Dark Shadows

Year 2012

Johnny Depp as  Barnabas Collins
Michelle Pfeiffer as Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard
Helena Bonham Carter   as Dr. Julia Hoffman
Eva Green as Angelique Bouchard
Bella Heathcote as Victoria Winters/Josette DuPres  
Christopher Lee as Clarney
Alice Cooper as himself
Director - Tim Burton
Screenwriter   - Seth Grahame-Smith

At the time of this writing, the movie Dark Shadows is in theaters. It may not be there too long, which is a shame because it's actually a pretty entertaining movie.

Let me point out right now that I'm not a big Johnny Depp fan. I know that he's got a fan club of women who drool over him. But I'm not a middle aged woman and you need to bring something more to the table besides vulnerability for me to appreciate your acting ability. I'm not saying I don't like him as an actor. I'm saying that the hype is greater than the man. In other words, I didn't go to the movie to watch Johnny Depp and maybe that's one reason why I liked it.

If you keep your expectations reasonable, you'll enjoy it too.

For those of you too young to realize it, back in the sixties there was an afternoon soap opera called "Dark Shadows". I never watched it but I heard about it...a lot. And always from the girls in class. Then a new character joined the cast of the show and the girls talked even more about it. That character was Barnabas Collins.

The years had not been kind to the vampire

I do need to say that Jonathan Frid, the man in the photographs above, passed away in mid-April of 2012. He seemed like a nice enough guy. But the fact that he was the heart throb of millions of teenage girls in the late sixties was obviously not based on his looks. For the girls, he was a sympathetically tragic character.

Remember that "Dark Shadows" was a soap opera, albeit with a supernatural twist but it was still a soap opera with all of the tear jerker betrayals and labyrinthine scheming of every other soap opera. Most importantly, especially for teenage girls, it had a love story.

The movie follows the same pattern as the series and it's the same old story. Man loves girl and former lover, now spurned, gets her revenge. Only now we're talking witches and vampires types of revenge.

The basic plot of the movie is that the vampire escapes from his two hundred year old prison and attempts to regain his vampiric mastery in the present while searching for true love. In the series this took years. In the theater, you've got two hours.

The movie is not a comedy, regardless of the trailers that are being shown. Oh, there are funny lines and most of those revolve around the old fish-out-water predicament. But Dark Shadows is funny in the way Beetlejuice was funny. So I guess that if you thought Beetlejuice was a comedy, then this one is too.

There are a lot of good things about the movie. It moves along at a brisk pace, the acting is top notch, caricatures of characters are entertaining, there's a lot of attention to detail, and it's mostly plausible within the frame of reference of the setting, which is 1972 Maine.

Having "lived" in Maine about that time, the movie definitely captured the small town feel. But, no one had a Maine accent! "What the devil," you ask, "No Maine accent?" "Nope," I answer in my best laconic Maine voice.

No one says, "Bah Hahbah." In the movie, they say, "Bar Harbor." No one even says, "Ya can't get theah from heah," which is the classic Maine punchline.

Before I get onto the bad, let's keep on with the good. The attention to detail caught my ear. In one scene, the song "Season of the Witch" was playing in the background. Nice, but even better was the near perfect use of a song later in the movie. When the history of one of the character was being depicted, Alice Cooper's "Ballad of Dwight Frye" was playing. As the song lyrics talked about spending time in a mental institution, the character described their time in a mental institution. Good creepy meshing of themes.

If you've ever asked yourself, "What kind of mess would an indestructable vampire and an immortal witch do if they ever hooked up, you know, romantically?" then Tim Burton has his take on the carnage.

If you've ever asked yourself, "What kind of 'happening' would an wealthy vampire organize?" then Tim Burton has his take on the revelry which includes a disco ball and Alice Cooper. Alice Cooper performing while a disco ball whirls? You gotta like Alice's ability to relish jabs at his persona.

If you've read my comments about The Horror of Dracula then you'll know that Christopher Lee is my favorite Dracula. Seeing the ninety year old actor in a cameo role in this movie just added more class to the production. (While most people begin to wither in their nineties, Christopher Lee looks like he's finally starting to fill out a bit. Here's hoping he keeps working for decades.)

Helena Bonham Carter as the alcoholic doctor was also priceless. Marla Singer has come of age! Michelle Pfeiffer added her typical touch of beauty and class as the family matriarch. Eva Green, of whom I'd not heard before, held her own against the heavy weights as the beautiful and revenge seeking witch.

But then there's the bad. Bella Heathcote, for example. She was just too plain and unassuming. She withered into a shadow on the screen when one of the other characters shared a scene with her.

The plot wasn't original. It was well executed, but not original.

Alice Cooper didn't have a speaking part. He can act, especially within the context of this movie. He should've been able to contribute. Why did they use canned music for his "live" act? They should've let him contribute! And imagine what he and Danny Elfman, the score composer, could have come up with for something original!

The special effects were hit and miss. When will people realize that blurring an image takes away from the effect. Blurred motion to me says, "That's half an effect. Why couldn't they have cleaned it up?"

The biggest problem of the movie, though, is the pacing at the end. Too much happened in too short a period of time, characters acted against type, and laws of physics were ignored. (Wood shatters like glass when blasted by a shotgun? Really?) The love between the capricious Barnabas and dishrag Josette established itself in seconds and too close to the end for any empathy to be generated by the audience. In other words, the ending wasn't satisfying.

If the ending had been more sympathy arousing, then this would have been a much better movie. You need to feel the need to say, "Ah! Isn't that sweet?" when the hero wins his beloved. In this movie, I felt like saying, "Big deal. So what?" Lamenting the defeat of the main villainess probably didn't help.

Some chick flick potential because of Johnny Depp and the love story part of the plot. It's not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

Conclusion: Don't expect a masterpiece and you'll have a good time.

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