Tim Burton and Johnny Depp return for another bizarre collaboration, this time with Dark Shadows, the movie based on the '70s TV show of the same name. I went and watched it out of morbid curiosity, having never even heard of the source series, with only the Depp and Burton angle to keep me interested. Surely there's something more I can scratch from the surface?
Dark Shadows is the story of Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), a wealthy playboy from the 1700s, who loved and spurned a lot of women in his lifetime. Unfortunately, one of those spurn-ees is the witch Angelique Bouchard (played devilishly well by Eva Green), who curses him to live as a vampire and locks him in a box for all eternity. He is accidentally freed in the 1970s, and reunites with his dysfunctional descendants. Now it's up to him to protect his new-found family at all costs from Angelique, who lusts after him after all these years!
Visually, Dark Shadows is stylish and sexy, bringing to life the funky and carefree 70s to a tee. The costumes, sets and soundtrack are deliciously retro, and serves to underline how out of place Barnabas is in the flower power era. Burton's attention to detail is mesmerizing, and you're never pulled away from the story, especially with Depp at the center of it all.
Depp is the draw here, obviously, and he doesn't disappoint. His fish-out-of-water turn as Barnabas Collins is funny, oftentimes creepy, but ultimately noble. Depp tries his best to steer his Barnabas Collins into somewhere new and exciting, but I can't help but hear a little Jack Sparrow coming through every now and then. Still, it's a hoot to watch him bring Barnabas to (un)life, and seeing everybody else play off of him. That's what separates Depp from the rest of the rabble, the focus he gives to the characters he inhabits...a focus that Dark Shadows, unfortunately, lacks.
Ultimately, Dark Shadows suffers from not really being sure of what it wants to do. The tone shifts from comedic to frightening to dramatic, the emotional weight of each scene as fleeting and ethereal as the era it's set in. The Collins family is all but forgettable, the saving grace being Michelle Pfeiffer's turn as matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (whose world-weary yet sharp personality really resonated with me). Nothing really digs their hooks deep enough in you, except maybe for Barnabas' love-hate relationship with his nemesis Angelique, whose obsession with the man she turned into a vampire leads to some funny and sexy moments, some of the few moments in the film I actually liked.
It's strange, because you'd expect at least a little bit more quirkiness from Burton, but the film never fully embraces its fantastic, supernatural roots, always skirting the topic while Depp does his thing. And it's only during the last climactic minutes that Burton decides to go full Burton, filling the screen with all the supernatural elements the film desperately needed, and the audience is left to digest all of this, too much too late.
Bottom line, Dark Shadows is a movie for the hardcore Johnny Depp fans, who'll find lots to like in Johnny alone. Anybody else looking for something more are sadly left in the dark.