Edward Scissorhands and Alice in Wonderland it was not, the latest collaboration between Johnny Depp and Tim Burton left some to be desired. The pair’s take on the old gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, fell short of re-inventing the series with its new plot lines and failed to capture the complete magic of a Depp and Burton film.
Dark Shadows debuted on ABC on June 27, 1966, enjoying a 6-year run as a daytime soap opera. However it was not the average soap opera as ghosts, witches, warlocks, werewolves, zombies, and time travel provided the flair for the dramatic that soap operas usually entail. The main highlight of the show was the appearance of the vampire Barnabas Collins a year after the show started. Cursed for his unrequited love for the witch Angelique, Barnabas is turned into a vampire and buried in the 1700s. When he wakes some 200 years have gone by and the times have certainly changed.
In the Tim Burton film released this part Friday; the role of Barnabas belongs to Johnny Depp. The film begins with the story of how Barnabas became the vampire he would later be. Eva Green plays Angelique, the servant who is on love with her master and when he does not return the favor, she takes it out on him and those around him. She sends a big stone dolphin crashing to the ground atop his parents and then sends his love, Josette, to leap to her death on the rocky shoreline. When Barnabas jumps, he finds he lands on the rocks without dying, his vampire transformation beginning. Angelique then turns the town against him and Barnabas is buried alive to be re-awoken some 200 years later. In the meantime, Collinwood, Barnabas’ beloved home becomes dilapidated as his ancestors struggle to keep it up.
Michele Pfeiffer plays Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard, the present (1972) matriarch. She lives in Collinwood with her daughter Caroline (Chloe Moretz), nephew David, and psychiatrist Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter). The young boy David claims to see supernatural beings, a plot line that is heavily underdeveloped in the film compared to the television series. As David’s governess, Victoria Winters also inhabits the mansion. From here the similarities between the film and TV. series are few and far between. Certain plot points are only touched upon while others are pulled out of the air and thrown into the mix. Certainly it must be hard to take more than 1000 episodes of a television show into a 2 hour movie, but one would think there would be much to draw from without inventing new story lines. For instance which character was never a werewolf but is in Burton’s film? The battle between Angel Bay (owned and ran by the also eternal Angelique) and the Collins family over fishing autonomy is also a plot invention employed in the film.
If anything the plot is basic with a few random side stories thrown into it. It follows the story of Barnabas trying to insert himself into a world and family that changed so much since his time. Depp has stated in interviews that he has long been a fan of Dark Shadows and has always wanted to portray Barnabas. He plays the character well but lacks some of the campiness of the original actor who portrayed the lost in time vampire. Pfeiffer is perhaps the best in creating her role as the head of the family, and is slightly underused. As David’s psychiatrist, Bonham-Carter’s role is almost cookie-cutter for her. Yes she plays kooky well, but she is certainly capable of much more. And for that matter, her character could have used more screen time. Eva Green as the evil Angelique certainly speaks with a snake tongue but she is not necessarily the most convincing villain. Most of the characters, or their journeys, are ever really explained. All of a sudden they are or are not, and then that’s that. In the case of Victoria Winters, she starts of as driving the film and then disappears to play second fiddle to Barnabas. Fast forward 45 minutes or so and she and Barnabas are in love. Sure she may look like his long deceased beloved Josette, but this is one storyline that is underdeveloped.
So what else is good about the film? Perpetual Burton collaborator Danny Elfman’s musical score and choice of seminal seventies era classics are pretty good. The music is perfect and even features performances from Alice Cooper. The sets are pretty well done as well. Collinwood is meant to be a character as well and at times it succeeds in that endeavor. However it also falls by the wayside of plot sacrifice and is slighted from the role it played in the television series. Burton plays well on the ‘70s clichés, although weren’t hippies more of a ‘60s thing? That being said, fans of the original series may find the film leaves something to be desired while those who are just discovering Dark Shadows may find it perfectly enjoyable. If it were a standalone film without the series to have a reference to, the film would be pretty good; however this adaptation is simply okay.