Dark Shadows (2012)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Dark Shadows</strong> (2012)

(On-demand video, October 2012)  Director Tim Burton’s artistic sensibilities are almost always interesting, but that doesn’t always translate in purely enjoyable films.  I had issues with his latest Sweeney Todd and Alice in Wonderland, but Dark Shadows renews with a strong sense of fun, readapting a long-running supernatural soap opera into a scattershot blend of character comedy, gothic visuals and straightforward plotting.  Johnny Depp turns in another quirky performance as a vampire protagonist, indulging in his usual affectations to create a rather sympathetic blood-sucking hero abruptly thrust from 1760 to 1972.  He is ably surrounded by a good cast, most notably Michelle Pfeiffer as the head of the modern family in need of help by the protagonist.  The adaptation’s 1972 setting is good for a good soundtrack, cheap (but funny) jokes and knowing nostalgia.  (If I wasn’t pressed for time, I’d have something to say about how setting a film thirty years in the past allows context legibility, as we think we know all about 1972 in ways that 2012 still feels very strange and to-be-determined.)  Dark Shadows works in bits and pieces, the overarching plot never as interesting as the film’s various moments.  The fish-out-of-time aspect is tolerable despite its overused nature, the special effects aren’t bad, there are some surprisingly racy/violent moments and the fantastic is well-integrated with the comic (some of the best gags coming from a lack of reverence toward supernatural tropes.)  Where Dark Shadows doesn’t work as well is in trying to present a consistent viewing experience: the straightforward plotting is a bit dull, but the tone of the film keeps going back and forth between avowed camp, earned gothic drama or crowd-pleasing fantastic adventure.  It’s not entirely satisfying… but it is fun, and that certainly counts for something after a few dour entries in Burton’s filmography.

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