Saturday, May 26, 2012

Dark Shadows

Addams Family Not

Director Tim Burton, actor Johnny Depp and composer Danny Elfman reunite for their umpteenth collaboration on film, and like all their previous works together, there's always a touch of the strange, the quirky and a whole lot of dark themes all rolled into one. Based upon the 1960s television soap opera series, it's not exactly The Addams Family here, but one will see some shades of similarities in this big screen adaptation, with a more serious romantic love triangle here taking centerstage.

It's the story of how Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), the scion of the Collins family who had crossed from Liverpool to the New World in the 18th Century, and through their fishing business amassed fame, fortune and being responsible to create a new city revolving around it. But Barnabas' romantic indiscretion with their supposed maid Angelique (Eva Green), a witch in hiding in his household, ran his promising future to the ground, cursed to live out the rest of his life as a vampire, see his one true love Josette (Bella Heathcote) commit suicide in front of his eyes, and having to witness the demise of his parents as well. And to make matters worse, Angelique turned the townfolks against him, locking him up in a box and buried six feet under.

Fast forward some 200 years later, and the Collins family's fortunes had seen better days, with the family now made up of matriarch and distant relative of Barnabas, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), womanizing Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller) and his son David (Gulliver McGrath), David's psychiatrist Dr Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) who craves youth and drink, and housekeeper Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley). And we join Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote again) as the new governess to the children, who shares an uncanny resemblance with Josette, which means Barnabas, broken out of his confines by construction workers, get to pursue true love all over again. But not before Angelique gets wind of her infatuation's break out, and returns to cause trouble for Barnabas and the Collins all over again, until she gets what she wants.

There's some good natured humour ranging from the usual slapstick, to that of a fish being caught out of water since Barnabas speaks in a style already extinct, and has plenty to catch up with in the modern 70s world of free love and technology. There's no glitter in this vampire, and it's old school throughout with his fear of sunlight, which means his wheelings and dealings to get the Collins back on track in the fishing business have to be conducted in shadow, as well as to curtail his need for human blood to keep alive. But that's about all that's great about the film, which is unfortunate.

Could it be that Tim Burton is running out of steam with the rehashing of the usual dark themes in his films, that enough is enough? It's not to say Dark Shadows is a bad film, but this collaboration with the usual suspects looked a bit tired. Elfman's score is uninspiring and somewhat subdued behind the soundtrack (featuring Alice Cooper too, no less), and the direction very much looking alike with a host of other Burton films. Too many characters in this film, some with last minute surprises, resulted in a lack of focus on many supporting cast, where even Michelle Pfeiffer got little else to do here except to agree on a pact with Barnabas, and having mother-daughter issues. Jackie Earle Haley was also wasted, as was Jonny Lee Miller and Helena Bonham Carter, all having little to contribute to the plot.

So we're left with Johnny Depp and Eva Green to carry the film, and their scenes together were wickedly interesting, but also repetitive in their rivalry. Bella Heathcote plays the go-between character, but while the point of view shifted to her when we enter the shift in timeline, that very much shifted out of focus once Barnabas entered the picture, and their supposed true romance wasn't a tad believable. Which is a pity since that would have formed an emotional crux to anchor the film upon, rather than to be wowed with the CG visuals but turning everything else empty without much heart.

Dark Shadows didn't have a clear direction on where it wanted its narrative to head toward. It could have been a dark comedy, or a heavy tragic romance, or both even, but what turned out felt lacklustre and in some ways going through the motion. With the Burton-Depp-Elfman axis in the past, one would have come to expect more, and unfortunately this collaboration was steps backward.

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