Friday, May 11, 2012

Dark Shadows Movie : More Light Than Dark

Dark Shadows is a movie based on the 1966-1971 soap opera, a cult sensation known as much for its star Jonathan Frid’s portrayal as the vampire Barnabas Collins as for its low-budget, one-take cinematography. This new version, directed by Tim Burton, kept the basic plot but eschewed the television show’s straight-faced drama in favor of laughs.

'Dark Shadows' Is More Light Than Dark
MPI's complete DVD set timed to complement 'Dark Shadows' movie
Movie Projector: Even Johnny Depp can't stop 'The Avengers'

'Dark Shadows' Is More Light Than Dark

As the credits rolled at the end of Dark Shadows, my father turned to me and said, “I don’t get it. Was it supposed to be a comedy or a horror?” I didn’t understand what he meant: obviously it was a comedy. There were some watered down PG-13 horror, but there was nothing about it I considered horrific. But when you consider the movie is about the vampires, witches, and yes, even werewolves, it would have been nice to have had my flesh crawl just once. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t like Dark Shadows—after all, it starred Johnny Depp, who is so talented that he deserves every acting award ever invented and a few that haven’t—but it left me wanting more.

Dark Shadows is a movie based on the 1966-1971 soap opera, a cult sensation known as much for its star Jonathan Frid’s portrayal as the vampire Barnabas Collins as for its low-budget, one-take cinematography. This new version, directed by Tim Burton, kept the basic plot but eschewed the television show’s straight-faced drama in favor of laughs.

Barnabas is a young man from a wealthy family, the builders of a town called Collinsport. Although he has no problems bedding the family’s maid, Angelique, his heart belongs to the lovely Josette. He spurns the maid’s love, a bad move. It turns out that the woman who scrubs his floor and polishes his, well, whatever needs rubbing, is also a powerful witch. She sends Josette to her death and curses Barnabas with vampirism. For the icing on that creepy cake, Angelique has Barnabus locked in a coffin and forgets about him.

'Dark Shadows' Trailer Is More Funny Than Creepy. But Will It Be Good?
Carol Pinchefsky

"Dark Shadows" With Johnny Depp Is A Mess, Resembling Nothing of the TV Series
Roger Friedman
Barnabas is freed two centuries later, in 1972, and he makes his way to the family home of Collinwood, where the surviving Collins’ live in reduced circumstances. The family includes head of the house, Elizabeth (played by Michelle Pfeiffer), her surly daughter, Carolyn (Chloe Moretz), Elizabeth’s unscrupulous brother Roger (Johnny Lee Miller), and his possibly insane son, David. Rounding out the characters, we have the family housekeeper, Willie (Jackie Earle Haley), as well as Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), who cares for young David.

Meanwhile, a woman who eerily resembles Josette, Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote), has arrived to become a nanny David, a troubled boy who insists that he sees the ghost of his late mother. Barnabas is instantly smitten with the girl who insists, “Call me Vicki,” and in his ardor delivers my favorite line: “A name like Victoria is so beautiful, I could not bear to part with a single syllable of it.”

As Barnabas schemes to turn the Collins family from old money to nouveau riche, Angelique appears, demanding that he requite her unrequited love.

The best parts of Dark Shadows really are amusing. It was entertaining as hell to see Barnabas navigate his way through the 20th century. (His rendition of The Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker” is a new classic.)

The character of Barnabas was a delight to watch. Depp walks the same way as when Jonathan Frid played him—with an elegant lurch, as if waking with a cane were a part of his gait. And although he’ll never be as sexy to me as Frid, he grabbed my sympathies and held it…even though, when you think about it, he’s shaded very grayly: Barnabas starts off screwing the maid before working his way toward serial killing. Still, I cheered for him.

There were also some stellar supporting roles. Bella Heathcoat gave us a leading lady who was charming and sweet yet practical. Chloe Moretz’s character earned her sneer. Jackie Erle Haley did a terrific job as a burned-out Renfield. Christopher Lee, the former Hammer Horror player and current master of awesome gets only one scene as a fishing captain, a criminal underuse of the fabulous Lee. And if you’re sharp-eyed, you’ll catch the late Frid’s appearance at a ball.

But not every performance was a winner. Eva Green’s character, Angelique, was a little too one-note for my tastes, with wild eyes and an over-wide grin taking the place of menace. Had she been less over-the-top evil and more quietly threatening, this film could have had hit the perfect balance of humor and horror. Her wildly fluctuating accent didn’t win me over, either. Another problem, this time with the luminous Pfeiffer: her face barely moved. No, she wasn’t botoxed to the bone: the editor seemed to cut away from her before she flexed the muscles of her face. Seriously. What was up with that?

I liked Dark Shadows for its humor, and the plot twists that I should have seen coming but didn’t. I loved how the carefully curated soundtrack worked. But I wish it had had more dramatic tension to balance it out. Barnabas was always sympathetic. I would have preferred this movie had made him poignant.

MPI's complete DVD set timed to complement 'Dark Shadows' movie

By Richard Knight Jr | Special to the Tribune
"Dark Shadows" — the gothic TV soap opera that was part "Jane Eyre,"part "Dracula," part cheesy production values — focused on the travails of the wealthy, mysterious Collins family and their vampire cousin, 200-year-old Barnabas. From 1966 to 1971 the show, which starred Jonathan Frid as the lovelorn heartthrob Barnabas, was a cultural sensation that spawned two feature films (neither of which is yet available on DVD) and a TV reboot starring Ben Cross in 1991.

For more than two decades, "Dark Shadows" — upon which the latest Tim Burton-Johnny Depp film collaboration is based — has had a rather unique tie to the Chicago area. MPI Home Entertainment, a division of MPI Media Group, a 30-year-old producer, distributor and licensor of movies, television, and historical footage located in Orland Park, has been the lone company responsible for releasing the show on home video.

In the early '90s, the original series was being broadcast on the Sci-Fi channel when MPI co-founder Waleed Ali turned to his brother Malik and commented, "It would be too cool to put'Dark Shadows'out." According to Hamza Ali, Malik's son and executive vice president of MPI, once his uncle Waleed came up with the idea it didn't take long for Dan Curtis — the creative force behind the show — to enthusiastically embrace the idea. "He said something along the lines of 'I'd like to meet the man who thinks "Dark Shadows" would sell on home video." So they ended up going to lunch and soon after struck a deal, Hamza Ali recalled. The show has been associated with MPI ever since, and though both Curtis and Waleed Ali have died, the relationship between Dan Curtis Productions and MPI is as strong as ever.

MPI has released the series season by season on VHS and DVD, and when news of the new movie version was announced the company sprung into action. "We knew it was eventually coming," Hamza Ali recalled, and something that he had always wanted to do seemed like the perfect product for both old and new fans of the show: a set of the entire series packaged in a coffin-shaped box. Beneath the lid of the miniature black coffin, one discovers a red fabric interior containing 131 discs, which, nestled in order on their sides, form a portrait of Frid as Barnabas in repose. All 1,225 episodes of the show are included, along with a host of special features, a commemorative booklet and a signed photo of Frid. This limited edition series of 2,500 may just be the largest DVD set ever released ("Law & Order," the previous record-holder, had 104).

MPI has always maintained a close relationship with fans of the show — sending a company rep to the annual "Dark Shadows" convention and creating various perks for those purchasing show-related merchandise. "You can't compare 'Dark Shadows' fans to any other fans," Ali contends. "I would put their loyalty against 'Star Wars' fans and Trekkies any day of the week."

The fans didn't let the company down once the megaset was released. Even at the steep price of $600, the jumbo sets quickly sold out. (The pre-order price on is $419.99.) "No one expected it to fly off shelves the way it has," Ali said. To meet demand, the company is preparing another run — this time without numbering them or including the Frid autograph (the actor died last month).

More "Dark Shadows" merchandise is on the drawing board; the company is toying with aBlu-rayrelease of the series and has other ideas up its vampire cape. "Who knows," Ali said, "Maybe even some day we'll see a 3-D version of the show."

The boxed set is available for pre-order on and other web sites.

Movie Projector: Even Johnny Depp can't stop 'The Avengers'

"The Avengers" will take a big bite out of the opening of "Dark Shadows," as the superhero blockbuster is set to dominate the box office for the second consecutive weekend.

After debuting with a record-breaking $207.4 million — the biggest opening weekend ever, not adjusting for inflation — "The Avengers" isn't likely to lose steam at the box office any time soon. In its second weekend, the film featuring beloved comic book characters such as Iron Man, Captain America and the Hulk is expected to collect an additional $90 million, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys.

Heading into the weekend, the film has already raked in a phenomenal $775.4 million worldwide and is no doubt headed for the elite $1-billion box office club, which has 11 members.

That means that "Dark Shadows," the vampire comedy directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, will have to settle for the runner-up position with a debut of around $40 million. Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow co-financed the picture for close to $150 million, meaning the film’s projected debut will be good but not great, considering its substantial budget.

While “The Avengers” will be serious competition for “Dark Shadows,” Warner Bros. is hopeful that many young male moviegoers who have already seen the adventure epic will opt for the Depp film instead this weekend. Both pictures will face one fewer rival this weekend because last month, Paramount Pictures decided to move the release date of "The Dictator" to May 16, five days after the debut of "Dark Shadows."

Paramount made the hasty move because the studio felt that the film starring Sacha Baron Cohen as a dictator from a fictional Middle Eastern country and "Dark Shadows" were offbeat comedies that would have to fight for the same audience.

“Dark Shadows” is the eighth collaboration between Depp and Burton, whose most successful partnership came with 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland,” which made over $1 billion worldwide. The director and actor first teamed on 1990's "Edward Scissorhands," and the quirky pair have since made a handful of similarly eccentric, dark comedies together, including “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” — their second-biggest hit ever.

Based on an ABC soap opera that began in the 1960s, “Dark Shadows” was a passion project for Depp and Burton, both of whom rushed home to watch the television program every day as school boys. In the film, Depp plays Barnabas, an 18th century lothario who is transformed into a vampire, imprisoned in an underground crypt, and only set free in 1972. The movie has earned only middling reviews, notching a 51% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes as of Thursday morning.

"Dark Shadows" will debut overseas this weekend in 42 foreign markets, where Depp has traditionally been popular. With the exception of last year's animated "Rango," every big-budget film the actor has appeared in in the last decade has performed better abroad than domestically. "The Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise has been especially popular with international audiences, and the last installment, "On Stranger Tides," made roughly $800 million of its $1-billion global take overseas.

In limited release, Lionsgate is debuting "Girl in Progress" in 322 theaters. The film, starring Eva Mendes as a single mother struggling to maintain balance in her personal and professional lives, is being distributed by Pantelion Films, Lionsgate's co-venture with Mexican media company Televisa.

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