dark secret, and each secret half-explored. By the time Alice Cooper makes a random cameo to sing not one, but two (!) songs, the film falls into an abyss of pointlessness. An awkward tonal inconsistency persists, as Burton seems unsure as to whether he’s making a horror film or a comedy, a tribute or a spoof.
Despite the unfocused narrative, the director’s visual style isn’t compromised here, and is accompanied by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel’s top-notch lensing and Danny Elfman’s eerie score. Like all of their previous collaborations, “Shadows” is Burtonized and Depped-out, but sadly, that’s not that much of a compliment any more.