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Book Review - 'Dark Shadows: The Visual Companion'

Fred Patten digs into Mark Salisbury’s book detailing the latest Tim Burton – Johnny Depp collaboration.

Click any image to view higher-res version. All images ™ & © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (Titan Books).

Dark Shadows: The Visual Companion, by Mark Salisbury.  Foreword by Johnny Depp.  Introduction by Tim Burton.  Afterword by Richard D. Zanuck.

London, Titan Books, November 2012, hardcover $39.95 (192 pages).

Dark Shadows: The Visual Companion is another “not the making of” art book that nevertheless contains “scores of photos, concept drawings, production designs, and interviews with the cast and crew,” to quote the back-cover blurb.  This book is more for the Dark Shadows fan than for the filmmaker looking for VFX technical information, but the latter will still find much of interest here.

Dark Shadows the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp movie, released in May 2012, is inspired by and a tribute to the original Dark Shadows “gothic soap opera” television series of June 1966 to April 1971, created by Dan Curtis.  The 2012 movie is a summary of the plot of the five-year TV series.  In the 1760s-1770s the Collins family emigrates from Liverpool, England to the Maine seacoast in North America and establishes a prosperous fishing village, Collinsport, dominated by an ornate mansion, Collinwood.  Barnabas Collins, the young heir of the family (Johnny Depp), forms a romantic relationship with the family maid, Angelique (Eva Green), but is not interested in carrying it beyond a momentary flirtation.  Angelique, a jealous powerful witch, kills Barnabas’ parents and bespells his true love, Josette du Pres (Bella Heathcote), into jumping from a cliff into the sea.  When Barnabas, grief-stricken, follows her to his death, Angelique curses him to become an immortal vampire.  Angelique leads the Collinsport villagers to capture and bury him. 

Almost 200 years later, in 1972, Barnabas’ coffin is dug up by construction workers, releasing him.  He returns to Collinwood to find it a decaying remnant of its past glory, inhabited by only seven people: Elizabeth (Michelle Pffeiffer), the current family leader, her 15-year-old daughter Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz), her weak brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), Roger’s 10-year-old son David (Gulliver McGrath), David’s live-in psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), Willie the sullen caretaker (Jackie Earle Haley), and David’s just-hired governess, Victoria Winters, who Barnabas recognizes as the reincarnation of Josette.  Barnabas, struggling to restrain his lust for blood, poses as a distant relative come to rebuild the family fortune, revealing his true identity and nature only to Elizabeth to show her a rich treasure hidden within the mansion.  Elizabeth has Collinwood cleaned and renovated, and Barnabas and Victoria resume their interrupted love; but Angelique, who has used her witchcraft to remain young and to impoverish the Collins over 200 years, is furious.  She destroys the Collinsport fishery, turns Carolyn into a werewolf, and again incites the townsfolk against all the inhabitants of Collinwood.  In the dramatic climax, Barnabas’ and Angelique’s true natures are exposed, and Angelique tries to destroy Collinwood and the last of the Collins family in a spectacular sorcerous battle.

The book begins with photos of director Tim Burton together with Johnny Depp in his Barnabas Collins makeup, and a few publicity photos of the original TV series featuring Jonathan Frid as Barnabas.  The “History” reveals that it was Dan Curtis who approached Johnny Depp early in the 2000s about starring as Barnabas Collins in a theatrical feature remake of Dark Shadows.  Depp liked the idea, but at the time he was contracted for other films.  Later, after completing his other commitments (and unfortunately after Curtis had died), Depp took the idea to Tim Burton who enthusiastically undertook it.  The story of the making of the film is detailed.

The “Cast” is the longest chapter, from pages 20 to 68.  This focuses upon the main characters, with close-up photos of them and behind-the-camera photos of them being directed by Tim Burton.  Other chapters include “The Sets”, “Costume – Hair & Makeup – Prosthetics”, “Cinematography – Stunts – Special Effects”, and “Visual Effects – Editing – Scoring”.  All are full of beautifully posed publicity photos, and many show Burton’s sketchy preliminary designs of what he wanted the characters to look like.

Apparently I would not make a good cinematographer, because many of what I guessed while seeing the movie to be the special effects and the visual effects are described here as the reverse.  The transparent ghost of Josette floating through Collinwood’s halls is a special effect, while Angelique’s face cracking like a broken doll in the climactic battle is a visual effect.  AWN’s readers will be disappointed that so little space in this book is given to the special and visual effects.  Still, Dark Shadows is a live-action movie, and this book delivers what its subtitle promises:  it is an excellent “visual companion” and souvenir of the film for Dark Shadows’ many fans.

(Although it cannot be told from this book, the effective music by Danny Elfman is the closest to a traditional film score that I have heard for a Tim Burton feature.  It should be noted that co-Producer Richard D. Zanuck died just after writing the Afterword to this book.)

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Fred Patten has been a fan of animation since the first theatrical rerelease of Pinocchio (1945).  He co-founded the first Americanfan club for Japanese anime in 1977, and was awarded the Comic-Con International's Inkpot Award in 1980 for introducing anime to American fandom.  He began writing about anime for Animation WorldMagazine sinceits #5, August 1996.  Amajor stroke in 2005 sidelined him for several years, but now he is back. He can be reached at fredpatten@earthlink.net.

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