Starring: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham-Carter, Jonny Lee-Miller,Jackie Earle-Haley, Chloe Graze-Moretz and Christopher Lee.
Running Time: 113mins. approx.
Seen At: Didsbury.
On: Saturday, 26thMay, 2012.
The unique pairing of director Tim Burton and Hollywood A-Lister Johnny Depp, has always made for gold-standard cinematic magic moments over the years. In 1990, Depp landed his breakthrough role in Edward Scissorhands,a classic stylized fable. They followed this up with the similarly-titled Ed Wood in 1994, charting the chronicles of an ambitious Los Angeles filmmaker at the heart of the forties studio-system.
1999 saw them venture into the murky, yet tongue-in-cheek world of mythical horror in Sleepy Hollow, Burton then ventured into The Nightmare Before Christmas territory, returning to ingenious stop-motion animation with 2005’s Corpse Bride (to which Depp provided the voice of the pint-sized hero), while in the same year, to duo turned their attention to the first of several adaptations, beginning with the Depp as the eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka in the wonderful re-imagining of Roald Dahl’s Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, then the ‘cutting-edge’ Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd in 2007, and most recently, Depp donned a fluorescent orange wig, and lime-green eyes to play none other than The Mad Hatter in Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland – in 3D. These were all huge hits at the box office, as well as prime examples of bringing the offbeat into the umbrella of the mainstream populist summer blockbuster at its most prolific, expertly marketed, lucrative and crowd-pleasing.
The two are my personal favourite collaborative team in today’s cinema. It’s the combination of Burton’s faultless eye for capturing such a particular zeitgeist with a highly specific aesthetic - (a world inhabited by gloomy cinematographic nightscapes, moonlit, twisty tree-branches and the trademark of Danny Elfman’s woozy, dreamlike score, to which we as the viewer are immediately plunged into.
Technologically and visually too, we’re always looking through Burton’s highly stylized vision, always rendered with rich, glossy flourishes of Computer-Generated Imagery. The sense is always present that these magical fables could be set anywhere, at any time – which naturally, again, increases their appeal for universality.
Couple this with Johnny Depp’s masterful talent at literally becoming a vast, colourful array of any character imaginable – and, more importantly they’re always so diversely different from the last (from Wonka, to Ed Wood to Dillinger, The Mad Hatter to Captain Jack Sparrow, J.M. Barrie, Paul Kemp, and Sweeney Todd), he never ceases to amaze me.
Never more so in fact than in this latest, his eighth collaboration with Burton, to play the eloquent neighborhood vampire Barnabus Collins, in Dark Shadows, based on the sixties American television soap-opera of the same name.
This is quite simply the best character he’s ever played. Hilarious without knowing it, articulate and sincere. This is clearly a project that both Depp and Burton are very passionate about – and it shows.
This is visually sumptuous, endlessly inventive filmmaking with a very funny, diamond-sharp screenplay, state-of-the-art visual effects and perfect performances.
In a classically cinematic, lavish opening sequence of misty ports, crashing waves and high-octane score, the well-to-do Barnabus of Collinswood, is suddenly cursed by Angelique, and buried for a hundred years. Of course, he’s resurrected a century later, waking up in a retro nineteen seventy-two…
After what is actually a moderately gruesome killing spree for a comedy, an inevitable misfit culture-clash ensues, as Barnabus attempts to move back into his mansion, now taken up by his deeply dysfunctional relatives…
It’s in the scenes whereby our friendly vampire is first coming to terms with adapting to his new environment, where the film is at its most purely cinematic. These are scenes with a very distinct immersion, which can only be described in the form of what harks back to the great, mainstream powerhouse films of the nineties such as: Hook, Goldeneye, Jumangi, Batman Forever, – memorable, huge scale score, elaborate, economic swooping cinematography, vivid, block use of colour,and no expense spared on production values.
The films it most closely resembles tonally, are the two early nineties big-screen Addams Family pictures, balancing the difficult mix of humour and the occasionally mild scare perfectly – but always playing for laughs more than screams.
The world now to Barnabus seems strange – giant yellow fluorescent letter M’s adorning the streets, lava lamps, cars whizzing past as he stops in the road and yells: ‘Take me Satan!’ or singers inside televisions as he asks incredulously: ‘What sorcery is this? Reveal yourself – tiny songstress!’.
Depp is clearly having the time of his life, he really has never been better – as facially-expressive as ever - particularly with his eyes - accentuating every nuance of sparkling dialogue - his make-up’s amazing too – classic Burton-esque ghostly white face and his hair smoothed right down.
Michelle Pfeiffer – working with Burton for the first time in twenty years since 1992’s Batman Returns – plays the archetypal matriarch of the family, while Helena Bonham-Carter takes the role of the family’s resident alcoholic physiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman – always tipsy, in need of dark glasses at breakfast, and never without a glass in her hand.
One of the other great performances comes from Eva Green as the villainous witch Angelique. Her characterization of the stereotypical femme fatale, the ultimate seductress, is a prime example of exactly how the best screen nemises should be – empowered, and enjoying every minute of it. Unable to resist her wicked charms, after getting steamy, Barnabus can only remark: ‘That was a regrettable turn of events’…
She struts around in her sparkly red dress and lethal lipstick, putting poetic spells on anyone that stands in her way, including several buildings, as she evilly whispers: ‘Burn Baby, Burn!’. It shows Green, as a highly talented comedic actress.
When challenged on the fact that she is bloodsucking; she sultrily replies: ‘Aren’t we being a touch hypocritical? Sucking people’s blood seems to be something you’re rather familiar with’.
It is. After springing back to life after a hundred years, his justification to his victims is simply: ‘You cannot imagine how thirsty I am’…
But it’s certainly not too scary. There are a few moments, such as a ghostly apparition living in the floor, that are appropriately spooky, but it’s definitely on the side of humour, arising predominantly from either Barnabus’s misadventures, or, cleverly, from an ancient old housekeeper, who remains completely silent throughout, lugging around coffins, cleaning cutlery or dusting candelabras.
As with any family, there’s the rebellious teenager, asking Barnabus sulkily: ‘Are you stoned or something?’ His unknowing reply is: ‘They tried stoning me my dear – it did not work!’.
As utilized to great effect in the terrific trailers, a wise choice of songs also accompany the soundtrack, including Knights in White Satin, Bang A Gong-Get It On, My First, My Last, My Everything, and On Top Of the World by Carol Carpenter – as well as Barnabus himself, arm outstretched, emotionally reciting lyrics of a well-known song at the time, as if they were from a Shakespearian play: ‘I’m a winner, I’m a sinner, I play my music…in the sun’. Only for him to look out to the sun and start catching fire!
It’s towards the end that a thrilling use of CGI really comes to fruition, when the many wonderful carvings and statues which adorn the exquisitely designed mansion start to come to life. Snakes from the fireplace, and a certain werewolf, only cease to make Angelique even more vengeful, as she projectile-vomits lime green slime, and rotates her head a hundred-and-sixty-degrees as cracks literally appear in that ever-so youthful complexion. Whether you’re a fan of such sequences which use a lot of state-of-the-art effects in a rather purposely overblown fashion is an open question, but personally, cinema is at its best for me when it’s at its most adrenaline-pumping, fast and consequently – fun, all of which this is, especially in the last half-hour.
This is one of both Burton and Depp’s very finest films to me, funny, clever, sharp, a technical master-class and the most fun I’ve had in the multiplex since my favourite-ever film – Inception. It’s certainly in my top three movies of 2012 – surely a likely early contender for next year’s Oscars. The only way it could be made better in my opinion would have been the tool of 3D. However, perhaps on this occasion, when the design and cinematography are this immersive on their own, maybe it wasn’t needed. A golden statue is so long overdue for Depp - my favourite actor – and this is the best role he’s ever played!
Outstanding –an absolute joy!