Based on an obscure black and white TV serial that few have ever heard of, Tim Burton’s latest has it’s work cut out finding an audience.
However, teamed with his regular acting team of Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp, adding Michelle Pffeifer and Eva Green for good measure, we should be in for another Gothic treat.
In 1776 Barnabas Collins (Depp) is an aristocratic young son of an immigrant Liverpudlian self made wealthy family, who own and manage a large fishing and cannery business. The family lends it’s name to Collinwood, the town they created on the eastern seaboard of America, both town and business continue to prosper and all is well.
Barnabas, spurning the advances of his maid Angelica Bouchard (Eva Green), courts his one true love Josette duPres (Heathcote). Angelica does not take this well and being a secret Witch, has more tools at her disposal than most. Sending Josette to her hypnotised death off “Widows Peak”, closely followed by a heartbroken and distraught Barnabas.
Unfortunately for Barnabas, death is insufficient suffering to visit upon him and transformed into a Vampire, he must stay buried for two hundred years to endure his pain. These are not spoilers as most of these events occur in a lengthy prologue.
Mistakenly and tragically unearthed, Barnabas returns to regain his lost life and is pitched into the massively dysfunctional Collinwood manor house, where time has not been kind to the firm and his rather hopeless descendants.
Cue 1970 soundtrack and a few “fish out of water” jokes with Barnabas speaking as a 1700’s gentleman, set against the “Peace out” man Hippy trip of the times. “How soon can the horses be ready?” he asks, only to be told they have a Chevy or marvelling at the TV, “Reveal yourself tiny songstress”.
Back at the manor we have matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Pfeiffer) and her wild child daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), attempting to hold the family together through tough times. Her brother Roger Collins (Johnny Miller), drinker lover and general layabout, together with his “delightful” child, the morose and distinctly disturbed David (McGrath). Finally, helping David through his childhood trauma following his mothers “death at sea”, Psychiatrist Dr Hoffman (Bonham-Carter), who spends more time holding a bottle than sitting by the counselling couch.
Just prior to the arrival of a be-fanged Barnabas, is a new waif like governess by the name of Victoria (Heathcote), who appears remarkably similar to the lost love of Barnabas. This does not go unnoticed by the rival business entrepreneur, the very old but unchanged Bouchard, whose business succeeds as Collin’s diminishes.
We are all set for either a rousing comedy or dramatic piece with Burton’s usual directorial flourishes and Danny Elfman score. Unfortunately, the film never real takes off, presenting a mishmash of tone and set pieces that do not come together as an enjoyable whole.
The acting is good, no-one really disappoints and the CGI effects are first rate but the film lacks any real structure to pull all the elements together. There are times where the action is rather boring and emotionally, it is difficult to care for any of the characters, neither statements normally associated with Burton.
The film builds to a frenetic denouement where Burton, perhaps in a last ditch effort to save the film, throws everything at the screen, including bizarrely Alice Cooper. With similarities to “Death Becomes her” and “Addams Family”, the film descends into almost horror lite, seemingly largely disconnected to what has come before.
The project appears very self indulgent, pushing ahead with subject matter and story that Burton wanted to see on screen, without perhaps knowing or even caring whether an audience existed. Alternatively, Burton has moulded the original quirky story into something hopefully more commercial, robbing the source material of it’s charm. Either way, vanity projects are dangerous investments when they cost $150 million to make, audiences responded with a mediocre $238 Million worldwide.
A Gothic comedy/dramatic film with a great cast and effects, let down by an obscure story that largely fails to engage the audience.
A disappointing entry into the Burton filmography, could and hopefully will do better next time.