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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

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(Published in The Sunday Guardian on 13 May, 2012, retrieved from

Cast: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Bella Heathcote, Chloë Grace Moretz, Helena Bonham Carter
Director: Tim Burton
Rating: 3 stars
“Blood is thicker than water,” declares Johnny Depp’s voice, as we’re swept into 1760 Liverpool, “It is what defines us, binds us, curses us.” The next fifteen minutes are hypnotic, as Barnabas Collins tells us the tale of his family’s journey to Maine, where they founded a fishing business that flourished so well it spawned the town of Collinsport, of the witch Angelique (Eva Green) whose obsession with him would lose him his loved ones and see him entombed for two centuries, of his “one true love” Josette (Bella Heathcote), whom Angelique torments.
Unfortunately, these are the best fifteen minutes of the film. When the vampire wakes up in 1972, the story falls back on formula, and there’s only so much Depp’s nuanced facial expressions can do to salvage a tired screenplay. There is hilarity in the timing and dialogue – watch out for Collins’ first encounter with a car. His horrified, “What sorcery is this? Reveal yourself, tiny songstress!” as Karen Carpenter sings Top of the World on television is the highlight of the trailer. Sadly, the funniest parts of the film are in the trailer, and this kills some key moments.
The minor characters turn in the best performances – Jackie Earle Haley as the grumpy souse Willie
Loomis, and Ray Shirley as the mute and wizened Mrs. Johnson excel in the few scenes they get. Chloë Grace Moretz as the eye-rolling Carolyn, teenage daughter of Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), fits into her role as naturally as she did in Hugo. Gully McGrath as troubled child David and Johnny Lee Miller as his father Roger Collins are the only other characters with any conviction (aside from Johnny Depp, of course). Pfeiffer, Green, Heathcote and Bonham Carter try to emulate Depp’s stylised acting, but end up being stilted where he is arch.
The film has all the Burton signatures – seemingly comical scenes suddenly turn sinister, the music is a treat, the wordplay tickles, and a couple of Addams Family references are slyly slipped in when Barnabas sits at the piano. The execution of gothic fantasy is exquisite. But the vapours and the moors and desolate plains and lonely houses and forbidding cliffs lend the film atmosphere, without enough substance. The translation of the 1000-odd episode long TV series into a 3-hour film leaves one feeling parts have been fast-forwarded. The most frustrating aspect is the wasted scope of Alice Cooper’s guest appearance, which is lost to cheap comedy. It’s left to the lone vampire to lift the film.
The Verdict: Not the best Burton-Depp collaboration, but the art direction and one-liners make it worth a watch.


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