Tim Burton plunges heads first in this remake of a daytime drama involving the supernatural and paranormal which aired in the late 1960s and has since amassed a devoted cult following, but rather than taking the plot as seriously as the show's creators originally intended, the gothic director of long-time favorites 'Beetlejuice' and 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' explores the series' campier aspects and turns them into a source of comedy. For the most part, the approach works amusingly well, with several hilarious results, especially in Barnabas Collins and his interactions with confused, dysfunctional distant relatives.
The 200-year-old vampire accidentally unearthed by a yellow dragon with hideous metallic teeth provides a fish-out-of-water quality to the melodrama and is the source of the film's better parts. The powerful undead creature is disturbed by Karen Carpenter singing "Top of the World" on television and approaches a lava lamp with its blood-like luminance with fearful trepidation. Funniest of all is Barnabas thinking the golden arches are symbolic of Mephistopheles and confused by legendary rocker Alice Cooper's sexuality. Johnny Depp, who openly admits to being a fan of the show, gives one of his best and sure to be memorable performances this side of Captain Jack Sparrow as the deathly pale patriarch of the Collins manor. He delivers sophisticated, romanticized 18th Century verbiage with great comical sincerity, putting listeners, including a small band of nomadic hippies, either in a state of bewilderment or admiration.
Although their chemistry at times feels forced or limited, Eva Green keeps up with Depp's exaggerations and does rather splendidly as the town witch Angelique Bouchard, who takes obsessive jealousy to a new frontier by cursing Barnabas to immortality for not reciprocating her love. Michelle Pfeiffer is the strong-willed matriarch struggling to keep the family afloat and out of ruin while also trying to hide Barnabas's origins from everyone else in spite of his bizarre behavior at the breakfast table and his deadly allergic reaction to real silverware. Jonny Lee Miller is somewhat wasted as Pfeiffer's younger brother, a balding man with easy to detect untrustworthy characteristics. The two children of the namesake home (Chloë Grace Moretz and Gulliver McGrath) don't so much fear Barnabas as think him just another eccentric weirdo of the family, grossly out of tune with the times.
Along with the performances, the film's visuals and atmospherics are another definite selling point, with Burton often taking inspiration, if not outright borrowing, from Disney's Haunted Mansion attraction ride. Production designer Rick Heinrichs and set decorator John Bush give the set a dour and gloomy feel which remains amazingly eye-catching and arresting. The colorful and groovy psychedelic costumes by Colleen Atwood add to Burton's humorous campy approach, becoming a big part of the hilarity as they contrast Depp's swinging outfits. The cinematography of Bruno Delbonnel ('Amélie,' 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince') creates a surreal and enchanting gothic atmosphere, making this one of Burton's most striking film's to date.
Where things suddenly go sour is a storyline and pacing that can't seem to make up its mind on which dramatic arc to follow. From a script by John August and Seth Grahame-Smith, much of the attention is kept on the romantic tension and quarrel between Barnabas and Angelique, pushing the narrative to a final confrontation that's satisfying. But along the way, the subplot with Bella Heathcote as the reincarnation of the vampire's lost love, which is in the original series, is revived here very awkwardly. Heathcote comes and goes when the story only finds her convenient to participate, simply there for dramatic effect or close some loose ends. Helena Bonham Carter is actually hilarious as the family's lush live-in psychiatrist, but her secret pursuit to remain a youthful beauty via a blood transfusion pops up out of nowhere and takes the comedic angle to a darker place. The competition between the two fishing businesses and the Collins family trying to regain their prominence in the community is also a bust, ultimately having little to do with the main plot.
In the end, 'Dark Shadows' is a visually striking and gorgeously photographed horror comedy with its stronger aspects coming from Johnny Depp's performance as a 200-year-old vampire at odds with the culture and fashion of the early 1970s. The narrative unfortunately is all over the place, often feeling sloppily put together, and it marks as one of Tim Burton's weaker efforts. A hilarious song selection and a memorable cameo performance by legendary dark rocker Alice Cooper, however, makes this remake of a cult TV series worth at least one watch.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Home Video brings 'Dark Shadows (2012)' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack. The first is a Region Free, BD50 disc while the other is a DVD-9 copy, sitting comfortably on the opposing panel. Both come inside a blue eco-cutout keepcase with a code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy and with a lenticular slipcover. The disc commences with a couple of skippable trailers before switching to an ugly basic main menu screen with a still photo of the cast of characters and music playing in the background.
Tim Burton's 'Dark Shadows' debuts on Blu-ray with a stylishly beautiful 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1) that's faithful to its theatrical presentation. The photography of Bruno Delbonnel displays a heavy use of diffusion filters and other soft-focus techniques, giving the film an oddly surreal, dreamlike quality. This adds and nicely complements the rest of the picture's chimerical spookiness, bathed in oppressive shadows and a gloomy, grayish tone.
Details in the background are visible, though not always very consistent as the finer lines and objects are slightly engulfed by the darkness in one or two sequences. Still, overall definition and clarity are quite sharp, notably when there's an abundance of light and sunshine, which isn't often. Close-ups are revealing, with great, lifelike texture in many faces. The video shows a healthy, crisp contrast level with brilliant whites throughout while blacks are inky rich and true for a majority of the time. When certain scenes require them, primaries are psychedelically vibrant and gaudy while secondary hues are warm and well saturated.
Barnabas Collins is also unearthed with a hip and happening DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, which does a fantastic job of creating an engaging and highly enjoyable listening environment. The several rock selections and Danny Elfman's musical score take advantage of the breathing room afforded them, spreading into the surrounds with a pleasing and satisfying envelopment. A few ambient effects are employed as well, extending the soundfield with excellent directionality and panning, but they're only used occasionally and for comedic purposes. The final sequence inside the Collins mansion while engulfed in fire is the movie's most impressive action piece.
The rest of the lossless mix is maintained in the fronts where imaging feels broad and welcoming. Several discrete effects move between channels effortlessly and convincingly heard off-screen. Dynamics and acoustics are sharply rendered with distinct clarity that differentiates the highs and mids flawlessly. This can be appreciated best in the music where the listener can hear every instrument and note cleanly. The low-end packs a great punch as well, and there are several surprising moments with deep, powerful impact which add to the on-screen action. Amid all this, dialogue remains precise and intelligible throughout, making this high-rez track a terrific listen for fans.
There is only one special feature shared between the DVD and Blu-ray release of 'Dark Shadows (2012).'
Known for his carnival-like gothic sensibilities, director Tim Burton tackles a personal childhood favorite in this remake of a cult TV series of the late 1960s. 'Dark Shadows' features another great performance from Johnny Depp and a strikingly memorable visual design, but the script and storyline is a choppy, uneven, and unfocused thematic mess of love, jealousy, family bonds, and the supernatural, making Collinsport an amusing one-time visit. The Blu-ray arrives with an excellent picture quality and a fantastic audio presentation. The majority of the supplements are high-def exclusives, which will convince fans of a purchase, but this is ultimately a rental for the curious.