Dark Shadows: Review: Book: Dark Shadows – The Visual Companion

Bdarkshadows_2y Mark Salisbury

Titan Books, out now

In which lead actor Johnny Depp, director Tim Burton, costume designer Colleen Atwood and other behind-the-scenes personnel reveal the intricate efforts and elaborate achievements that were poured into the third big-screen interpretation of Dark Shadows

A movie whose lavish visuals attempted to compensate for an uneven script, Dark Shadows was a box office disappointment financially, but a project that Johnny Depp and Tim Burton invested considerably in emotionally and personally.  Both men (along with Michelle Pfeiffer) were devoted fans of the original TV show and its “elusive atmosphere” – in which actors declaimed ripe dialogue with utter conviction against wobbly sets while the crew struggled against technical shortcomings, lack of budget and lack of time – a process that Burton likens to “watching an Ed Wood movie every day.”

As its name suggests, Dark Shadows – The Visual Companion is heavy on eye-catching imagery that might have escaped viewers’ notice in theatres. Amid stills of concept art, makeup tests, prop construction, costume fittings, set details, visual F/X revelations and tension-deflating antics, this book reveals the movie’s long genesis. By the time both Burton and Depp could commit to this project, the Twilight franchise and HBO’s True Blood had infused new unlife into the vampire romance genre, and they feared that a straightforward approach to Dark Shadows’ star-cross’d lovers would seem derivative and old-hat. Consequently, John August’s story treatment was set aside, and Seth Grahame-Smith’s new script focused much more on the comedic aspects of Barnabas’s man-out-of-time situation than it otherwise might have done; this could explain why the movie’s tone felt so inconsistent.

Verdict: A sumptuous homage to two men’s efforts to catch lightning in a bottle again. Even if their end results were not entirely successful, their passion for the original Dark Shadows cannot be denied. 8/10

John S. Hall

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