Despite a rotten Rotten Tomatoes rating of only 42%, Tim Burton‘s Dark Shadows is still a lot of fun for fans of Burton/Depp collaborations. The film has all the earmarks of a usual Burton/Depp production, though it falls short of being a masterpiece. Tim Burton‘s other half, Helena Bonham Carter makes her appearance as the family’s gin-swilling, gerascophobic psychiatrist. There is also the expected amount of blood, dark eye shadow, and shabby-chic costuming that accompanies a Burton flick. But it is the silky smooth dialogue, and the delivery of same by Johnny Depp, which prevents this movie from slipping into the realms of pure kitsch.
Depp plays Barnabas Collins, a member of the founding family of a Maine sea port, who has been transformed into a vampire and buried in a steel coffin by a jealous witch, Angelique (Eva Green). Barnabas is accidentally recovered from the grave by some construction men and finds himself in 1972. Returning to his family’s estate, he discovers that the family business has been all but ruined thanks to the diabolical manipulations of the ageless Angelique. As Barnabas attempts to defeat his arch enemy once and for all, he falls in love with the family’s nanny, Vicky, the spitting image of his long lost Josette (Bella Heathcote), wooing her with his outdated honeyed phrases. “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.”
Barnabas’ innate “uncoolness,” as describes by Entertainment Weekly, is what ironically makes him cool in the eyes of both the hippies in the film, and the modern audience of hipsters, for whom all things uncool are in fact the coolest of all. It’s this sort of philosophy that can sustain this film through all its faults. There are too many side stories which distract from the main thrust of the plot. There’s a certain amount of gore and sex, but scenes containing these elements are in no way innovative or especially clever in their execution. For fans of Burton/Depp comedy, the script does not fail to tickle the funny-bone, but the jokes are campy at best.
The female characters in this film fall short in passing the Bechdel Test. If they ever speak to each other, it’s only about a male character, usually Barnabas (with the exception of the brief interview with the new nanny). Or they’re at each other’s throats for one reason or another. And the characterizations of the women are far from progressive. The one female character with any power is, as is so often the case in Disney movies, the villainess. She is portrayed much more as a sexualized character than as an intelligently worthy opponent. Another woman character is an insecure alcoholic. One is an escaped lunatic. Another is a teenage brat who doesn’t have a nice thing to say to anybody. The only woman with any semblance of strength, the family matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), is still dependent on an undead ancestor to restore the family business to its former glory. Although she is clearly an intelligent, hard-working, and caring mother, she is necessarily unable to take care of her family without a man’s guidance.
All-in-all, Dark Shadows was worth the price of the ticket. It’s dialogue is witty, it’s accurately nostalgic, and there are enough elements of Tim Burton‘s classic style to make it more interesting than your average early-summer flick. It’s definitely not for kids; wait for Burton’s pending Frankenweenie later in the summer. But if you’ve got a bored Sunday afternoon to spend on an off-beat sort of movie, go ahead and check it out.