Monday, May 21, 2012

Dark Shadows

Went to see Dark Shadows yesterday. I wasn't expecting much based on the reviews (and following Alice in Wonderland - Tim Burton's blandest movie yet) but I was pleasantly surprised. It's a beautiful looking fun romp, though it does have several major flaws. The dark 18th century prologue, where we learn how Barnabas Collins was cursed to become a vampire, is classic Burton. Once the film switches to 1972, the filmmakers revel in the look and music of that era, transporting the viewer effortlessly to the world of Collinsport, Maine. Victoria Winters (an amalgam of two characters from the original TV show) is our introduction to the "present day" Collins family and there are both unsettling moments and subtle laughs as she becomes governess to the troubled boy David.
Once Barnabas returns (killing the workers who discover his coffin in a surprisingly brutal scene) the film quickly switches to full-blown comedy (including a nice dig at the great Satan, um, I mean McDonald's) and, aside from the odd killing, stays there for most of the running time. While fans of the show may be disappointed at the emphasis on humour, frankly the show was never something to take completely seriously, being a supernatural soap opera. The main focus of the plot is Barnabas' conflict with Angelique, the immortal witch who made him what he is. The other characters are given short shrift, despite the talented actors playing them, and by the time we get to the special effects driven finale, plot has packed its bags and left the building. One character becoming a werewolf for no apparent reason may be the final straw for many audience members.
Despite the failings of the script by Seth Grahame-Smith, there are many other pleasures to be had. Johnny Depp may be doing the same character schtick he's done many times before, but his performance remains effortlessly entertaining. Michelle Pfeiffer, making a welcome return to Burton's filmography after playing Catwoman 20 years earlier, is equally good. Helena Bonham Carter is a perfect fit for the scheming Dr. Hoffman, while Eva Green makes a beautiful villain. Jackie Earl Haley provides laughs as the hypnotised Willie Loomis, Bella Heathcote is alluring in the dual role of Victoria and Barnabas' original, tragic love Josette and Cloe Grace Moretz is amusing if underused as the teenager struggling with more than puberty. There are also welcome cameos from several original Dark Shadows cast members (including the late Jonathan Frid), Christopher Lee and, most awesome of all, THE Alice Cooper.
Visually the film is gorgeous, which of course is the very least we expect from a Burton film. The use of real sets, rather that the green screens of Alice, is most welcome. Danny Elfman's score is effective if not that memorable, though he does make good use of the original TV theme. If as much care had been put into the script as the casting and production design this could have really been something special. It might have worked better as an R rated movie (as it is, the violence and implied sexuality - including a rough sex scene that rivals Buffy and Spike - pushes the boundaries of PG-13) since it's closest in tone to Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd's black humour. While it makes a welcome change from sparkly vampires, the film still could have used more bite.

BTW, my Avengers review is coming. I just wanted to see it again where I wasn't in the front staring at the corner of a giant screen first.