Shooting Commences On DARK SHADOWS, And The Plot Is Revealed

Phil examines the DARK SHADOWS plot description as only a hardcore fan of the original series could.

With the commencement of principal photography on Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows revamp comes an official synopsis:

In the year 1752, Joshua and Naomi Collins, with young son Barnabas, set sail from Liverpool, England to start a new life in America. But even an ocean was not enough to escape the mysterious curse that has plagued their family. Two decades pass and Barnabas (Johnny Depp) has the world at his feet—or at least the town of Collinsport, Maine. The master of Collinwood Manor, Barnabas is rich, powerful and an inveterate playboy…until he makes the grave mistake of breaking the heart of Angelique Brouchard (Eva Green). A witch, in every sense of the word, Angelique dooms him to a fate worse than death: turning him into a vampire, and then burying him alive.

Two centuries later, Barnabas is inadvertently freed from his tomb and emerges into the very changed world of 1972. He returns to Collinwood Manor to find that his once-grand estate has fallen into ruin. The dysfunctional remnants of the Collins family have fared little better, each harboring their own dark secrets. Matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) has called upon live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), to help with her family troubles.

Also residing in the manor is Elizabeth’s ne’er-do-well brother, Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller); her rebellious teenage daughter Carolyn Stoddard (Chloe Moretz); and Roger’s precocious 10-year-old son, David Collins (Gulliver McGrath). The mystery extends beyond the family, to caretaker Willie Loomis, played by Jackie Earle Haley, and David’s new nanny, Victoria Winters, played by Bella Heathcote.

In descending order of things about which anyone would give a shit: Jonny Lee Miller is listed as the prissy/shady Roger Collins, a role previously reported as being considered by Michael Sheen. Sounds good; Jonny Lee Miller’s career never took off the way I thought it might, and he’s often a welcome sight in films. If Burton and Depp’s nostalgia for the TV series carries over, Miller and Pfeiffer will also be playing Barnabas’ parents in the early scenes. That double and triple casting was part of the fun of the series, so I hope they do.

Also notable: lots of time shifts from the source material. The original series ended its five-year run in 1971, and this film’s “present day” is 1972.  Additionally, Barnabas’ origin (once he’s an adult) has been moved back some quarter century from 1795, placing his adulthood (and the vampire whammy laid on him by his side jawn Angelique) right before the American Revolution. Not sure why this has changed – perhaps screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith has an idea that makes more sense pre-1776. Or maybe Depp really wants to wear a powdered wig.

As for the shift from the 60s to 1972, that feels a touch arbitrary at the moment, unless they really like round numbers (the above synopsis would have Barnabas chained up for exactly 200 years). Depp has said he wants to play with the idea of a 200 year-old man seeing a television for the first time and reacting to the modern world. My only note there is aside from the swinging 60s fashions (lots of lime green dresses and colorful prints), the narrative of the original series existed in a pop culture vacuum. There were no references to Vietnam, the Monkees, the Beatles, or anything at all happening outside Collinsport, and I’m pretty sure a television was never even shown. The weird purgatorial void in which the story took place was part of the charm.

The line about Barnabas Collins emerging after two centuries in a coffin to find that his blueblood descendants have turned out to be a bunch of neurotic weirdos inhabiting his dilapidated family estate is kind of encouraging, as it was subtly present in the show but never fully explored. I sense a lot of scenery-chewing heading this way.

The biggest mystery for me, as well as possibly the most subversive thing about the film, remains: how WB plans to sell a tentpole summer release featuring an utterly out of date vampire trope to the Hot Topic-shoppin’, Twilight-lovin’ tweens. Based on Depp and Burton’s comments thus far, they’re really embracing the creaky old vampire stereotype from the original series, and I can’t see that going over well with the film’s assumed audience.