It may be pretty obvious that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are the perfect team to bring back from the dead Dan Curtis' hit late-sixties "gothic soap opera" Dark Shadows. And the finished product does bear all the hallmarks from actor and director's usually successful team-ups - to the point of seeming as if they're exploiting the trademark universes they themselves have established throughout their career together. But the result is unlikely to go down in history as anything other than an autopilot rehash of Mr. Burton's regular theme of the misfit who must learn to find his own way in the world and his pop-gothic sensibility.

     The fault lies less in the absence of desire to push Mr. Burton and Mr. Depp's collaboration any further as it does in the formulaic, piecemeal script by Seth Grahame-Smith, the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The novelist seems at every possible juncture to think of Dark Shadows as a blown-up TV pilot, literally giving nothing to do to the many supporting characters (Helena Bonham Carter, Chloë Grace Moretz and Jackie Earle Haley are woefully underused); the director abandons early on any pretense that the films cares about anything other than letting Mr. Depp run riot with another one of his skewed, offbeat characterizations, his centuries-old vampire Barnabas Collins a foppish, determinedly out-of-time man tortured by the curse laid on him by villainous witch Angélique Bouchard (Eva Green).

     Mr. Depp, Ms. Green and a regal Michelle Pfeiffer as Barnabas' descendant Elizabeth are the only ones who fit right into the high-camp tone set up early on, with its garish early 1970s designs and fashions. But Mr. Depp is hardly stretching his range - this is yet another of his lovable weirdos in the vein of Jack Sparrow or the Mad Hatter - and since for all intents and purposes Ms. Pfeiffer has a supporting role, it's Ms. Green that comes off best, her sultry witch fatale who will have Barnabas' heart, one way or another, a star-making turn that shows what the movie could have been. Mr. Grahame-Smith's script is also peppered with the sort of pithy one-liners custom-tailored for sitcom usage, so complete within themselves that they do nothing either to advance the plot or work within the integrity of the movie, while the obligatory visual-effects climax that seems to be de rigueur these days in big-budget Hollywood filmmaking is sorely disappointing after all that's come before.

     What comes out of this is admittedly amusing - a lighter-than-air, frothy, candy-wrapper confection of a movie - but surplus to requirements, neither bringing anything new to the table nor standing on its own two feet as a welcome addition to the Burton/Depp cycle. Instead, it appears to be a jaded autopilot project in well-trodden territory for a filmmaker who's been treading water for a while now as the "token auteur" in Hollywood's bottom-line-dominated landscape.

Johnny Depp; Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller, Chloë Grace Moretz, Bella Heathcote, Gully McGrath; Alice Cooper.
     Director, Tim Burton; screenplay, Seth Grahame-Smith, from a story by John August and Mr. Grahame-Smith and the TV series created by Dan Curtis, Dark Shadows; cinematography, Bruno Delbonnel (colour by Technicolor); music, Danny Elfman; designer, Rick Heinrichs; costumes, Colleen Atwood; editor, Chris Lebenzon; visual effects, Angus Bickerton; producers, Graham King, Mr. Depp, Christi Dembrowski, David Kennedy, Richard D. Zanuck (Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, Infinitum Nihil, GK Films, The Zanuck Company), USA/Australia, 2012, 113 minutes.
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Columbia Tristar Warner screening room (Lisbon), May 7th 2012. 


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