...with a look at Tim Burton's DARK SHADOWS. This write-up comes from a long-standing, verified, and trusted AICN contributor...Derek Flint.
Frankly, I'm not terribly certain this film is being sold properly. DARK SHADOWS' trailer and TV promos suggest a picture which is very much out of sync with the tone of Dan Curtis' progenitor television series. Indeed, they portend a movie which doesn't even feel particularly...Burtony. An odd move considering Burton's brand value in marketing, and a dodgy proposition for those familiar with the original TV show. Appropriately, Derek's review touches upon & attempts to reconcile this point of confusion/interest...
The term “reimagining” usually amounts to nothing more than a remake or tired retreat. Tim Burton’s big screen treatment of the iconic soap opera “Dark Shadows” more than deserves to be called a reinvention. By not making a slavish copy and taking smart chances with a well-known classic, much like JJ Abrams’ version of “Star Trek,” this film winds up being true to the source material. While none of the original cast is accorded the same amount of screen time as Leonard Nimoy in the reboot of “Trek,” it was great to see key members of the original DS cast lend their visage to this film. Aside from this, I will stay spoiler free.
Burton’s version of the “Dark Shadows” legend begins with a lush, involving prologue set in the 1700s and shot in the majestic cinematic style of “Sleepy Hollow” and “Sweeney Todd.” We’re introduced to the Collins family as they emigrate from England to America, as well as their young son Barnabas. The tone is somber, involving. I could have easily watched an entire tale set within this timeframe.
As Barnabas (Johnny Depp) grows to adulthood in the insular Maine town of Collinsport, he amasses great wealth, power and stature as the head of Collinwood Manor. He’s royalty, autocratic and elitist, with a propensity for using women without conscience. His affair with a lowly chambermaid named Angelique (Eva Green) proves to be his undoing when she turns out to be a literal witch. She places a curse of vampirism onto Barnabas as retribution for being slighted after he finds his true love. These scenes are played for full out horror and Depp’s reaction to his undead fate is literally harrowing. Being a vampire proves worse than death, made all the more impactful by being buried alive. Burton’s use of Gothic imageries combined with Danny Elfman’s majestic score makes this prologue feel like a true Hammer classic.
Flash forward two centuries later and Barnabas emerges from his crypt into the same environment, but now in the year 1972. By not updating this tale to our present day and setting it against the same era as the original series, Burton and the screenwriter make a cagey move that spares us topical references that ruin most updates. There’s no mention of “Jersey Shore” here.
While many have balked at the comedic tone in the trailer, Tim Burton’s movie is still very much “Dark Shadows” and adheres closely to the preliminary classic storyline that was encapsulated in the feature film “House of Dark Shadows” as well as the subsequent TV revival. However, Burton’s quirkier tone makes the proceedings feel fresh. It also helps that the characters are very well developed. Jackie Earle Haley excels as Barnabas’ senseless lackey, Willie Loomis, the hapless Renfield of the piece. Michelle Pfeiffer does her best work in years as the matriarch of the Collins clan, a family rife with so much dysfunction a full time psychiatrist lives with them played by Mrs. Burton, Helena Bonham Carter. Just like in the original she becomes enamored with Barnabas, losing a lot more than just her professional judgment.
The convoluted nature of soap operas tends to be a little ridiculous when condensed, especially with each character having their own storyline to service, but the skewed tone for these proceedings nails this perfectly. You can hear Elfman paying homage to the original series’ score when flutes linger on the soundtrack. Frankly, to play it all seriously would have been boring as we’ve seen this basic story before. Comedic or not, this film puts the “Twilight” saga to shame and reasserts the mantle of the original show. Also, the “fish out of water” elements for Barnabas invoke everything from “Being There” to “Time After Time,” since he’s an austere upperclassman trying to reassert his standing in a strange and unfamiliar world. True to the canon, Barnabas Collins maintains his genre cred as a sympathetic vampire.
Chloe Moretz is outstanding as Carolyn, a defiant teen that forges a strong relationship with the rueful Barnabas. The highest compliment I can give is that she’s totally believable.
Depp’s version of Barnabas is very intelligent, a calculated and ruthless businessman when he was human that has the same cold-bloodedness as a creature of the night. Anyone expecting this to be a parody or spoof will get some rude awakenings. Rest assured, Barnabas Collins is not warm and fuzzy and would gladly slit Casper the Friendly Ghost’s throat. His ability to walk around in daylight comes with a harsh price to pay.
When Angelique returns, hell-bent on getting Barnabas back, the storyline makes a shrewd move into almost “Godfather” bloodline territory. A family war erupts between the Collins clan and a true wicked witch that can use boardrooms as her cauldrons. Without giving anything way, this version of “Dark Shadows” is truly an epic motion picture with scope in its conclusion. Whether or not you’re a longtime fan of Dan Curtis’ classic or uninitiated, audiences will be rooting for Barnabas to prevail. He remains a vampire who struggles with his curse and becomes into a true protector of his birthright. To me, this is the most successful Tim Burton has been juggling his strong visuals against a bona fide plot. He’s both honored the original as well as made something new.
“Dark Shadows” isn’t in 3-D. It’s not necessary, the characters already have dimension.