Sunday, May 27, 2012

Tim Burton: Dark Shadows

Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dark Shadows, Warner Bros., 2012.

Putting most of himself into this stylistic powerhouse, Tim Burton helms one of his most enjoyable movies of the last decade. This side of his masterful Corpse Bride and Sweeney Todd, the two thousands have shown the maestro in a slump, somewhere halfway between popcorn trash and his dark personal urges. In adapting the creepy, campy 60s supernatural soaper, Burton has found the perfect match for his Gothic pop culture sensibilities.

The perfect tone is set as the film opens with a prologue recalling Sleepy Hollow; Lovecraft and Hawthorne are referenced, and Hammer Films is the major visual influence. Johnny Depp's Barnabas Collins is a bizarrely endearing, cursed vampire. Burton's opening reminds us of his powers as a storyteller. As the film unravels in the 70s, where Barnabas is reawakened to his surly, modern ancestors (a breathtaking Michelle Pfeiffer, Jonny Lee Miller, Helena Bonham Carter, Chloe Grace Moretz and Gulliver McGrath) and the witch (an intoxicating Eva Green) who is in love with and cursed him centuries before.

Bruno Delbonnel creates a threateningly sumptuous visual feast; the reds and blues bleed black, and the textures are foggy in appropriate Burton fashion. Chris Lebenzon's cutting is a thing of great craft; he is a magician ordering Burton and Delbonnel's killer images. Danny Elfman's score is darkly romantic, a departure for the man who is a movie music institution.

The screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith is mostly colorful; clever dialogue ensconces a delicate balance between comedy and horror, which Burton gets. The third act pretty much dissolves in a grand guignol climax which doesn't quite work, but is nonetheless hypnotic. This powerhouse horror melodrama pulls you in. Burton locates his cinematic heart, and uses most of his cinematic brains to make a particularly pleasureful piece of popcorn fluff.

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