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8.25 out of 10

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Dark Shadows (2012)

Blood is Thicker than Water

Rated: PG-13  Language, comic horror violence, sexual content, smoking and some drug use
Release Date: May 11, 2012
Runtime:  1 hr 53 mins

Director: Tim Burton
Writers: Seth Grahame-Smith, John August, based on the television series created by Dan Curtis
Cast: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Johnny Lee Miller, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Lee, Alice Cooper

SYNOPSIS: Barnabas Collins rejects the love of a servant girl witch, resulting in the loss of his parents, his estate, his true love and his mortality. 200 years later the now vampiric Collins escapes a steel coffin tomb to return to the homestead he remembered, still plagued by the curse that affects him and his descendant family.

REVIEW: Tim Burton, director of Alice in Wonderland and Edward Scissorhands, returns with his go to lead actor Johnny Depp for another look at the bizarre and somewhat revolutionary late 1960s supernatural soap serial melodrama Dark Shadows. With its unique blend of Gothic mystery, romance and grim melodrama, the original Dark Shadows became one of the first 'must see' television series, causing many kids and adults to race home to see each episode in an era before DVRs or VCRs. Now, adding their own unique visions, Depp and Burton take a quirky and funny look at the source material that became a cult classic for a generation.

In 1750, Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp, Alice in Wonderland) and his parents moved from Liverpool, England to the wilds of America's Maine coast. Using their know how to build a fishing port, Barnabas' father and mother creates the town of Collinsport and amassed prosperity and wealth for the town and for themselves. As a young adult, Barnabas makes the mistake of spurning the lustful advances of servant girl Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green, The Golden Compass) in favor of his true love Josette DuPres (Bella Heathcote, In Time). Unwilling to relent, the witch Bouchard curses Barnabas in a way that forces Josette to hurl herself to her death from the top of Widow's Peak. Barnabas follows after her, only to discover that he cannot die and has turned into a vampire. Trapped within a iron coffin, Bouchard buries Barnabas to rot in the ground. Nearly 200 years later, in 1972, Barnabas is accidentally released from his claustrophobic confines by construction workers. He finds himself as a strange monster in a strange new world, finally returning to the familiar surroundings of his ancestral estate, Collinwood. Barnabas finds the estate in ruin and the last remaining Collin clan a dysfunctional mess. The dusty and cracking Collinwood remains home to enduring family matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer, New Year's Eve), her budding rebellious daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz, Hugo), Elizabeth's scheming brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller, Endgame), Roger's 10-year-old son David (Gully McGrath, Hugo), a live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech), the long suffering caretaker of Collinwood Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley, Shutter Island), and David's new governess Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote). Realizing that Barnabas has returned from the grave, literally, the still powerful and now fish cannery successful Angelica turns her seductive charms toward the vampire in an attempt to win his love. Conversely, Barnabas looks to return his family's business, fortune, and family honor, as well as woo Victoria as she reminds him of his lost Josette.

From the start, Burton, his writers Seth Grahame-Smith (the upcoming Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) and John August (Corpse Bride), and Johnny Depp intended for their version of Dark Shadows to stray a little from the soap opera without sacrificing what the original material included. Still haunting the shores of Collinwood are vampires, ghosts, witches, and a community with its share of deep, dark dramatic secrets. What sets these summer's film apart is the additional sense of whimsy and fun. While Johnny Depp channels Jonathan Frid's always iconic performances of the protagonist blood sucker, Depp added in his own flare of "flowery language" and "vocal style" to the role. As an England-born man who is turned into a vampire and immediately set into a buried grave for 200 years Barnabas finds absurdity all around him as he prowls the streets before returning home to Collinwood. And while he finds strangeness in his surroundings, his new found Collins family finds strangeness in him and his mannerisms, most notably young Carolyn who finds him "weird". While Dark Shadows is not as campy as portrayed in the trailers, the film still lightens itself out the surreal, grim world from which it sprung.

In Dark Shadows, Collinwood is as if it is a character all on its own. Production designer Rick Heinrichs from Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow creates an elaborate and beautiful estate for the Collin characters to interact with. Costume designer Colleen Atwood from Burton's Alice In Wonderland takes a break from the the outlandish regalia of the patron beyond the looking glass to create detailed costumes and capes for Barnabas that are both fresh and familiar. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, under the guidance of Burton, creates a style and look that hearkens back to an earlier era. When Victoria Winters disembarks from the train in Collinsport, and when she first walks up the drive at Collinwood, the faded soft film and the sharp, obtuse angles is reminiscent of many shots from early seventies horror and dramatic films. And Burton retains some classic soap operatic style by framing camera shots in many scenes with Barnabas and Elizabeth delivering their dialogue faced fully and dramatically away from the other.

The look of the film transported me back to the days of miniskirts and free love. The score and song choices of longtime Burton collaborator and composer Danny Elfman did the same. From the always haunting Moody Blues "Nights in White Satin" that starts off the title sequence, to a dinner accompanying Donovan classic "Season of the Witch," to Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly," Elfman's choices epitomize the tone of the film throughout.

Johnny Depp is, well, Johnny Depp! Every role he takes on is an entertaining adventure to watch. With several pale skinned characters to his credit, he does tweak his portrayal of Barnabas Collins enough to make the part feel original and set it apart from the likes of the Mad Hatter and Edward Scissorhands. Captain Jack Sparrow does bubble under the surface a bit with Depp's use of an English accent, albeit, a clear voice you can understand. Pfieffer is radiant, strong and proud in her role as Elizabeth Collins. Chloe Grace Moretz, one of my favorite young actresses, channels in perfect pitch the troubled, angst-ridden teenager that just wants to come of age and move to New York to live life on her own term. Jackie Earle Haley, a versatile performer, takes on the drunkard curmudgeon of Willie Loomis with relish. The witch of the hour, Eva Green's Angelique, is a beautiful porcelain facade that provides a shell for a lustful emptiness that twists into a devoted vengeance against Barnabas. Helena Bonham Carter's Dr. Hoffman is a sassy, alcoholic psychiatrist fascinated by Barnabas and worried about her own mortality. And Bella Heathcote plays her duel roles of the 18th Century Josette and the haunted nanny trying to escape her past and find a place to belong with equal grace.

Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and the rest of the cast deliver a quirky and fun version of the cult classic long-running soap serial melodrama that had people of the day rushing home to watch each episode - years before Lost ever hit the airwaves. If you like Burton and Depp, then you would be remiss in passing on this new Dark Shadows. Clever, 70s cool, lightly dramatic with a touch of whimsy, Dark Shadows will entertain even if Barnabas's hypnotic gaze does not enthrall.

WORTH:  Matinee or DVD

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