Dark Shadows: Tim Burton is strange, but still knows how to cash in

Dark Shadows – 2012

Director Tim Burton
Starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter, Jackie Earle Haley, Johnny Lee Miller, Chloë Grace Moretz, Bella Heathcote, Gulliver McGrath, Alice Cooper, Christopher Lee
Screenplay Seth Grahame-Smith based on the TV show by Dan Curtis

Anyone who’s seen Beetlejuice will instantly recognize a family dynamic demonstrated in the early part of Dark Shadows.  That dynamic is the reckless and aloof daughter played first by Winona Rider and this time around by Moretz.  It’s her job to roll her eyes as our other fantastic and daft characters do wacky things.  In employing this method, Burton won over many a misunderstood teenage girl  They, along with many of the audience in Tim Burton films, understand that the moody teenage girl is much more centered than the other goofs.  She is hipper, she is misunderstood, but we know that she is the one that the others will learn from if they want to accomplish anything.

Barnabas Collins (Depp) is one such student in Dark Shadows.  His last 196 years have been spent in a casket because of a woman scorned.  The woman who put him there, Angie (Green), is still there.  She rules the town of Collinsport now, but she never has taken over his home of Collinwood.  Even now, on its last legs, it is held by two of his distant cousins, Elisabeth (Pfeiffer) and Roger (Miller), hold residence as merely place keepers.  Elisabeth’s daughter, Carolyn (Moretz) is grouchy and likes playing T-Rex, like everyone else in movies that cover that time.  I think of him as the Van Morrison of early 70’s scripts.  Rider came to prominence in both Beetlejuice and Heathers, but never was able to build much in the way of momentum.  Moretz has already made several better films in her short career than Rider ever made.  In that way, it is a shame to see her so limited here.

This is not to say that Dark Shadows is a bad film.  In fact, it is very amusing.  The Burton quirks, especially those expressed with the dry humor that Depp excels at, are all present.  The emotions presented are almost surgically sterile.  The key feeling expressed is one of vengeance, and even that runs a little cold.  It really does not matter how one evaluates Depp at this point.  You either swoon or you don’t…or you sit back and try to smirk once in a while.

One can appreciate the story as presented, and I really appreciated the chance to see Pfeiffer looking so alluring after so many years off-screen.  Jackie Earle Haley is quite fun as Caretaker Loomis.  Eva Green has been a lot more appealing, but then she is several hundred years old.  Seeing Lt. Gorman from Aliens fire a couple of shots into Depp’s back was cool.

By the time the credits roll, we get the same feeling from this film as we do most of Burton’s retreads.  There is no fire, and most of the laughs are forced, in that ever so subtle Burton way.  There will likely be no sequel, but that is okay. This already feels like one.  Sure, Pfeiffer will be disappointed, but not so much as those of us who get the privilege of seeing him place his quirky stamp all over some other film property we really care about.

(**1/2 out of *****)

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