Dark Shadows (2012)

THE SCOOP
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Jackie Earle Haley, Chloe Grace Moretz, Bella Heathcote, Jonny Lee Miller.
Plot: An imprisoned vampire, Barnabas Collins, is set free and returns to his ancestral home, where his dysfunctional descendants are in need of his protection.


Genre: Comedy/Fantasy
Awards: -
Runtime: 113min
Rating: PG13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking. 


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IN RETROSPECT
Any Tim Burton-Johnny Depp collaboration in recent years is not so much a major movie event, but a reunion of two eccentric, some say odd, individuals who are celebrated for their peculiarities. In their eighth time working together, the Burton-Depp connection is starting to feel more of the same, and that is how Dark Shadows feels like.

If Edward Scissorhands (1990) was the start of a beautiful friendship, then Dark Shadows is a marriage that has plateaued. Still, it is an improvement over the surprising box-office hit Alice in Wonderland (2010), which I felt didn't aptly capture the magic of a Burton picture, let alone the classic story that it was based on.

Like 21 Jump Street (2012), Dark Shadows is based on a television series, only that Burton's film is more reverent to its source, unlike the former, which is both a parody and a contemporary update for the modern generation.

Dark Shadows tells the tale of Barnabas Collins (Depp), who is cursed by a jealous witch (Eva Green) to become a vampire. He is locked in a coffin for nearly 200 years, only to be unearthed by workers digging at a site in the year 1972. Barnabas rises from his 'grave', unaware that the world has changed. He goes back to his family mansion, only to discover that the fourth generation of the Collins family now reside there.

No matter how average a Burton film is, you can always count on Depp to give a good performance. And he does so once again in Dark Shadows. Despite playing the vampire Barnabas with a stone face, he retains his ability to charm with his magnetic screen presence.

The first half of Burton's film is more interesting than the second as Barnabas (and his pre-Victorian mentality and speech style) attempts to make sense of the new world that is imbued with far more liberal values. Much of the film's humour is milked from this.

The second half of Dark Shadows degenerates into a conventional one-on-one tussle between Depp's and Green's characters. Both have a palpable love-hate relationship with each other that helps to temporarily lift the film out of its dull moments that are caused by some uninspired dialogue and weak pacing.

The film also feels tonally inconsistent, what with a 'live' Alice Cooper gig midway, and a bizarre sequence that sees Depp and Green engage in some gravity-defying lovemaking. If it was Burton's intention to create clashes in tone to reflect Barnabas' insecurity with living in 1972, it is one that doesn't work out too well.

Even Burton's trademark Gothic visual flourishes could neither save the film from its conventional climatic set-piece, nor from its predictable epilogue, the latter turning the film's narrative full circle. Turning a narrative full circle is always a very satisfying technique, but when the circle is not drawn smoothly in the first place, the technique becomes plainly perfunctory. Like what goes on in a marriage that has plateaued.

Verdict: Johnny Depp and Eva Green strike up a palpable love-hate relationship in this weakly-paced Tim Burton film. 

GRADE: C+ (6.5/10 or 3 stars)

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