By: Greg Reifsteck twitter @gregcomedy facebook.com/gregcomedy
Johnny Depp was in the shadows last weekend in more ways than one. He not only starred in the movie remake of the hit 60′s TV daytime drama Dark Shadows. But his film also got eclipsed at the box office by the second week run of Marvel’s superhero juggernaut The Avengers.
Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer in "Dark Shadows." (Credit: Warner Bros.)
The Avengers broke the all-time second weekend box office record with a $103 million dollar gross, hulking over the nearly $30 million gross of Shadows.
Originally set for a winter release, Warner Bros. pushed up its $150 million budgeted film to summer. This could have been a huge misstep. This twisted Tim Burton-directed film would have played much better with a chill in the air and less competition.
Depp has been passionate about remaking this gothic melodrama since plopping down in front of the TV to watch it as a teen. Barnabas Collins, a vampire character that was brought in to save the dying-on-the-vine soap opera, is redefined quite masterfully by Mr. Depp in this update. He made Capt. Jack Sparrow a household name by channeling Keith Richards. So why not bring some new new Goth spunk to an ages-old character.
In an opening montage, we learn how young Barnabas falls in love with the angelic waif Josette (Bella Heathcote) and spurns the love of a witch Angelique (Eva Green).
Angelique haunts Josette, scaring her in to fleeing in terror to a rocky cliff. Barnabas tries to save her, but is too late. She falls to her death in dramatic form, sucking us into their tragic romance. Angelique curses Barnabas, transforming him into a creature of the night. The townsfolk don’t take to vampires too well, however, wrapping him in chains, sealing him in a coffin and burying him for 190 years.
The story moves forward to 1972, where Barnabas becomes a fish out of water. This is where the drama transforms to full out hilarity. He doesn’t know what to make of hippies, has a run in with the “demon” Golden Arches of McDonald’s, etc.
He also is reunited with his family at their once grand, and now grotesquely run down, fortress of Collinswood. Barnabas tries to play off that he is long lost relative from across the pond, but family matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) is suspicious of what is real motives are.
At the same time a waifish young nanny Victoria (also played by Heathcote) arrives to take care of the family’s Damienesque son David (Gully McGrath). Barnabas of course sees the resemblance to his former lost love from his former existence, and tries to woo her accordingly. This does not bode well with ageless witch Angelique, who it seems, has been lurking around the town as a business magnate.
Burton trots out his treasure chest of archetypes he invented in his classic Beetlejuice. The Winona Ryder styled waif Victoria, the Barnabas-like Beetlejuice, and so on.
There is also the rebellious teenage daughter, Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz); Elizabeth’s useless brother, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller); Roger’s disturbed son, David (Gully McGrath), and a live-in psychiatrist named Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter). There is even the caretaker Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley), a wizened drunk.
The special effects are amazing and the mood is very fun. The budget of the film shows in its flawless production design. Burton harkens back to the neon color palette that put his name on the map back in the late ‘80s. Some scenes are very retro in their production design. I love that Burton plays it all for laughs since, upon recently viewing the ‘90s ABC remake with Ben Cross as Barnabas I found hard to take any of this too seriously.
First timers will enjoy the cavalcade of crazy characters. Whereas die-hard fans of the original series will think it is played with too much farce. I thought it was a delightful romp for an auteur working with his favorite lead.
Most auteurs like Burton always jump back to what they know and try to use their tricks to spruce up something they are passionate about. Obviously Depp and Burton have a kinship over this cult classic TV series and Burton just plugged in some of his usual bag of tricks from two decades ago. Who would notice except for a fogie like me?
The acting by all is top notch. Depp is at his transformed best. He inhabits Barnabas full-on as he does with all of his costume roles. To blow some of the unforgettable one-liners he gives here would ruin their effect. But suffice it to say they didn’t reveal all of his A material in the trailer.
Pfeiffer and secondary players are solid for the most part. The only problem comes with the usually reliable Moretz who I adored as Hit Girl in Kick-Ass. She is horribly is miscast as the acting-out, and sexually awkward, daughter. She inexplicably turns into a werewolf in the final act, and spends the rest of the film just skulking about and mumbling. Her acting resume would make one think she has the right devil may care quality for the character, but she isn’t quite able to pull it off with any depth. Maybe her role just was a throwaway for Burton, who seemed to have a lot going on plot-wise already.
Victoria and she disappear for most of the third act, only to be reintroduced at the climax to conveniently tie up things. This disjointed ending makes this film into a wickedly fun Saturday Matinee instead of a must see Friday night film.