“They say blood is thicker than water.” Those are the first words we hear from Johnny Depp’s Barnabas Collins in “Dark Shadows” as Collins narrates the beginning of his story, starting as a child in 18th century Liverpool, England. At that moment, however, I became utterly distracted by Tim Burton’s stunning baroque rendering of the Liverpool seaport. Then Collins said something about his family moving to America, where they started a fishing business, and … wow, look at Johnny Depp! He looks so young! And Eva Green … gorgeous!
Why is Tim Burton ruining his glorious visuals with a voice over cliché that middle school students use in public speaking classes? “They say blood is thicker than water?” Puh-LEEZ. But it’s Tim Burton and Johnny Depp — let’s give it a chance.
“Dark Shadows,” of course, is based on the 1960s cult-classic horror daytime soap of the same name. Screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith manipulates the mythology for big-screen appeal, and fans of the series will notice some differences. Not being one of those fans myself, let’s focus on the film.
Back in the day, Barnabas spurns Angelique (Eva Green), who happens to be a witch. Bad news for Barnabas, because once he crosses her, she becomes a raging witch, killing his parents and casting a spell on his true love, Josette, who walks off a cliff. Unbeknown to Barnabas, Angelique has also put a spell on him, turning him into a vampire. Angelique then rallies the town against Barnabas, now considered a monster, and leads an angry mob to his house where they take him away, chain him in a coffin and bury him. One hundred ninety-six years later, a construction crew unearths Barnabas, whereupon he violently vanquishes the crew beneath a McDonald’s sign and promptly delivers the best joke of the entire movie. Very early in the movie.
It’s no surprise that Johnny Depp is fantastic as the anachronistic Barnabas, and much of the film’s fun comes from his struggle to relate to 1972 America. He also attempts to court Victoria Winters, the young woman with a mysterious past who takes care of 9-year-old David, who himself is the great, great, great, great, great … um, something or other, I’m not really sure … of Barnabas. In fact, since Barnabas never married before he was buried and apparently had no brothers and sisters to speak of, I’m not sure how any of these Collinses could possibly be his descendants. But I digress.
Johnny Depp as Barnabas is enjoyable to watch, even when the rest of “Dark Shadows” is putting you to sleep. And believe me, it will put you to sleep. Depp and Tim Burton once were like that fantastic young couple who couldn’t keep their hands off each other. We looked at them and thought, “Wow, those two are amazing together.” After a while, though, their PDA grows predictable and unimpressive, to the point that you wish they’d just break up already.
After eight films in 22 years, beginning with 1990′s “Edward Scissorhands,” I think it’s time for these two immensely talented artists to break up. Maybe after spending a decade of romancing other actors and directors, Depp and Burton can get back together for one last fling of passionate movie-making. Maybe by then, their act won’t seem so tired.
In an interview, the late Jonathan Frid, who played Barnabas Collins on “Dark Shadows” the TV show, said of the soap ending after just five seasons, “We kind of ran out of gas.” Funny, that’s also what happens with “Dark Shadows,” the movie. Like Depp and Burton’s professional collaboration, it starts out promising, some of the stuff in the middle is OK, and then it just fizzles out.
Two out of five stars.