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 Tim Burton's Dark Shadows

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Donald McKinney
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PostSubject: Tim Burton's Dark Shadows   Tue May 15, 2012 10:36 pm

Dark Shadows was created by Dan Curtis for ABC, it was a very weird soap opera, combining gothic horror elements like vampires, ghosts, witches and werewolves. The show was a small success when it was first broadcast in June 1966, but it really took off when Canadian actor Jonathan Frid joined the cast as vampire Barnabas Collins, and the show became a cult hit as a result. As it was broadcast live, any line flubs and mistakes went out with it. It's melodramatic performances and wide range of characters hit a chord with the American viewing public at the time. However, after 5 years and 1,225 episodes. ABC called time on the series, and pulled the plug. But, Dan Curtis wasn't finished with it yet, and he made two feature films of it for MGM, House of Dark Shadows (1970) and Night of Dark Shadows (1971). 20 years later, Curtis made an updated version for NBC in 1991, it was unsuccessful and was axed. But the original series had it's fans, one of them was Johnny Depp, who as a boy would rush home from school just to watch it, and he loved the character of Barnabas, Depp WANTED to BE Barnabas. Flash forwards nearly 40 years later, and Warner Bros. bought the rights to a film version, and Depp got Tim Burton to direct it, who was also a fan. Dark Shadows is a different breed to the original soap, it has a jarring tone, but it has Burton's fingerprints all over it as well as nods to his previous works, and it has a spirited cast. It works, sort of.

In 1760, the Collins family sailed from Liverpool, England to the New World, and set up a fishing port on the coast of Maine which becomes Collinsport. The son, Barnabas (Depp) grows up to love Josette du Pres (Bella Heathcote), after Barnabas jilted Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), this breaks her heart, and as revenge, Angelique murders Barnabas' parents, sends Josette to her death and curses Barnabas to become a vampire, and the townspeople of Collinsport bury Barnabas in a chained coffin. Jump forwards to 1972, and Barnabas' coffin is discovered by workmen, whom he kills for their blood, (he's very thirsty), and he makes his way back to his family home of Collinwood, bewildered by what's happened to the world. His home has fallen into disrepair, the family now consists of the reclusive Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), her scheming brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), Elizabeth's 15 year old rock daughter (ChloŽ Grace Moretz) and Roger's emotionally damaged son David (Gulliver McGrath), who is cared for by live-in psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) and new governess Victoria Winters (Heathcote again) and the manor is seen to by Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley). Once he proves to Elizabeth who he really is, she promises to keep it a secret from everyone, and Barnabas wants to restore the family name and the family's fishery business. However, Angelique is still around, owning a rival business, and is a pillar of the community in Collinsport, and she has a score to settle with Barnabas, and Barnabas likewise. But, Barnabas finds himself attracted to Victoria Winters, who has a lot of upsetting secrets.

It's an absolutely insane film, and it's easy to see why it was going to be tricky to squeeze most of the main storylines from this cult soap into one film. But, Burton manages to find an agreeable tone for the film, which is similiar to the tone used in his underrated sci-fi romp Mars Attacks! (1996), it's a nostalgic film showing the brightness and gaudiness of the early 1970's, when the hippy era was dying out, and psychedelic rock was giving way to heavy rock music. Barnabas in this strange new world is bewildered and flummoxed by television sets, tarmac roads, Trolls and lava lamps, he quotes Steve Miller's The Joker and Erich Segal's Love Story as if they were baroque poetry. There is a lot going on in this film, and you do get the vague feeling that there is a longer cut of the film which explains a lot more, and has room to breathe, but at just under two hours. It moves a long very quickly, and it has an insane climax where you're left thinking "WHAT!?" more than once. But, it's still enjoyable, it could just have done with a little room to stop and take a rest. Burton got Seth Grahame-Smith (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) to do the script, and he manages to get a good tone, even if it is maddening, fast and furious.

The films real ace up it's sleeve is the look of the film, and Burton's films always have a good look. Here the town of Collinsport as well as Collinswood Manor were all created entirely at Pinewood Studios in London, designed by Burton regular Rick Heinrichs, whose designs on Beetlejuice (1988), Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Sleepy Hollow (1999) have the distinctions of being among Burton's most memorable films in terms of look, the town of Collinsport is typical small town America, complete with record store, a bar called The Blue Whale, and a small cinema playing Superfly (1972) and Deliverance (1972), while Collinwood Manor is typical Burton. With it's wood sculptures and secret passages, it's like all the best haunted houses in the films combined into one. It has epic but focused camerawork by Bruno Delbonnel, who did Amelie (2001) and A Very Long Engagement (2004). It's a visual feast of a film, and it's topped off with a good score by Danny Elfman, which is darker and more brooding than usual in places, as well as songs of the period from Barry White, The Carpenters, T. Rex and Black Sabbath.

The film has a brilliant ensemble, led by Johnny Depp as Barnabas the vampire from another time, struggling to understand how the world has changed so much, but he keeps his cool until things get really bad. He cares for his new found family, even if they are confused by him and his mannerisms. It's a fish out of water character that Depp has fun with, and with added charisma, he gets good humour out of too. Michelle Pfeiffer is very good as Elizabeth, the strong matriarch holding what's left of the family together, but Eva Green has real fun as the femme fatale Angelique Bouchard, who isn't evil, but is vengeful for being jilted all those years ago by Barnabas. She still loves him despite what he did, and wants him back. Helena Bonham Carter makes a fun, kooky alcohol as Dr. Hoffman with lab and bouffant of ginger hair. Moretz makes a moody teen fun as she looks bewildered by Barnabas' mannerisms, and she has a "WTF" moment in the climax. Jonny Lee Miller makes a good slimy brother, even if he is underused. But, it's fun to see Jackie Earle Haley as the drunken caretaker who Barnabas has under his spell, and kudos to Bella Heathcote for pulling off 2 different roles, and making them both good. Plus, Burton regular Christopher Lee has an amusing but memorable cameo, as does Alice Cooper doing his shock rock thing. Razz



Right from the opening title sequence, of a train carrying Victoria Winters through the New England countryside to the strains of Nights in White Satin by The Moody Blues, it's obvious that this isn't going to be a normal film, it's a moody film where emotions are all over the place. But, it's different from all the rest, maybe that's why the critics have been mixed on it, it's not commercial, and it's hard to pigeonhole this film into one catergory. It's not the comedy the trailers suggested, and it's not a drama either, it's one part horror and one part every other genre. Indeed, it feels like Hammer when they went camp and comedic with varying results. It is a very camp film with it's 70's settings, but even if it's going to split audiences here, it's destined to become a future cult favourite. It's a very good film, but it could have done with a longer running time to tie things together, but it is a fun film with a lot going on, and like all soap operas, it can be hard to keep up with. Burton has said this is a personal film for him and Depp and they've honoured the original soap with love and affection, keeping the off-kilter tone for the film, but finding a kitsch, gothic tone for this $150 million adaptation. As for the naysayers complaining about Depp and Burton working together too much, let them be, John Ford and John Wayne worked together on over 20 films, and no-one moaned them, let them do it again!! They bring the best out in each other.
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