A supernatural soap opera may sound like a creation of Tim Burton, but the new movie Dark Shadows is his take on the television soap opera of vampires, witches, and ghosts. And despite some camp, the movie may be too close to the original.

Dark Shadows begins in the late 18th century, when Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is the young member of a family so important that the whole Maine town is named Collinsport. Barnabas has an affair with Angelique (Eva Green), but he can't give her the love she wants because he's in love with Josette (Bella Heathcote). Unfortunately Angelique is a witch, and a vengeful one: She makes Josette walk off a cliff to her death, turns Barnabas into a vampire so he can't join his love in death, and has the townspeople bury Barnabas in a coffin.

We now jump ahead to 1972 (a year after the Dark Shadows tv series ended), and the Collins family is fading. Matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) tries to keep the family together while aware of their problems. Young David Collins (Gulliver McGrath) has been traumatized since his mother was lost at sea. David's father Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) is more interested in stealing than in family or, well, anything else. Doctor Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) is a pill-popping, hard-drinking psychiatrist who came to help David and never left. Teenager Carolyn Stoddard (Chloe Grace Motentz) is surly and rebellious. New governess Victoria Winters (also played by Bella Heathcote -- you see where this is heading) wants to care for David -- but sees a mysterious ghost wandering the mansion. Even the idiotic caretaker Willie (Jackie Earle Haley) knows how messed up everything is for them. Their unlikely salvation seems to be from the return of Barnabas, accidentally freed by some construction workers (who he kills) and determined to restore the Collins family to glory.

Unfortunately, the main business rival to the Collins is run by Angelique, the main power in Collinsport -- and still as in love/hate with Barnabas as ever. Who will win when vampire and witch battle? And what of the ghosts, family secrets, and other goings-on in the gothic Collins manor?

You might think all this weirdness would be perfectly suited to Tim Burton's odd tastes, but Dark Shadows quickly settles into being too similar to its source. There are plenty of "time shock" jokes about Barnabas dealing with 1970s culture (from lava lamps to thinking Alice Cooper is a woman), and Depp has fun playing the stereotypical tortured vampire (complete with hypnotism through steely gaze and waving fingers), but beyond that the movie is just a slightly campy soap opera. In a sense it's impressive that so much melodrama and plot threads are squeezed into and resolved in a single movie -- but the comedy isn't hysterical and the action and drama aren't that involving. Dark Shadows, for all its numerous supernatural elements, is ultimately just a soap opera on the big screen.

Overall grade: C+

Reviewed by James Lynch

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