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White make-up, Helena Bonham Carter, misfits, it must be time for another Johnny Depp-Tim Burton collaboration. All jokes aside, the frequency of this duo's releases in the last ten years has created fatigue among moviegoers who expect a return to Edward Scissorhands, not Alice in Wonderland. Infuriatingly, the film cannot makes up its mind.
In a lot of ways, Tim Burton has not lost that romantic touch that makes up a majority of his films. Barnabas Collins was once a man. A very happy man. With loving parents, a doting fiance and a crazed witch that wishes him dead. Well, they can't all be winners, can they?
Now, hideously deformed, alone, and depressed, Barnabas finds himself shunned by humanity. He is chained inside of a coffin and buried into the hearth of Collinsport—the town that once lived him. Released hundreds of years later, Barnabas finds himself hilariously outdated in a time that worships at the cult of oddity. More importantly, his family finds him at a time of great despair.
The Collins family that once ruled Maine is now in shambles: the fishery is bankrupt, the family could hardly be described as nuclear, and treachery lurks at every corner of the household. Despite all of this, Barnabas believes the company's situation can be redeemed, he believes his family will prosper again. More importantly, he believes he will too find the love that was once stolen from him.
Here lies the problem with Dark Shadows. Tim Burton has become more proficient as a director, but he has strayed from where his best skill-sets lie. The film is at its best when it focuses on Barnabas and his unique blend of humor, familial devotion and passion. Barnabas is a romantic and whether he lives in the 1790s or the 1970s, he is a compelling character. Depp may have gotten comfy in his collaborations with Tim Burton, but he has never lost the charm of his eccentric characters.
Add a delightfully catty Eva Green to duel with and you have a movie worth watching. What could succinctly describe Dark Shadows as a visual is a juggler having trouble with keeping all of his narratives in air. When one storyline is developed further, it comes at the expense of another. As the audience races towards the climax storylines are dropped one after the other.
Now, that is not to say that Dark Shadows deserves the critical thrashing that it has been given—it doesn't—but, it also can never find its stride either. This is not a cash-in effort from either man (Johnny Depp has fought to get this project made for several years) and when the film's heart is on its sleeve, it beats best.
**1/2 out of ****