After seeing the film, however, it's clear there are more pr isessing questions to be asked: How does a vampire come by the power to hypnotize? How on Earth does Johnny Depp manage to remain looking so young?
The vampire, as we've seen in recent years, is an ageless intrigue. So Depp, the 48-year-old who can pass for a man in his 20s, is the perfect actor to play one. And Burton, one of the few filmmakers who can create entirely new worlds on the screen, could be just the man to bring one back to life.
|3 out of 4 stars|
|Stars: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Bella Heathcote|
|Director: Tim Burton|
|Rated: PG-13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking|
|Running time: 113 minutes|
And in fact, for its first two-thirds, "Dark Shadows" showcases both men's fortuitous combination of talents. Depp is a fabulous deadpan comic who can make the extravagant believable. Burton is a master of black comedy whose attention to detail makes for films full of wonder.
"Dark Shadows" is a darkly funny film about a gothic who finds himself, forlornly, catapulted into the 20th century. Until it's not. For its last third, the spectacle takes over from both the style and the substance, and we're left with an empty action film distinguished from others of the genre only in how pretty it looks.
The movie begins in the 18th century, with the Liverpool Collins clan building their fortune in the New World. Barnabas (Depp) is raised as a child of privilege. But when he takes one of them too far -- sleeping with the maid, Angelique (Eva Green), but casting her off to marry a superior -- everyone he loves is lost. His parents are killed, and his love is mesmerized into suicide. Angelique, it turns out, is a witch. She turns Barnabas into a vampire and has the townspeople bury him alive.
Two hundred years later, some construction workers accidently dig him up. He makes his way back to the family fortress, where he discovers it's 1972 and his family's fortunes have been lost to the spells and business acumen of Angelique. The present Collins are in a bad way. There's matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), her wayward brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), and their two children (Chloe Grace Moretz and Gulliver McGrath). A psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter, always adding some welcome gravitas to Burton's proceedings) was brought in to work with the young boy for a month -- three years ago.
And there's Josette, Barnabas' lost love. No, that can't be: This girl is named Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote) and is firmly fixed in the '70s. But she looks just like the girl from 200 years ago -- and can't figure out why she was drawn to the crumbling estate to take a job as a governess.
"Dark Shadows" takes you right back to the '70s as it opens, playing the Moody Blues' great "Nights in White Satin" to a washed-out film that looks as if it's sat around for a few decades. Even Alice Cooper -- also looking strangely young -- makes an appearance at one point.
Depp is great as an elegant fish out of water. "Is it the eyes of the devil himself come to drag me to my judgment?" he wonders aloud when he sees his first vehicle.
But the fun is drained out of the film -- much like the blood of Barnabas' poor victims -- in the final act, when the comedy is gone and fighting is all that remains.