Friday, May 11, 2012

TOP FIVE: My Opinion of the New DARK SHADOWS Movie; Plus, The Five Best Print Media Reviews

Among We Love Soaps staff, I am alone. I am totally unfamiliar with the original DARK SHADOWS. I don't know if it is because of, or in spite of, that fact, that I was able to enjoy the new film. However, after reading dozens reviews from major media outlets, I can say for sure that there are many other reviewers out there (most of whom at least feign intimacy with the iconic ABC gothic soap opera) who share my positive reaction.

Before I present my choices for the best professional print assessments of this extraordinarily anticipated motion picture event--and by best, I of course mean those that I agree with the most, though a clear and engaging expression of their opinion is also important--I want to offer my own thumbnail critique.

Anyone who expects a satisfying resolution from a film inspired by a 1,225 episode soap opera is positively daft, and anyone who claims boredom is lying. Cut through the "I'm too cool/ironic/effete to enjoy Burton/soaps/jokes" protestations and generally there is only one real problem people have with DARK SHADOWS: the denouement is lacking. And I definitely agree. I was totally distraught about three quarters of the way through--delightfully distraught--and terribly thrilled to discover how it all would end. Alas, I was disappointed. Most critics agree. I don't think anyone is going to love the ending.

Otherwise, I'm here to say that I liked DARK SHADOWS.  It is lavish, lush, and magnificently beautiful;  it's romantic and Romantic; it's surprisingly pro-family; it's eccentric, intriguing, and (reasonably) intelligent;  and it's consistently (and occasionally, hilariously) funny.  Go see it this weekend, and then tell me what you think in the comments section, below.  Now, my picks for top commentary:

"Of all the morbid beauties in Tim Burton’s work, the spooky goth girls and deathly pale boys, none wear their ghoulishness as lightly or winningly as Johnny Depp. And what a bewitching corpse he makes in “Dark Shadows,” Mr. Burton’s most pleasurable film in years.

"Mr. Burton’s exquisite detail work, his playfulness and macabre wit are justification enough for such an ephemeral enterprise, which fondly revisits the creaky, supernatural-themed American daytime soap that ran from 1966 to 1971. Created by Dan Curtis, whose other creep shows included “Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” “Dark Shadows” became a cult favorite when it introduced Barnabas (Jonathan Frid, who died last month), a vampire hero drawn along far more romantic lines than Bram Stoker’s Dracula."

"Depp, 48, a childhood fan of the soap opera, eagerly dons white greasepaint and a waistcoat to extravagantly play Barnabas Collins far less seriously than in the character’s 1969-1971 heyday (which included a pair of theatrical spinoff features).

"What stayed with me most was not the undernourished story line but the film’s cool visuals — the many sliding doors in Collin-wood Manor and wonderfully detailed docks in Collinsport and 19th-century Liverpool, all constructed on English soundstages and impeccably photographed by Bruno Delbonnel.
Maybe it’s because I share Burton’s twisted affection for the 1970s, but for all its shortcomings, I’d sooner watch a sequel to “Dark Shadows’’ than another installment of the bloated “Pirates of the Caribbean’’ saga any day."

"When Barnabus returns to Collinwood, he meets some of his descendants: Elizabeth (the still sensational Michelle Pfeiffer), her pouty nymphet daughter, Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), a dissolute Collins heir named Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) and his sweetly sensitive young son, David (Gulliver McGrath). Also at large in the massive, down-at-heel pile: a psychiatrist named Dr. Hoffman, played by Burton's wife, Helena Bonham Carter, with blowsy, wide-beamed brio, and a wide-eyed governess named Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote).

"The best part of "Dark Shadows" is Collinwood itself, rendered by Burton as a fascinating temporal collage in which a family lives in genteel poverty, sipping their coffee from Pier One cups amid 18th-century finery gathering dust."

"It's difficult to pay tribute to something in earnest and yet spoof it at the same time. Err too far on the side of sincerity, and you have something that rings false. Take the satire too far, and you have a movie that's funny for 15 minutes and then meaningless for the next hour and a half.

"But in "Dark Shadows," Tim Burton and screenwriters Seth Grahame-Smith and John August get the balance right. They don't get it perfect. There are times, not too many, when the movie drags. But when you consider all the pitfalls avoided, and all the laughs and pleasures it provides along the way, "Dark Shadows" is a satisfying and skillful effort.

"So "Dark Shadows" works two kinds of comedy - comic dislocation and period satire. But wait, there's more. When Barnabas returns to his ancestral home, the lady of the house, his distant relation (Michelle Pfeiffer), makes him promise not to tell the rest of the household that he's a vampire. And so we get a perfect farce setup, in which the audience knows what's going on but most of the characters are only confused, as Barnabas picks up a fork and blithely remarks, 'Had this been real silver, my hand would have burst into flame at the slightest touch.'"

"Barnabas, at heart, is really rather conservative. He's sweet, a touch recessive, and not ultimately very threatening. He's a courtly dandy, a gentleman. After arriving at Collinwood Manor, the moldering 200-room mansion that his descendants still occupy, he meets Victoria (Bella Heathcote), the governess who's the reincarnation of the girl he once loved, and he can't believe that she's known as Vicky. ''A name like Victoria is so beautiful,'' he purrs in his plummy British accent, ''that I could not bear to part with a single syllable of it.'' And he means it! In 1972, Barnabas is an archaic romantic nobleman out of Jane Austen. He's not just undead; in the hippie-gone-glam era, he's mind-bendingly uncool. Which, ironically, is what sort of is cool — and freakish — about him.

"Depp's performance is more than just funny — it's ghoulishly endearing. He caresses each line with great care, as if it were a piece of candy he's unwrapping, and he gives Barnabas, in his very ''demonic'' intensity, a quality of almost elfin innocence that recalls the characters Depp has most memorably played for Burton: Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, and Willy Wonka.

"Dark Shadows, a kinky love triangle, is true, in its fashion, to the spirit of the old soap opera. Yet its real love affair is between Johnny Depp and the audience who's still hooked on seeing him get his freak on."

- Dark Shadows Video Introduces The Collins Family; Sequel Under Consideration
- Johnny Depp & 'Dark Shadows' Cover Entertainment Weekly
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  2. As a true fan of the original show, the old theatrical films, the NBC primetime revival, the comic strip, the comic books and everything in between - I have to admit I enjoyed the film at times and up to a point.

    The first 30 to 45 minutes were very enjoyable - but once the "Carpenters montage" and pointless fish canning plot line began the film lost it's focus and the insulting implied oral sex between Dr. Julia Hoffmann and Barnabas lost my faith in the story completely.The rest of the film from that point on is a total mess.

    Moreover, Burton & co. did nothing to create the creepiness of the original series nor managed to use the iconic DS theme music in any effective way other than a small sample before the opening credits.

    Underused characters and actors seemingly disappeared while we focused on Depp's utter silliness and Eva Green's disappointing portrayal of Angelique.

    The ending could have been more satisfying, but at least it wrapped up what little plot we were given and left the door open for a better non-Burton sequel.

    In the scale of 10, I'd give it a solid 5.5

  3. Doug, thanks for your thoughts.

    One of the most interesting points you make is that, a la the Harry Potter films, maybe there will be a non-Burton sequel. Intriguing notion. Curious what another director would make of it.

    My favorite line of yours is "at times and up to a point." Perfect, succinct phrase to sum up the entire experience! What's also very interesting to me is that I, as a noob, and you, as a "true fan of the original show," both have roughly the same reaction to much of the film.

    What do you think about my sense that it may have been less of a "total mess" at certain points if they were not trying so hard to leverage several years worth of soap story? Do you also think they may have been too ambitious?