When I was a child my older brothers were the rulers of our only 21 inch black and white television. So, if I wanted to watch television, I watched what they wanted to watch. Today I am grateful. We spent Saturday afternoons watching “Star Trek,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Outer Limits” and occasionally the gothic soap opera “Dark Shadows.” My love for science fiction and fantasy films are based on this foundation. And now Director Tim Burton has recreated the world of Barnabas Collins in his new film Dark Shadows.
Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) came to the New World in the 1700’s with his parents to expand the Collins’ empire and attain the American dream. He grew to be a successful businessman and found the love of his life, but spawned the love of his house maid Angelique (Eva Green) that he once dallied with, but never loved. Too bad Angelique was a witch. She killed Barnabas’ true love Josette DuPres (Bella Heathcote) and cursed the entire Collins clan. Her special curse for Barnabas was to make him into a vampire and bury him in a chained coffin to live out eternity – turning Barnabas’ American dream into an American nightmare.
Little did Angelique know that nearly 200 years later, Barnabas’ coffin would be found and he would be free again. Barnabas finds his once stately manner Collinwood now in disrepair and only a handful of relatives living. He finds that the only Collins’ left are the family matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer); her rebellious teenage daughter Carolyn Stoddard (Chloë Grace Moretz); Elizabeth’s ne’er-do-well brother, Roger Collins, (Jonny Lee Miller); and Roger’s precocious 10-year-old son, David Collins (Gully McGrath). The longsuffering caretaker of Collinwood is Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley); the live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) and new to the Collins’ employ is David’s nanny, Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote), who is, mysteriously, the mirror image of Barnabas’ one true love, Josette.
Barnabas keeping with the family motto from his father “family is the only worth,” goes to work to rebuild the family empire. Barnabas finds the new world of the 1970’s sometimes very unsettling , but the real problem comes when Barnabas finds out that Angelique is still in his midst and has not forgotten Barnabas’ spurn.
This film had the potential to be exceptional, but the script (script by Seth Grahame-Smith, story by John August and Grahame-Smith) is the major let down of the movie. It was funny at moments but had problems with keeping up the momentum. It was scary at times but not enough to be really scary, and some of the little details were not completely sewn up, like if Barnabas was the only Collins in America when he became a vampire, where did his current Collins clan come from?
Director Tim Burton was superb at recreating the world of Barnabas Collins, including the estate Collinwood and the town Collinsport. Johnny Depp is completely convincing as the bewitched vampire set on creating a new life and restoring his family’s name. Michelle Pfeiffer creates a good balance as a more well-footed character. Eva Green portrays Angelique with conviction and reminds me of the silent film vamps of yesteryear. Helen Bonham Carter is amazing as Dr. Julia Hoffman – I barely recognized her. And Chloë Grace Moretz is great as the difficult teenager Carolyn. The only thing lacking in the cast was the non-existent chemistry between Depp and Bella Heathcote as Vickie.
Mention should also be made for the amazing costumes by Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood (Alice in Wonderland), and the music which was a mix of 1970’s rock and the score written by Oscar nominee Danny Elfman (Milk, Big Fish, Men in Black, Good Will Hunting). The special effects were also top notch.
I was disappointed that Dark Shadows did not meet its potential to be the best comic gothic film around. It's a good film - but not great. My opinion is that if you are a big fan of Tim Burton and/or Johnny Depp – see it in the theaters, all others – wait to rent it when it is available on DVD. True lovers of the "Dark Shadows," televion show may be the most diappointed.
Dark Shadows is rated PG-13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking and has a runtime of 1 hour and 53 minutes.
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Whatever your movie choice this week, please remember your movie theater etiquette: silence your cell phones & no texting, please don't talk during the film and remove your children if they become a distraction to other audience members. Don't forget that laughing, crying and cheering are always approved behavior and even encouraged.
-Kay Shackleton is a film historian with special focus on Silent Films, see her work on SilentHollywood.com