There are just some teams that work together so well, it seems like they were born to be together: Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, Abbott and Costello, the 1980s and big hair.
And then there are team ups that you wish would just break up and never work together again for the sake of everyone’s sanity. For one, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. At first, it was great, but slowly and surely it began to lose that spark, and one has to wonder why Burton doesn’t diversify a little in the casting department. But does that spark return, or remain dormant, in their latest feature?
This week on Manic Movie Magic, let’s talk about Dark Shadows.
Based on a 1960’s American gothic soap opera who mixed the usual dramatics with supernatural elements, Dark Shadows is a remake starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Michelle Pfeiffer. The tale follows the tragic life of Barnabas Collins, who after being turned into a vampire and escaping his two hundred year prison, must somehow bring the Collins family of 1972 into one functional unit. It’s got Tim Burton written all over it, more or less.
My biggest worry going into this movie was the fact that their previous project was the terrible Alice in Wonderland, which was loved by few, and so it was questionable whether the Burton-Depp-Carter combo could pull off a good movie. I have plenty of friends who were very worried about its quality after the tremendous disappointment surrounding the film.
So let’s get down to business. Does the premise work? Well, kind of. Having a stuffy old vampire returning from the 18th century trying to talk to a family falling apart in the 1970s is funny, and it works as a silent running gag throughout the film. And Johnny Depp plays it to a tee – if there was anyone to play this character, no one could do so better. He’s not wacky in a weird, inappropriate way like with the Mad Hatter (how you can do the Mad Hatter incorrectly in and of itself is a difficult task), but he’s a perfect balance of stiff, proper, and overly dramatic.
Carter herself is not the main love interest, thank goodness, ’cause I’m getting really tired her being the center of the film. She’s not on screen for very long, and doesn’t play a very pivotal part but her presence in the film is at least bearable, and provides a little more interaction with Johnny Depp’s character and figures science into the world of the supernatural.
Pfeiffer herself straddles the line between serious and camp much better than Carter or Depp, acting as the grandiose matriarch of the family, brooding but caring, hard as steel but still vulnerable. If there’s anyone who captured the real feel of the film, it would her. Not to mention, what other female actress past her prime can wield a rifle and not look ridiculous?
But the person who I felt was the best of the bunch was the witch Angelique, played by Eva Green. Overdramatic to a fault, playing the duality of a sweet angel to a cruel sorceress like a true pro. I mean, you even forgot that she was an actress, she felt like a real, three-dimensional person, which only makes the lack of screen time she gets outside of the obligatory villain scenes all the more tragic. But she brings a ton of charm and fun to the film. Everyone else in the cast works well within the plot to varying degrees, but nothing worth mentioning.
The cinematography shows off some beautiful color contrasts that screams disco and the death of the hippie generation as it clashes with that wonderful American gothic look and feel that could be achieved by an old mansion atop a cliff with waves constantly crashing in the background. The film doesn’t overuse special effects, which is a relief considering how bad it can get, and the use of sweeping shots and crashing waves on the rocks feel very much like the soap opera it parodies.
What I didn’t like were a lot of the shoed in elements towards the end, including the love interest who wasn’t in the film enough to warrant any special attention, as well as other elements. Also, I was surprised how sexual in nature it was for a PG-13 film. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be there, but it’s just a little out of place, even for a movie based on an overdramatic television show from the 1960s.
Overall, I think Dark Shadows is a great step forward from Alice in Wonderland, but it still lacks in the plot department because of the overabundance of style. Still, even while it’s not the best, it’s pretty enjoyable on most accounts.
Next week, unless I can somehow get to the theater to see something new, it’s going to be the ultimate guilty pleasure horror film, Skeleton Key.