No one does Gothic quite like Team Tim. For a guy like me,
that’s the deciding factor. In visual terms, Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows tips the Gothic scale, from the
crumbling majesty of Collinwood Manor to the shots of Widow’s Hill and the
raging sea below, to the seacoast village of Collinsport, and the Collins
family graveyard that makes its appearance in the final frames of the film,
this IS the world of Dark
For the most part, the movies takes the plot of the first
year and a half or so from the original TV show and compresses it into 115
minutes: young woman with mysterious past comes to Collinwood to be governess
to troubled little boy and runs afoul of morose family in a dank mansion
which has seen better days. Enter vampire whose presence sends the ratings
through the roof, and the writers send the entire cast back to the 18th
Century to explore the beginnings of the vampire’s curse. All of this is
dispatched in the first twenty minutes or so of the film. It is easily the best
But what about the Collins family themselves? Michelle Pfeiffer’s
Elizabeth Collins Stoddard and Chloe Mertz’s scene-stealing Carolyn Stoddard
remain the most faithful to the series’ characters while riffing and expanding
on the original ideas. On the show, little David was a cross between a brat and
a true creep (mostly, I think, due to the fact that the actor, David Hennessy,
who allegedly does not have fond memories of being a child actor, must have
loathed every excruciating day of it). Gulliver McGrath’s David is a sweet
natured child with alleged psychiatric problems, but the character as written
is sadly underdeveloped. The writers missed a terrific opportunity to riff on
that other classic dark haired five-year-old, Damien Thorne. And then there is
Roger Collins whose written character and performance by Jonny Lee Miller are
so far off the mark he should have been one of Barnabas’s first victims.
Which brings us to the star of the show, Mr. Depp. Johnny IS Barnabas Collins, even with the
Nosferatu hands (which are one of the best additions to the character). He is
handsome, pasty, stylish, courtly, bewildered, romantic, sexy, and ruthless…
everything the character of Barnabas Collins should be.
Out of the extended family, I enjoyed housekeeper Mrs.
Johnson the most. She’s only onscreen in a few short scenes and speaks not a
word, but every time I saw her I burst out with a robust guffaw. Jackie Earle
Haley turned in a fun performance as Willie Loomis but, like other characters,
wasn’t given enough to do. John Karlen’s reading of Willie on the original show
was one of the most nuanced performances, especially when compared to the
relentless scene-chewing of Grayson Hall’s Dr. Julia Hoffman. Helena Bonham
Carter looks the part, but she would have turned in a better performance if she
had watched several week’s worth of Hall’s TV version and expanded on that
hamminess. Even her drunk scenes (which are most of them) are uninspired. I’m a
big fan of HBC, but this is one of her least interesting performances.
But the biggest misstep of character reinvention is
Angelique Bouchard. The power struggle between witch Angelique and vampire Barnabas
is the core of the movie’s plot, as well it should be, but here the producers
decided to turn her into a high camp vamp straight out of True Blood
. That’s fine in Bon Temps, but this is Collinsport. I’m
easily bored with special effects fight scenes in movies, and the final
showdown between Elizabeth
shotgun and Angelique was too much for me… and was a poorly executed steal from
Death Becomes Her
There were two drafts of the script, the first by John August
who shares the “story by” credit with final script writer Seth Grahame-Smith.
The production would have benefited from a bit more fleshing out of the minor
characters and less emphasis on Hollywood
spectacle FX. Dark Shadows
require explosions and car crashes, but that, metaphorically speaking, is
exactly how this movie ends. A third script might have given this viewer more
Other hard core Dark
Shadows fans are hating all over Tim Burton for “ruining” their sacred cow.
I’ve run through lists of current directors who could possibly do the series
justice. Robert Altman is dead, that leaves someone like Paul Thomas Anderson
who excels at the type of ensemble story telling the tale of Dark Shadows requires.
Ten years ago I made a wish list for a big screen
adaptation, and it always was a Tim and Johnny Show. In reinterpreting the
Gothic world of the Collins family for a new generation, they have succeeded.
Tim just needed a better script.