Barnabas and Burton are Back
Film Review: "DARK SHADOWS"
Published: Friday, May 11, 2012
Updated: Saturday, May 12, 2012 13:05
And Tim Burton returned, and there was much rejoicing. After a sad decade-and-a-half of work that produced nothing but faux epics like “PLANET OF THE APES” and “ALICE AND WONDERLAND” and unfunny claptrap like “CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY” and “MARS ATTACKS!”, he has produced a film in “DARK SHADOWS” that is every bit as funny and as inspired as his early work (though it may not be their equal in quality.) Fear not: this is not another sad and empty reboot, far from it. Rather, it’s a perfect match of artist and source.
What I think really has invigorated Burton is the sheer trashiness of the aesthetic he’s working from. That’s the thing: the campiness of his early work is nowhere to be found in “CHARLIE”, “APES”, “ALICE”, “CORPSE BRIDE”, etc.; and it’s imbued in every single moment of “DARK SHADOWS” (and also in his sole equally great work from this time period, “SWEENEY TODD”, though the credit for that one goes to Sondheim.) His film here, about a vampire (Barnabas Collins, played by Johnny Depp) buried in the 1790’s and unearth in the 1970’s to return to his family, allows him to play around with all his favorite tropes: fish-out-of-water themes, sight gags, narratives about eternal love, groups of misfits banded together, and tragic violence (not to mention the fact that it’s his kinkiest movie since “BATMAN RETURNS” – and it’s even funnier.)
And what makes it so funny is that he doesn’t get caught up on these sight gags or vampire trope jokes; everything’s coming from a place of character. The supporting cast (Michelle Phieffer, Chloe Moretz, the luscious Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter, and even Christopher Lee) supports Depp with numerous opportunities to play off his woeful ignorance and old-fashioned ways; including a cameo that I wish the lovely opening credits sequence hadn’t spoiled. It keeps this from turning into a never-ending series of eccentric jokes – by the time you get to the payoffs, with Depp “facing off” against his vampire mistress, among other climaxes, it’s all character.
“DARK SHADOWS” isn’t a Burton masterpiece by any means. It’s certainly a bit draggy at almost two hours (though it’s certainly designed for IMAX – not how I saw it - where I imagine the scope of the compositions takes far greater hold and probably improves the pace,) it has none of the tight structuring of his best efforts. But it’s also fucking uproarious, and its old school (2D and proud!) style is a breath of fresh air in this sadly three dimensional summer. This is a return to form, and I couldn’t be happier.