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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Dark Shadows

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Academy Award-nominee Johnny Depp stars in Tim Burton's "Dark Shadows."
Long before "Twilight's" Edward Cullen and other Johnny-come-lately vampires, there was television's Barnabas Collins, played by the recently deceased Jonathan Frid. Time was when legions of teenage baby boomers would rush home from school each weekday afternoon to find out what Barnabas was up to by catching the latest episode of "Dark Shadows," the wildly popular gothic soap opera that largely revolved around him.

Two feature films and a long afterlife in syndication ensued, not to mention reincarnation on DVD and in any number of other media.

Mostly set in 1972, the year after the television version went off the air—it was first broadcast in 1966—director Tim Burton's big-screen homage, "Dark Shadows" (Warner Bros.), is a campy comic take on the original.

Though visually striking and initially amusing, his riff on the low-budget, but by now venerable, property introduces some discordant notes as it seeks to garner laughs from casual sexual encounters. Then the melody gets lost altogether amid a crescendo of special effects and supernatural mayhem.

Johnny Depp takes the part of Barnabas, a figure with whom the actor is said to have been obsessed since childhood. Opening scenes carry us back to the mid-18th century—and play like something between a novel by one of the Brontes and a Harlequin romance—as they recount Barnabas' back story. This culminates in the vein-drainer being buried alive by an angry mob of New England townsfolk.

Flash forward to the Age of Nixon where we find Barnabas accidentally exhumed by a construction crew—who quickly learn to regret their discovery of him.

Returning to Collinwood, the ancestral manse his parents built, Barnabas encounters the descendants who currently inhabit it: Matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), her disaffected teen daughter, Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), her ne'er-do-well brother, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), and his troubled young son, David (Gully McGrath).

Also in residence are the children's governess Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote)—who's a dead ringer for Barnabas' true love of long ago, Josette DuPres (also Heathcote)—and David's live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter).

As he tries to restore the dwindling family fortune, Barnabas battles Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), the still-living witch whose jealousy-fueled curse transformed him into a bloodsucker in the first place. She's now the Collins' main competitor in the local fishing industry.

If all that sounds a bit complicated, and indeed it is, there is ample precedent: In its later seasons, the TV iteration shuttled between the then-present day and various points in the past, ranging from the 1790s to the 1890s. But the television writers had roughly 1,200 episodes in which to elaborate their ideas, as opposed to the less-than-two hours available to Burton.

Much of the humor is derived from Barnabas' anachronistic outlook on psychedelic-era America. With his formal, not to say stilted, personal manner—which Carolyn quickly labels "weird"—Barnabas is a bemused fish out of water in the world of pot-smoking hippies, VW vans and the cocktail-quaffing antics of Dr. Hoffman. The contrast works for a while, but eventually wears thin.

Perhaps sensing that the joke has run its course, Burton and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith devote the last quarter-hour or so of the movie to a noisy, effects-driven showdown between Barnabas and his age-old nemesis Angelique. Neither funny nor frightening, this finale will only add to the dissatisfaction of nostalgic viewers and the bewilderment of those too young to remember Barnabas in his undead prime.

The film contains some action violence, semi-graphic sexual activity, an implied aberrant act, a suicide, drug use, mature references, a couple of uses of profanity and about a half-dozen instances each of crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.





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Augustine of Canterbury: In the year 596, some 40 monks set out from Rome to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons in England. Leading the group was Augustine, the prior of their monastery in Rome. Hardly had he and his men reached Gaul (France) when they heard stories of the ferocity of the Anglo-Saxons and of the treacherous waters of the English Channel. Augustine returned to Rome and to the pope who had sent them—St. Gregory the Great (September 3 )—only to be assured by him that their fears were groundless. 
<p>Augustine again set out. This time the group crossed the English Channel and landed in the territory of Kent, ruled by King Ethelbert, a pagan married to a Christian, Bertha. Ethelbert received them kindly, set up a residence for them in Canterbury and within the year, on Pentecost Sunday, 597, was himself baptized. After being consecrated a bishop in France, Augustine returned to Canterbury, where he founded his see. He constructed a church and monastery near where the present cathedral, begun in 1070, now stands. As the faith spread, additional sees were established at London and Rochester. </p><p>Work was sometimes slow and Augustine did not always meet with success. Attempts to reconcile the Anglo-Saxon Christians with the original Briton Christians (who had been driven into western England by Anglo-Saxon invaders) ended in dismal failure. Augustine failed to convince the Britons to give up certain Celtic customs at variance with Rome and to forget their bitterness, helping him evangelize their Anglo-Saxon conquerors </p><p>Laboring patiently, Augustine wisely heeded the missionary principles—quite enlightened for the times—suggested by Pope Gregory the Great: purify rather than destroy pagan temples and customs; let pagan rites and festivals be transformed into Christian feasts; retain local customs as far as possible. The limited success Augustine achieved in England before his death in 605, a short eight years after he arrived in England, would eventually bear fruit long after in the conversion of England. Augustine of Canterbury can truly be called the “Apostle of England.”</p> American Catholic Blog A hero isn’t someone born with unconquerable strength and selflessness. Heroes are not formed in a cataclysmic instant. Heroism is developed over time, one decision after another, moment by moment, formed by a deliberate, chosen, and habitual response to life.

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