I recently had the opportunity to watch the movie Dark Shadows, the latest in an ever growing empire of Tim Burton movies. Based on a television series of the same name, that aired between 1966 and 1971, the movie had a lot of potential to be yet another smash hit for Tim Burton and his regular clan of Burtonites. So it was with high expectations that I curled up in front of my TV, ready to be entertained by the great and mighty Tim Burton. Here are some of my thoughts on the movie and it’s cast…
Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is the protagonist in the movie, cursed by a jealous and heartbroken witch to live eternally as a vampire. He is buried alive and stays underground for almost 200 years, when he is accidentally freed from his subterranean prison. He rises to find the world a very different place and must try to adapt to the ways of the world as he joins his descendants still living in the family mansion.
Johnny Depp has always been one of my favourite actors (and not just because of his looks). He has brought many a character to life in ways people could never have imagined, he is a movie icon. Unfortunately this will not go down as one of his signature roles. I really found his portrayal of Barnabas Collins to be overly similar to that of Sweeny Todd. Granted the role did not leave too much opening for interpretation. The fact that he is also visually similar to both Sweeny Todd and The Hatter (Alice in Wonderland) did not help either.
Elizabeth Collins Stoddard
Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) is the matriarch of the remaining Collins clan. Strong and capable, she fights to maintain what is left of the Collins empire, while also dealing with her (supposedly) cursed and dysfunctional family.
Michelle Pfeiffer is a breath of fresh air breathed into the usual preferred cast that makes up a Tim Burton movie. She has always been a strong actress and doesn’t disappoint in her portrayal of Elizabeth.
Doctor Julia Hoffman
Doctor Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) is the family psychiatrist. Originally hired to help David Collins with the tragic loss of his mother, she ends up living with the family for five years as she attempts to help David get over his “disillusion” of still seeing his mother in ghost form. She meets her end after attempting to use Barnabas’ blood to become a vampire (in order to regain her beauty and youth and stay that way for all eternity).
Helena Bonham Carter is, of course, the biggest Burtonite of them all. Being married to one of the most popular directors in the business can’t hurt her casting opportunities, although she has proved herself in numerous movies not directed by her eccentric husband (such as her portrayal of Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter series and Marla Singer in Fight Club). As much as I adore her as an actress, her portrayal of this character doesn’t stand out any more than any of her other roles.
Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) has been in love with Barnabas since childhood. When he is a young man she offers her heart to him and is heartbroken when he spurns her offering. Further enraged by Barnabas’ engagement to his true love (Josette DuPres), she curses Josette to jump to her death from Widows Peak, after which she curses Barnabas to be a vampire. She then spends the next 200 years slowly taking over Collinsport as further revenge on Barnabas and all of his descendants.
I don’t know much about Eva Green, but she definitely does the role justice. Her ability to adapt the character from the original in the 1700’s to the suave, sophisticated version 200 years later is admirable.
Victoria Winters/Josette DuPres
Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote) becomes Barnabas’ new love interest when he meets her at Collinswood. She is insitutionalised at a young age by her parents, who are unable to deal with her claims of being able to see and hear ghosts. She escapes and is drawn by the ghost of Barnabas’ lost love, Josette DuPres, to Collinsport where she applies for the position of Governess to David Collins. Her character is a major point of contention for both fans and critics, as after falling from Widow’s Peak and being turned by Barnabas at the last minute she then responds to his whispering her name (Victoria) with “Josette”. This leaves the viewer wondering whether her soul has somehow been merged with that of Josette, or whether Josette has taken over her body? Either way there is no clear indication of what happens once she has been turned.
Carolyn Stoddard (Chloe Grace Moretz) is the teenage daughter of Elizabeth Stoddard Collins. Initially she comes across as the typical 70’s teenager, moody and desperate to rebel. Throughout the film there are a few extremely subtle hints that everything is not as it seems with Carolyn, but it is not until the very end of the movie that we discover that she is in fact a werewolf (which is apparently the true reason for her mood swings and occasionally violent outbursts).
Chloe Grace Moretz, best known for her role as Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass, appears to be stoned throughout the entire movie. Which I suppose fits the role of a teenager in the 70’s. Despite the very limiting role I think she managed to do the character very well and will be watching her career with interest in the future.
David Collins (Gulliver McGrath) is the son of Roger Collins, brother to Elizabeth Stoddard Collins. His family assume that he is traumatised by the loss of his mother when he tells them that he not only sees her, but regularly talks to her and feels her presence. He gains some relief from the pain of being different and misunderstood when he meets his new governess (Victoria) who is also clairvoyant and helps him understand that he is not as abnormal as his family believe.
David is quite a strong character after the arrival of Victoria and plays a pivotal role in the destruction of the witch Angelique. Gulliver McGrath is a a rising star amongst the child actor community and delivers quite a believable performance in this movie.
The movie opens on the fetid streets of Liverpool in 1760, as the Collins family are about to depart for America to begin a new life. They set up a small fishing port in Maine, naming it Collinsport after the family name. We see very little of Collinsport in the opening scenes of the movie and later when Barnabas has returned after his 200 year confinement it is a very different place indeed.
Collinsport is now the home of fisherman’s families and a large group of hippies. The streets are paved and the roads sporting Volkswagen vans and fishing trucks. Barnabas returns to his beloved mansion, Collinswood, to find it in a state of near ruin and decay. It is up to him to return his families legacy and restore the town and mansion to their former glory.
The soundtrack was one of the things that won me over with this film, having been set in the 70’s (for the most part) it has a stunning tracklist of early pop and rock legends including “Nights in White Satin” by The Moody Blues, “Top of the World” by The Carpenters, “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” by Barry White, “I’m Sick of You” by Iggy Pop, “Season of the Witch” by Donovan, “Get It On” by T. Rex and “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath.
The movie also has a stunning original score by Danny Elfman (yet another Burtonite), as well as a live performance by none other than Alice Cooper (more on that below). If the storyline doesn’t manage to draw you in, then the soundtrack definitely will!
The biggest guest appearance in the movie is, of course, Alice Cooper. He does a live performance of 2 of his songs – No More Mr. Nice Guy and Ballad of Dwight Fry – during the scene where Barnabas decides to throw a “happening” for all of the inhabitants of Collinsport to show that the Collins family is once again back in power in the town.
Alice Cooper looks pretty good in the above scene, considering he is currently 64 years old. Which leads me to believe that somewhere in Hollywood is a team of make-up artists weeping quietly over empty make-up trays…
The second guest appearance is that of Christopher Lee. He only plays a minor role in this movie, but Chistopher has been in enough Tim Burton movies to officially be classified as a Burtonite, and I feel that an actor of his calibre is always worth mentioning. After all, Saruman doesn’t act for just anybody 😉
Despite a few shortcomings, Dark Shadows is still a highly enjoyable movie and definitely worth watching. While I definitely feel that it is time for the three way marriage of Burton, Depp and Bonham Carter to part ways for a while (they simply aren’t challenging each other anymore, and instead slipping into easy and familiar roles) there are enough artistic elements and moments of hilarity to make this movie a welcome addition to my ever expanding Tim Burton collection.