“Dark Shadows” is the film adaptation of a ’66-’71 TV series of the same name, but to call it a mere adaptation would be a grave mistake. Few classic tales, be they works of fiction or television, have lived to retain the same legacy after director Tim Burton (“Alice in Wonderland”) has given them his edition of an extreme makeover. “Dark Shadows” seems to be the latest in line to have fallen prey to the maestro’s vivid, eccentric imagination and come out truly and thoroughly “Burtonfied.”
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While this film once again displays the director’s trademark flare for the bold and the colorful, there’s nothing groundbreaking about it other than the fact that it’s a quasi-mockery of Hollywood’s recent obsession with vampires and werewolves.
“Dark Shadows” tells the story of Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp, “Rango”), a wealthy man who’s turned into a vampire by the evil witch Angelique (Eva Green, “Perfect Sense”) after failing to reciprocate her love. Barnabas is freed from his coffin after 200 years, only to find himself thrust into a vastly different time and a society he doesn’t understand. His family home is in ruins, and his descendants are more dysfunctional than he is.
The current Collins family is headed by Elizabeth Collins (Michelle Pfeiffer, “New Year’s Eve”) who resides with her brother Roger (Johnny Lee Miller, TV’s “Dexter”), her teenage daughter (Chloe Grace Moretz, “Hugo”), Roger’s son (Gulliver McGrath, “Hugo”), a psychologist (Helena Bonham Carter, “The King’s Speech”), a caretaker (Jackie Earler Haley, “Louis”) and a nanny named Victoria (Bella Heathcote, “In Time”). Determined to devote his life to the betterment of his family, Barnabas vows to restore the family wealth and fishery business in the small Maine town of Collinsport. There’s only one problem — he’s not the only one who’s endured for two centuries.
In a film that offers remarkably few surprises and an admirable cast, the problem is quite simple — heaps of wasted talent. The film is based on a soap opera, a genre defined by intertwining stories and dramatic intensity, and yet it fails to dig deep into any of these characteristics, choosing to embrace superficial entertainment instead. It’s funny, but there’s only enough comedy to make it bearable to watch.
It’s also far from dramatic. The dysfunctional family is exactly that — dysfunctional. And if you’re expecting an “Edward Scissorhands”-esque romantic tale, think again. All of the family’s problems are blamed, quite simply, on Angelique and her curse. In terms of undertaking such a large responsibility for all the woes of the Collins family, Green’s Angelique is stunningly evil. There’s not a man on the planet who can steal Depp’s thunder in a movie almost custom-made for him, but Green proves that there certainly is a woman. While Depp seems strangely detached to his character, Green is fully devoted to making Angelique the most evil witch since the Wicked Witch of the West.
Sadly, the script fails to give the supporting characters much to work with. Pfeiffer, Moretz and Bonham Carter are left with a few humorous scenes with Depp that mainly derive from Barnabas’s inability to adapt to the new century and its oddities like fast food, cars and female doctors. The film goes no deeper into the struggles of its characters.
“Dark Shadows” is an honest effort. It’s mildly funny, somewhat entertaining and, like every Burton film, beautiful to watch. In the hands of any other director, it would score solidly. But with Burton and Depp at the helm, mediocrity of this kind is simply unacceptable. If anything, it proves once again that Hollywood just can’t seem to get its vampire formula right.