Tim Burton has never been afraid to journey into the past. A number of his movies have either depicted the world of his youth (consider Edward Scissorhands and the forthcoming Frankenweenie) or paid tribute to his favorite cultural properties from those same years (like 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, 1968’s Planet of the Apes, and the 1962 Topps trading cards Mars Attacks!). Now, with Dark Shadows, he’s revisited another childhood favorite, the late 1960s gothic soap opera of the same name.
Perhaps Burton feels a certain kinship to the hero of Dark Shadows, who is himself a man out of step with the present day. Barnabas Collins, played by Johnny Depp, is a vampire who was buried alive from 1752 to 1972, only to awake and find himself the victim of gags straight out of Austin Powers. (What is the nature of this new-fangled technology!) Admittedly, some of those broad fish-out-of-time jokes are expertly delivered expertly, but it’s hard to pull off a campy tone with such a high budget. (Directors and producers, take note: Camp rendered in CGI will never be as funny.)
The cast, similarly, is snazzy, talented, and a little overstuffed. Eva Green plays the desperate witch who jealously locked Depp away (not her first turn as a sorceress; recall both The Golden Compass and Camelot), while the Addams-like household includes a matriarch played by Michelle Pfeiffer, a daughter played by Chloë Moretz, a caretaker played by Jackie Earle Haley, and an in-home shrink played by another Burton staple (and longtime Burton squeeze), Helena Bonham Carter.
One last reason Dark Shadows feels a bit like a visitor from the past: its reliance on sexy vampires. Dark Shadows’ protracted development, which began in 2007, coincided almost exactly with the rise of Twilight and True Blood, and now feels like a reminder of a year when everyone was wild for vampire nookie and bared fangs. Some of the production design suggests Burton flair, and is, perhaps, the true star of the show (also, that shot at 1:41 could be right out of The Royal Tenenbaums). But for the real magic, I’ll be holding out for Burton’s leaner and more personal film, Frankenweenie.
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