Dark Shadows

Filed in Titles May 11 2012 Chime in

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DarkShadows770
Eva Green trumps Hell's fury by a longshotPhoto: Warner Bros.

3 StarsWhy I Saw It: Invited to a press screening, fingers crossed for some fresh element to Burton & Depp. Love them, but their collaboration has become listless.
What I Thought: [Time Well Spent] Just see it for Eva. I mean it.

Dark Shadows. Dir. Tim Burton. Perf. Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Johnny Lee Miller, Bella Heathcote, Chloe Grace Moretz, Gulliver McGrath, Christopher Lee, Alice Cooper. Warner Bros., 2012.

After being turned into a vampire and buried for all time by a spurned lover, the serendipitously-freed Barnabas Collins returns home and sets about restoring his family’s former glory.

While breaking no new ground (except at that one construction site…), the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaboration remains nevertheless in full swing. Depending on your personal level of Burton-Fatigue, that’s a good thing, or not.

I’m reminded of the Houston Chronicle’s Jeff Millar saying of Enya’s A Day Without Rain, “It’s Enya. Sounds like every other Enya album. And we love Enya ~ just keep’em coming.” Such may be said of Dark Shadows: if you’re tired of the formula, you’ll only like it, and if you’re not, you may well even love it.

Inspired by the 1966-71 daytime drama, Dark Shadows faithfully honors its source material… with Burton’s customary wry wit, of course. Though the trailers imply a mere compendium of stale vampire and fish-out-of-water gags, such [fortunately] is not the case; sprinkled here and there, they never dominate. Fans of the TV series will be well pleased, settled blissfully in their beloved Collinwood and characters, while those new to the story will just enjoy their riding on the Burton-Depp Express.

Depp’s humor ever dry as the Sahara, hilarity abounds, including a simply marvelous twist on use of the organ to accentuate drama. His soulful sharing of romantic struggle before a band of “unshaven young people” is a work of art, and Burton’s little absurdities throughout keep one smiling (case in point: macramé).

Johnny Depp’s performance pulls from the same source as his portrayal of the Earl of Rochester in The Libertine; this adds a fun wrinkle in that Barnabas, the so-called monster, is actually far the better man (ah, irony). Michelle Pfeiffer strong as always (echoing Hairspray but again, far the better woman), Helena Bonham Carter (of course) breaks nary a sweat here, and the rest of the cast rounds out the proceeding nicely. By and large strong but not stretching… much like the film itself, one could say.

It is the resplendent Eva Green who makes Dark Shadows worth the outing even for the weary. As precious few actors are capable, she meets Depp himself head-on. Usually, talents of this level of power dominate the space and others are wise simply to support it and therefore become better themselves (just ask Jamie Campbell Bower and Orlando Bloom).

Here we have two such talents in direct dialogue, and she sets the match in a room he has saturated with oxygen. Such a dazzling thespian exchange does not often occur, and is quite wonderful to behold. (And that they can convincingly carry off a passionate pairing the likes of which not seen since Drive Angry 3D only proves the point…)

Dark Shadows’ weakness falls in its action-packed final showdown, where it runs too long and introduces an element for no reason other than apparently hastily completing some checklist developed during pre-production. Oh well. Spectacular visuals and production design prevail of course, and the film is lovely and well-realized in every way.

It’s what we expect, and if that ain’t a bad thing for you, by all means do not miss it. Or just see it for Eva… for whatever reason you do that, you won’t be disappointed.

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