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Thursday, May 10, 2012 05:13 pm

Shadows too dim to see details

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I have some vague recollections of the Dark Shadows soap opera. I remember NOT being allowed to watch it, that whenever I did sneak a peak around the corner into the living room that there was always a lot of fog on the screen and that my babysitter really, really liked this show. Upon seeing reruns of it years later and recently on DVD I can understand the appeal. It’s not such a leap to draw connections between the show and the current Twilight craze, though I’m sure “Twi-hards” would vehemently disagree, saying that the tale of Edward and Bella is hardly the stuff of soap operas but rather is serious romance.

Knowing director Tim Burton’s penchant for quirky horror, it comes as no surprise that he was a fan of the show and he puts his passion for it on full display in his big-screen adaptation of the Dan Curtis cult classic. Like so many of the director’s works, this film seems to have all of the pieces for a successful entertainment but fails to come together in the end. However, the movie’s lack of overall success isn’t from a lack of trying on the part of Johnny Depp. He delivers a performance that’s just as much fun as his turns in the Pirates of the Caribbean films and at times is the only thing that keeps this production afloat.

During the movie’s extended prologue, a quick-moving, visually stunning highlight, we get a thumbnail history of the ill-fated Collins clan. Seems that having come to the New World from Liverpool, the patriarch of the family set up a thriving fishing business along the Northern coast of Maine that was so successful they named the town after him. However, the heir to the fortune, Barnabas (Depp), had the misfortune of dallying with a wicked chambermaid (Eva Green) who, unbeknownst to him, was a witch. As soon as he turns his attention to the comely Josette (Bella Heathcote), evil spells are cast and before you know it Barnabas’ parents are dead, his true love has cast herself off a cliff and he’s been turned into a vampire and buried alive…or would that be buried dead?

Jump ahead 200 years and we find that the Collins clan is nothing more than a nest of dysfunction. The family business is in ruins, which Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) is desperately trying to right, while her brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) is of no use at all. Meanwhile, her daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz) is going through her rebellious stage while a boozy psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter) and a new governess (Heathcote), who has a striking resemblance to Josette, have been brought in to help out the young David (Gullivar McGrath) who’s convinced he’s being haunted by the ghost of his dead mother. This is the mess Barnabas returns to after he’s been accidently resurrected.

Yeah, it’s a lot to take in and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith does his best to incorporate as many of the key plot lines of the series as possible. However, the show ran more than 1,000 episodes and trying to cram in so many highpoints is ultimately a mistake. Certain plot strands are underdeveloped and many of the characters seem superfluous. This is never more evident than in the film’s awkward climax in which a key secret is revealed, a moment that should have been a showstopper but which comes off as cheap and far too convenient.

However, there are some high points here, most of them provided by Depp, who has great fun with the many funny moments that develop as the vampire-out-of-time tries to deal with the 1970s. The juxtaposition of seeing him converse about love with a band of hippies or having him mistake a McDonald’s sign for the mark of the devil is very funny indeed. The actor plays it straight and it pays off handsomely in big laughs throughout. Unfortunately, one quirky performance does not a movie make, and Shadows winds up being like so many of Burton’s films – a handsome production with little narrative support.  

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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