'Dark Shadows' Hits Home Video: Latest Depp/Burton Pairing Lacks Focus

'Dark Shadows' Hits Home Video: Latest Depp/Burton Pairing Lacks Focus

“Dark Shadows” marks the eighth collaboration between Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton. Most agreed it won’t go down as their finest pairing, even if the film honored a beloved soap opera with fangs.

The film, out today on Blu-ray and DVD, marks the duo’s least focused effort.

Sure, the “Dark” visuals are as eerily lush as anything in the Burton canon, something the Blu-ray edition proves by the time the exposition-heavy opening wraps. The comedy still doesn’t always know what it wants to be.

A vampire out of water saga? Sure, depositing Barnabas Collins (Depp) into 1972 offers some ripe laughs, but why resurrect a classic vampire saga just for some facile sight gags? The prog rock soundtrack offers a bed of dreamy delights, but the textures are pushed aside for the aforementioned sight gags.

Depp’s vampire is hardly one to inspire nightmares, but he dispatches a key character in a fashion that’s hardly comic or cool. He’s apologetic while slaughtering a crew of construction workers in the first act, but Burton stages the assault like a horror maestro gunning for maximum shock.

Burton gathers a who’s who of today’s best character actors, from Jackie Earle Haley to rising star Chloe Grace Moretz. Most aren’t allowed the chance to resonate as they should.

And then there’s Depp, who instantly summons his singular take on the cursed Barnabas and never loses his grip. He remains a chameleon trapped in the body of a movie star, an actor so giddy to play abnormal roles he makes them feel as achingly boring as the rest of us.

The Burton/Depp pairing isn’t the only recent actor/director tandem of note. Martin Scorsese’s tag team efforts with Robert De Niro (“Taxi Driver,” “Goodfellas”) is the stuff of movie legends. What Burton doesn’t always bring to his Depp-inspired affairs is a story worthy of their talents.

Burton’s fanciful compositions remain his calling card. Consider the gaudy perfection of Barnabas, his mouth streaked with blood, awed by the sight of McDonald’s Golden Arches.

It’s fair to say Burton favors minor visual masterpieces over storytelling. Even his signature superhero triumph, 1989’s “Batman,” suffered from an indifferent narrative.

“Dark Shadows” remains a gorgeous way of activating your flat panel set’s pixels. Those looking for much more will need to revisit the best Burton/Depp pairings – “Edward Scissorhands,” “Ed Wood” and “Sweeney Todd.”

The Blu-ray version offers deleted scenes, a group of small moments easily excised but lending a tad more depth to some of the supporting players.

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