Combustible Celluloid
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With: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller, Bella Heathcote, Chlo‘ Grace Moretz, Gulliver McGrath, Ray Shirley, Christopher Lee, Alice Cooper, Ivan Kaye, Susanna Cappellaro, Josephine Butler
Written by: Seth Grahame-Smith, based on a story by John August and Seth Grahame-Smith, and on a TV series created by Dan Curtis
Directed by: Tim Burton
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking
Running Time: 113
Date: 09/05/2012

Dark Shadows (2012)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Blood and Soap

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The stage is set and all of the props are in place for Tim Burton's Dark Shadows to be one of his best movies, but it doesn't quite get there. Based on the beloved cult TV soap opera of 1966-1971, Dark Shadows is Burton's deepest foray into tormented romance since Edward Scissorhands. Previously, in that film and in others, he successfully worked with a cartoonish visual humor, and a grand, oversized operatic essence. But whereas he seems comfortable with opera, he seems to balk at the notion of soap, diluting it with a silly sense of humor.

Johnny Depp stars as Barnabas Collins, a prominent citizen of Collinsport, Maine, who had the misfortune of breaking the heart of a witch, Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). She retaliates by turning Barnabas into a vampire, and burying him for 200 years. When he escapes, it's 1972. He returns to his family mansion, which is occupied by a new generation of Collinses, including Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) and young Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz). Additionally, a new governess (Bella Heathcote), who resembles Barnabas's lost love, turns up. Barnabas tries to restore the family's glory, and its fishing business, but Angelique is still alive and bent on possessing Barnabas at any cost.

This all sounds plenty soapy, but Burton and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith -- the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies -- spend a great deal of time on"fish-out-of-water" jokes as Barnabas tries to grasp the logic andtechnology of the 1970s. Additionally dozens of "needle drops" range from cool tunes by T. Rex tocheesy songs by the Carpenters. Frankly, this stuff has been done, a lot, going all the way back to thelow-budget The Spirit of '76 (1990).

Judging by the visuals, including some 1960s-style ultra-red movie blood, and some of the more dramatic, passionate sequences, it appears that Burton might have been ready for melodrama. But he must have flinched and fell back on the jokes just in case audiences weren't ready for that kind of heightened emotional intensity. It would have helped if the jokes were as weirdly funny as in his best comedies (Pee-wee' s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, and Ed Wood), but they're mostly just references and insults. In Burton's greatest works, the visual gags wrap up nicely with the visual drama. Dark Shadows comes close to this, but by relying on the silly, safe humor, he undercuts the force of what could have been a romance for all time.

Warner Home Video has released a two-disc package, with a DVD, Blu-ray and Ultraviolet digital copy. The sound quality is excellent, while the picture quality reflects the movie's overwhelming art design, resulting in a kind of artificial look for the Blu-ray. Extras include the "maximum movie mode," wherein interviews and other goodies play along with the movie; viewers have the option to play these as individual featurettes as well. There are also about 5 minutes of pretty good deleted scenes.

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