Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dark Shadows - 2012

Director:                   Tim Burton
Screenplay:            Seth Grahame-Smith
Story:                        John August and Seth Grahame-Smith
Based on the TV series created by Dan Curtis
Cinematography:      Bruno Delbonnel
Film Editing:            Chris Lebenzon
  Design:                  Rick Heinricks

Barnabas Collins                       Johnny Depp
Elizabeth Collins Stoddard       Michelle Pfeiffer
Dr. Julia Hoffman                       Helena Bonham Carter
Angelique Bouchard                  Eva Green
Willie Loomis                             Jackie Earle Haley
Roger Collins                             Jonny Lee Miller
Victoria/Josette                          Bella Heathcote
Carolyn Stoddard                       Chloe Grace Mortez
David Collins                             Gulliver McGrath

Ok, ok.  I was talked into seeing “Dark Shadows” by a friend.  I had not planned on seeing this one.  Yes, I loved the series.  I was one of those kids who rushed home from school to catch each episode.  It was the coolest thing on TV at the time, certainly the best thing on daytime TV.  The awful preview discouraged me from wanting to see the movie.  It appeared to be a complete spoof with lots of dumb not-funny humor. 

I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.  Please ignore the preview.  The clip spools together most of the jokes meant to appeal to the hearts and minds of ten year old boys of all ages.  The movie is better than that.  Although I realize that this is not an unqualified recommendation.

 “Dark Shadows” started life on ABC as a gothic soap opera and ran from 1966 to 1971.  In spite of the relatively brief run, the show produced more episodes (1,225) than almost any other fantasy/horror/scifi program due to having a daily rather than a weekly schedule.  It was enormously popular and spawned a family tree of: two theatrical films, comics, books, plays, a short lived TV remake in 1991, as well as a long run for the original series in syndication.  The actor who originated the role of Barnabas Collins, Jonathan Frid, even became something of a sex symbol in the late sixties.  He said he received tons of fan mail from female viewers who just loved those fangs.  And now we have a new spin on the story with Tim Burton’s film.

Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins

In the late 1700’s Barnabas Collins was cursed by the woman whose love he did not return.  Unfortunately for him, she was not just a woman scorned, but a witch scorned.  She turned him into a vampire and then had him buried alive.  Two centuries later he is accidentally released from his grave and returns to Collinwood, the home his father had built when Barnabas was a boy. 

The town of Collinsport has changed a lot in two hundred years.  The family mansion and the family business have both fallen into ruins.   Barnabas has to adjust to this new world and make a place for himself with his descendants.  He also meets his old nemesis, Angelique, who still desires him and still holds a grudge.  There is too much plot to go into here.  The movie follows the original story up to a point, and re-introduces most of the original characters. 

The movie is not really a spoof, although there are comic elements.  It feels respectful of the story and the characters.  It also feels faithful to another aspect of the TV series which may sound like a disadvantage – the slightly off-balance acting.  The need to grind out daily episodes of the soap opera left little time for rehearsals, and new pages of script were sometimes literally handed to the actors just before the cameras rolled.  That, and the low budget sets which sometimes shook or fell over, gave the show a charming hand-made quality which now is called “camp”. 

It took me some time to realize that all of the actors in this movie were doing something very tricky and delicate.  They were acting “badly” very well.  They sometimes go very close to “over the top”, within throwing distance you might say, but never quite arrive there.

Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins
Johnny Depp assumes the role of Barnabas, and he does a great job.  I don’t know why, but I sometimes forget what a very good actor he is.  He has certainly come a long way since being eaten by his bed in 1984’s “Nightmare on Elm Street”.  He catches the flavor of Jonathan Frid’s characterization – the tragic, aristocratic bearing and the mellifluous baritone voice.  Depp has described himself as a big fan of the show and is one of the producers of this film

MichellePfeiffer plays Elizabeth, the matriarch of the Collins clan. She is another actor who I sometimes take for granted and forget how versatile she is. Elizabeth is one of the few characters who does not have a supernatural alter ego, so she does not have much more to do than be a solid support for her very unusual family. Ms. Pfeiffer manages to enliven the character with breadth and depth, while still walking that very fine line between good and bad acting. Maybe that subtlety is what you could call“great” acting. That’s what I would call it.
Johnny Depp with Michelle Pfeiffer
Jackie Earle Haley has the relatively small but entertaining role of Willie, the caretaker.  I like this actor very much and am happy to see him working.

The music score is by Burton regular Danny Elfman, with many popular songs from the 1970s thrown in.  The movie also features artifacts from the time period: lava lamps, troll dolls, hippies traveling in a VW van, Scooby-Doo, the god-awful clothes and hairstyles, the Operation Game, and the inexplicable popularity of macramé.  I don’t know how they missed showing the family playing Twister.  Having done my time in the 70s and paid my dues – well, let’s just say I didn’t exactly feel nostalgic for any of it.  I make an exception for Barry White.  More movies need to include Barry White’s music.   I also make a big exception for Alice Cooper -- it was great to see him.

   And come to think of it, it makes perfect sense that a vampire might be fascinated by a red lava lamp.

Some of the cast from the original series have cameo appearances in the movie.  If you watch closely during the party scene you will catch Jonathan Frid entering the room.  He looks a bit frail and is supported on either side by ladies.  In spite of that it was wonderful to see him again.  But if you blink you will miss him.  The other original series’ actors playing party guests are: David Selby, Lara Parker, and Kathryn Leigh Scott.  I guess I blinked, because I did not spot them.  Maybe you will have better luck.   

Jonathan Frid died in April of this year, about a month before the premier of the new movie.  I find a little bit of satisfaction in that.  Don’t get me wrong, I take no pleasure in hearing of his death.  I merely feel that Mr. Frid did one final bit of unintentional upstaging, and reminded us that he was THE original Barnabas.

“Dark Shadows” the movie has a bit of an identity crisis.  As my friend said so well, “It doesn’t quite know what it wants to be.  Just like the series didn’t know what it wanted to be – a soap opera or a horror story.”  It is uneven, it drags in many places, much of the humor is juvenile.  It retains some of the horror of the story, which I am very happy about.  Barnabas is not without his faults:  He is a vampire, he kills people.  He is however the hero.  The original character in the soap started out as a villain and later became a Good Guy, sort of like the make-over that Godzilla was given.  Depps’ Barnabas is also a sympathetic Good Guy/Bad Guy. 

In sum, it’s….not bad, not great.   Tim Burton sets us up for a sequel at the end with a very obvious gag which you will see coming a mile away.  I’m not sure I am anxious for a sequel.  It will have to be very ingenious to get me into the theater, and the preview will have to be damn good, not a stinker as this one was.  I may not give the sequel the same chance I gave this movie.

One more thing, can anyone out there explain to me why on earth vampires have to have such nasty looking fingernails??????  If there is no such thing as a manicure in the immortal realm, then I am not interested in ever joining the ranks of the undead.  It just wouldn’t be worth it.
Good dental hygiene is important, but let's talk about those nails. 

No comments:

Post a Comment