Once upon a time, the Burton-Depp partnership was such a sure thing with every project they entered into that they seemed to have the monopoly on quirky Gothic tales; we fell in love with Edward Scissorhands and were enchanted by Corpse Bride. So the chance to see the pair collaborate on a feature-film version of Dan Curtis’s much-loved TV show, Dark Shadows, seemed like ideal material. However, as has been the case since Alice in Wonderland, too much of a good thing has led to them becoming complacent and lacking any new ideas.
Burton fans will find some satisfaction in Dark Shadows as Depp does his stiff upper-class English gent take once more, but they will be disappointed in the lack of substance – however superficially easy on the brain this film is. It is a fair adaptation of the TV show that will entertain, but it was also ripe for so much more twisted fun than it offers, which is a shame with such a show-stopping cast at the fore.
Depp plays Barnabas Collins, son of a fishing merchant who is turned into a creature of the night by his spurned love, witch Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), and rises from the ‘dead’ after a 200-year slumber. Now it’s 1970s’ America in his home town of Collinsport, and Barnabas, complete with a ferocious thirst returns to the family mansion to find his descendants living in disarray and near poverty: head of the house is Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), her moody teen daughter Carolyn Stoddard (Chloë Grace Moretz), her scoundrel brother Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller) and his grieving son David (Gulliver McGrath) and their odd, alcoholic psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter). The only sight for sore eyes is David’s new governess Victoria (Bella Heathcote) who looks the spitting image of Barnabas’s tragic lost love Josette. Old-fashioned Barnabas must cope with modern ways and a vengedful old fiend who is ruining the family fortunes.
The tragic thing about Burton’s new offering is all the cast are literally superb in their individual role playing, each delighting any audience going to see a typical Burton parade of oddballs, and Depp does not disappoint with some hilarious observations and one-liners that question some of modern-day living’s screwed up values. Nostalgia is always a potent thing to draw on. However, the tempestuous Barnabas- Angelique show aside, all these intriguing personalities and their issues are never fully explored – as you might expect when trying to condense a TV series – or properly layered to satisfy having them all present, making the outcome seem frivolous. Like the two-dimensionality of Disney cartoons, the characters merely serve the Depp show highs and lows. It also seems like Burton is tiring of his eccentric missus, Bonham Carter, too, who gets to be erratic in this but does not get nearly enough screen-time to entertain fully.
Those expecting a crazed Noughties Beetlejuice – which the trailer suggests – of which someone like Depp would be perfect to follow in the maniacal shoes of Michael Keaton will be left sorely wanting because the Burton other-worldly imagination is missing. The only resurrecting grace is Depp’s now routine, freak pantomime performance and the bewitching Green in some wild frocks – oh, and a brief Alice Cooper appearance because he happens to spell ‘Goth’ in music world terms. You will scream with frustration at this ghoulish comedy, that’s for sure. Let’s hope Frankenweenie this year rekindles the Burton magic.