Friday, May 11, 2012

Dark Shadows [2012]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (L) Roger Ebert (2 1/2 Stars) Fr. Dennis (2 Stars)

IMDb Listing
Roger Ebert's Review

Dark Shadows, directed by Tim Burton, screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith, story by John August and Seth-Grahame-Smith, is IMHO a rather flat reboot of Dan Curtis' 60s era television series Dark Shadows, introduces viewers of a new generation to some of the key characters in the series.  It seems more or less obvious to me that the film is intended to be the first of a new franchise.  Still, it's hard for me to get excited about that prospect of a coming series of films for reasons that I'll get to by the end of this review.  But rather than get into spoilers in the first paragraph, let's first talk about the set-up of the story ...

The film begins with an extended voice-over by Barnabas Collins (played by Johnny Depp) explaining his tragic situation: Several centuries ago, his father Joshua Collins (played by Yvan Kaye) had come from England to New England (still largely wild, unsettled Maine) to start a fishing business.  He proved to be extremely successful.  As a result, a town named Collinsville formed around his fishing outpost.  And on a imposing hill above that town, he was able construct an imposing family manor home in the style of British gentry of the time.  It was into that life that Barnabas was born.  His father was literally "king of the hill," success written over everything that he had ever done.  However ...

As Barnabas approached adulthood, a French-accented servant girl Angelique Bouchard (played by Eva Green) fell in love with him.  But, Barnabas' heart fell for another Josette DuPres (played by Bella Heathcote).  [For those wondering about all these French named / accented characters in the story, remember that Maine (actually then part of Massachusetts) would have been the northernmost colony of the British at the time and that north of Maine would have been both Quebec and Acadia, which had been French colonies]. 

Well Barnabas discovered soon-enough that he turned-down the affections of the wrong woman, for Angelique, "low born" though she may have seemed, was witch.  And, as the saying goes, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned..."  So Angelique exacts terrible revenge -- taking-down Barnabas' parents in a seemingly unfortunate accident, driving Josette into committing suicide and finally turning Barnabas into vampire, who she denounces to the townspeople.  The townspeople, knowing of the terrible misfortunes that had taken place in the Collins' manor of late, need little convincing then to condemn Barnabas to an awful fate.  Since as a vampire he was eternal, then decide to bury him ("alive") in his casket deep in an unmarked grave somewhere way outside of town.  So that's where Barnabas places himself at the end his beginning voice-over ... ever-cursedly "alive" but trapped, buried in his casket, underground, seemingly for all eternity ...

The story commences anew some 200 years later in the 1970s.  A road crew building a new highway to town comes across the the casket.  They open it ... and out comes Barnabas ... much ensues ...

Among that which ensues is Barnabas' discovery that though his family, the Collins', still live in town, indeed, in the same old, though now heavily delapidated, manor house, their honor has been been horribly shattered over the generations.  Their once proud fishery/canning business had been all but destroyed by a business that had been run by a succession of  "strong women" all apparently named according to variations of ... Angelique ;-).  In her current incarnation, she goes by the name Angie (of course still played by Eva Green).  Interestingly, it takes Barnabas return to make the connection, for the current Collins' were not exactly the brightest of people.

Elizabeth Collins Studdard (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) is the most capable, but in the absence of anyone else with any spine has been reduced to being harried matriarch trying to just keep the family together.  Her brother Roger Collins (played by played by Jonny Lee Miller) rudderless, perhaps on account of the loss of his wife, perhaps because he was always a listless loser living off of his family's ever dwindling past fortune, appeared to be hanging around the manor because it offered a roof over his head.  Elizabeth's daughter Carolyn (played by Chloe Grace Moretz) was something of a spoiled brat.

Nephew David Collins (played by Gulliver McGrath), Roger's son, traumatized by the sudden/terrible death of his mother (played by Josephine Butler) "sees ghosts."  As a result, Elizabeth got him both a live-in psychiatrist Dr Julia Hoffman (played by Helna Bonham Carter) and a governess, Vicky/Victoria Winters, who looks a heck of a lot like ... Josette (and indeed she's also played by Bella Heathcote).  To round-out the significant characters in the cast, there's also the bumbling groundskeeper Willie Loomis (played by Jackie Earle Haley).

None of these characters, however, not even Elizabeth, really had a clue of what they were up against until that road-crew unearthed Barnabas' casket and "he came home" to give them a fighting chance to recover their family's former glory/honor.  Indeed, as the byline to the movie suggests "Every family has its demons" and it was only after Barnabas comes back, that the family began to comprehend the origins of its difficulties ...
All this may be true, and much indeed ensues ...  To be honest, however, though the film-makers more or less obviously hint at sequels, I'm not sure how they'd pull it off.  I say this, because if I was looking to make sequels, I'd make sure that a different constellation of characters was left standing at the end of this one.  But then, why the obvious hints?

Still the film has its humor, and avid B-movie film-goers will catch more or less obvious homages to The Exorcist [1973], The Sixth Sense [1999], Sucker Punch 2011] and Twilight Breaking Dawn [2011].

In the final analysis, however, I just wish that the film offered a better sense of where it wanted to go.  As such, I do have to rate the movie as something of a disappointment.

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