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Dark Shadows' an uninspiring effort

May 16, 2012
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Latest Burton/Depp team-up falls short

It's always sad when a long-standing cinematic collaboration begins to run out of steam. It happens to the best of them, whether it springs from creative differences, personal issues or just overstaying their welcomes.

I hate to say it, but I think the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp pairing may have reached its sell-by date. The duo's latest collaboration is 'Dark Shadows,' based on the gothic soap opera that originally aired in the late 1960s.

Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work.

Depp stars as Barnabas Collins, a young man who came to the United States in the 1750s, leaving his native Liverpool along with his family to expand upon their fishing business. Before long, the Collins ,family has built (and lent their name to) the Maine town of Collinsport, creating a booming community.

However, all is not well at the family home of Collinwood. Young Barnabas has been dallying with one of the servants a young woman named Angelique (Eva Green 'Perfect Sense'). Unfortunately, Angelique is a witch, so when Barnabas breaks it off with her after finding his true love Josette (Bella Heathcote, 'In Time'), she exacts her revenge. She disposes of Josette and curses Barnabas. She turns him into a vampire and eventually imprisons him.

Fast forward to 1972. Construction in Collinsport inadvertently releases Barnabas, who immediately is confronted with the disintegration of his family business not to mention the sad remains of the once-noble Collins clan. There's matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer, 'New Year's Eve') and her disaffected daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz, 'Hugo'). You've got shiftless philanderer Roger (Jonny Lee Miller, TV's 'Eli Stone') and his ghost-seeing son David (Gulliver McGrath, 'Hugo'). Toss in family handyman Willie (Jackie Earle Haley, 'A Nightmare on Elm Street') and live-in psychiatrist Dr. Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter, 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2') and you've got quite an interesting mix.

Barnabas takes it upon himself to restore his family to its former glory. He starts rebuilding the family home and the family business. However, a restless spirit from his past might prove an insurmountable obstacle to what Barnabas cherishes more than anything the well-being of his family.

I'll be the first to admit that I love it when Tim Burton and Johnny Depp get together. Unfortunately, the sheer number of team-ups has led to an unavoidable truth it's all a formula. You get Johnny Depp to play a larger than life eccentric who desperately wants to be embraced by normal society. That is, by Tim Burton's skewed vision of 'normal.' Burton creates a visually rich world with rules that bounce backs and forth between creepy and comedic. Depp inhabits it. And there you go.

But as 'Dark Shadows' sadly illustrates, that isn't enough anymore. The movie looks good Burton rarely goes wrong when creating an aesthetic but that style doesn't really translate to what passes for a story. While the supporting cast does its game best to create something out of nothing, there's not much they can do. It's essentially two hours of watching Johnny Depp doing his Johnny Depp thing it's like the film star's Depp's persona, rather than Depp himself.

This is the eighth time Burton and Depp have come together on a project. It pains me to say it, but 'Dark Shadows' seems to be proof that the duo's creative growth has slowed considerably if not stopped entirely. This film isn't all bad, of course there are some very funny moments and some wonderfully creepy ones. It's not enough. The thin plot and general sense of self-congratulation is too pervasive.

2 out of 5

Last modified on Thursday, 24 May 2012 13:55

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