Corpse of a Film

A great look can't revive the dull 'Dark Shadows' script

A lot of work and a lot of money have gone into Tim Burton's Dark Shadows, a big-screen adaptation of that strangest of strange soap operas that ran in the late 1960s and early '70s.

The saga of tortured vampire Barnabas Collins proves to be a nice exercise for the eyes, but the stuff coming out of people's mouths and the pacing of the film are too languid to keep a person's interest.

Burton has his go-to guys here: Johnny Depp steps into the infamous role of Barnabas (the original Barnabas, Jonathan Frid, died recently), while Danny Elfman provides the soundtrack. Unfortunately, Depp drones on and on with seemingly every line, while Elfman's meandering soundtrack fails to liven up the film. As a result, Dark Shadows is monstrously boring for much of its running time.

The film's opening is set 200 years ago, with a quick glance at Barnabas' childhood and his time on the planet as a young adult. After a quick affair with family servant Angelique (Eva Green), he turns his amorous attentions to the beautiful Josette (Bella Heathcote).

Angelique, who dabbles in witchcraft, compels Josette to do something very sad, and has something worse in store for Barnabas: He's going to spend the rest of his years as a vampire. Furthermore, he will spend eternity buried in a coffin.

Of course, nearly every parcel of ground in the United States will eventually be dug up to make way for a McDonald's or something, so Barnabas is freed two centuries later, and returns to his mansion at Collinwood to meet his relatives.

Michelle Pfeiffer plays the stately Elizabeth Collins Stoddard with her usual grace, while Chloë Grace Moretz is actually slightly annoying as her rebellious, grumpy daughter Carolyn. Johnny Lee Miller plays Roger, the flaky family patriarch, and Helena Bonham Carter gets her usual Burton film role as the strange doctor.

Youngest son David (Gulliver McGrath) can see dead people, and so can his new nanny, Victoria. Victoria is also played by Heathcote, which creates all sorts of confusion for Barnabas, who still longs for his dead girlfriend.

This would seem to be a fun setup for a clashing of sensibilities. No such luck: Most of Dark Shadows has Depp in a dreary soap-opera mode, with him whining about his predicament or the nonevents of the day. There is surprisingly little action, and when there is action, it isn't anything to get worked up about.

The potentially interesting story of Victoria is pushed into the background, and more of an emphasis is placed on the Barnabas/Angelique rivalry. Their crazy sex scene is supposed to be played for comic effect, but it feels like it should be in another movie.

I was under the impression that the film would have a more satiric and comedic tone. However, the efforts at comedy fall flat and don't feel integrated. This is surprising, considering how Burton's efforts at comedy have been so successful in the past. His other gothic epic, Sleepy Hollow, had some great laughs. There is not much to laugh at here, even when Alice Cooper drops by the mansion for an evening of entertainment. The Cooper presence is a wasted opportunity.

Burton has made a good-looking movie. The film's most-interesting visual is the ghost of Josette floating around the house and swinging around the chandelier. (It looks very much like something you would see in Disney's Haunted Mansion.)

Obviously, you need much more than pretty pictures to tell a good story, and the script for Dark Shadows stinks. As a result, this is the second lackluster pairing of Depp and Burton in a row, after the lousy Alice in Wonderland.

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