Having never seen the 1970’s supernatural soap opera Dark Shadows, I can’t truly gauge how successful Tim Burton’s adaption is as a faithful retelling of the original. However, as a stand-alone work, Burton has crafted something quintessentially true to his unique style. There is something to be said for his ability to deftly combine the tragic, the comic, the epically gothic and the mundane into a coherent vision.
This story of a 17th century vampire released into the 1970s after two centuries of imprisonment is at once a fish-out-of-water comedy and an analysis of a dysfunctional family in ruin. In the 1700’s, the Collins family founded an entire town on the success of their fishing enterprise. Barnabas Collins foolishly found himself spurning the advances of Angelique, an immortal witch with the power to curse him to immortality as a vampire. When he returns, he is devastated to find that not only has the world changed in ways he cannot comprehend, but that the dysfunctional descendants of his once-powerful family have become the laughingstock of the town.
As always, Johnny Depp has managed to craft a character unlike any I’ve seen. A comedic Nosferatu, Depp appears to savor the delivery of every line. Never breaking from his 18th century dialect, the eloquent dramatics of the character provides a perfect counter-balance to the over-the-top depictions of 1970’s stereotypes. This is a film that thrives on conflicting viewpoints, with Barnabas appearing as the odd one to the 1970’s cast, but with the 1970’s lifestyle appearing just as odd to a modern audience. The original television show was actually from the 1970’s, which leaves me wondering just how comedic the original source material actually was.
In bringing this world to life, the entire cast does exemplary work. Burton has brought back several of his regulars, not just Depp. Helena Bonham Carter plays the Collins’ live-in psychiatrist, and Michelle Pfeiffer gives her best performance in years as the head of the household. Eva Green is incredibly creepy with her demonically twisted portrayal of Angelique, Chloe Grace Moretz continues her terrific run of choices as the brooding teenager with a secret, Jackie Earle Haley is hilarious as the groundskeeper and on and on. These are all terrific actors, completely in tune with the sensibilities of the film.
Of course, what would a Tim Burton be without his incredible visual style? This film offers him the opportunity to create some of his most original imagery in years. The scope of this film is huge, with elaborate special effects and mammoth set-pieces. He went so far as to create the entire town that the film takes place. Beyond that, the Collins’ manor that houses most of the action is a work of art, with exquisitely designed architecture that feels at once real, and of another world.
There is a lot of spectacle on display, and it’s all documented very well in the nine “Focus Points” that are included in the recently released Blu-Ray from Warner Bros. Anything you could want to know about the production is detailed, from character design to wardrobe to the city itself. While these nine segments are viewable as sporadic popups through the film, I found myself watching them all together as one long feature after the fact. Put together, they form a pretty compelling argument for Burton’s genius. There are also a few deleted scenes, that while aren’t necessarily bad, don’t necessarily add much to the film.
I’ve always been a huge fan of Burton’s style, and this supernatural comedy seems tailor made for him. How can a movie with vampires, ghosts, witches and werewolves not be great? The Blu-Ray itself is a fantastic set, with a gorgeously pristine picture, and a terrific sound-mix featuring classic rock from the 70’s and a great new soundtrack from Danny Elfman. I know that the film got a lot of negative buzz when it was released in theatres, but I attribute that to the odd mix of tone. I can understand why this would be off-putting to some, but it was the conflicting styles that I found most endearing. While not for everybody, this is a must-see for Burton fans. Not only a great film, for me, this is one of the year’s biggest surprises.
Dark Shadows is now available on Blu-ray Combo pack, DVD and for download!