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'Dark Shadows': A Retro Redo Lacking Life And Luster

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'Dark Shadows': A Retro Redo Lacking Life And Luster

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'Dark Shadows': A Retro Redo Lacking Life And Luster

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. The gothic soap opera "Dark Shadows" became a cult hit in the 1960s when it introduced supernatural creatures to daytime television. As a little boy, Johnny Depp was obsessed with the show. Now, critic Bob Mondello says he gets to sink his teeth into one of its characters.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Putting together a Halloween costume must be a breeze at Johnny Depp's house. Forget pirate Jack Sparrow. If you just take a few of the characters he's played for director Tim Burton - the Mad Hatter, mad barber Sweeney Todd, mad candymaker Willy Wonka and two mad Eds, Wood and Scissorhands - you have a whole closet-full of costuming possibilities, to which we can now add a madly aristocratic vampire, the onetime heir to Collinwood Mansion, Barnabas Collins, who is thoroughly annoyed of having been rendered immortal and then buried alive by a witch.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "DARK SHADOWS")

JOHNNY DEPP: (as Barnabas Collins) Locked in a box for 200 years.

EVA GREEN: (as Angelique Bouchard) Don't exaggerate, it was only 196.

DEPP: (as Barnabas Collins) It was an eternity. I shall have you tried for witchcraft and burnt at the stake.

GREEN: (as Angelique Bouchard) Poor sweet Barnabas, things have changed while you were taking your little nap.

MONDELLO: The year is 1972, and things have indeed changed - cars, lava lamps, hippies - there's a lot for an undead 18th-century gentleman to take in. But Barnabas, who sees the now-dilapidated Collinwood Mansion as a fixer-upper, will do his best to rescue his penniless family, even if distant relatives, like his teenaged great-great-great-great-grandniece, find his pre-Victorian views a bit perplexing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "DARK SHADOWS")

DEPP: (as Barnabas Collins) What is your age, if I may?

CHLOE GRACE MORETZ: (as Carolyn Stoddard) Fifteen.

DEPP: (as Barnabas Collins) Fifteen and no husband. You must put those birthing hips to good use at once lest your womb shrivel up and die.

MORETZ: (as Carolyn Stoddard) You're weird.

MONDELLO: As you can hear, Tim Burton's "Dark Shadows" is more a vampire-out-of-water story than it is an homage to the original TV show or a trek through the hipper worlds of "Twilight" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." It's stately with a smirk, crossing Bram Stoker with The Addams Family to arrive at what sometimes feels like an overproduced "Saturday Night Live" sketch.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "DARK SHADOWS")

HELENA BONHAM CARTER: (as Dr. Julia Hoffman) He told me everything, including the fact that you've known his secret since the minute he arrived. Why the hell didn't you say anything?

MICHELLE PFEIFFER: (as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard) I was protecting the children.

CARTER: (as Dr. Julia Hoffman) Oh, by letting a vampire use one of the guest bedrooms.

MONDELLO: Screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith also has "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" coming out later this summer, so he'll have a chance to tap another vein, as it were, of the vampire myth. Here, despite the presence of Helena Bonham Carter and Michelle Pfeiffer, the jokes only really have much bite when they're being cleverly undersold by Johnny Depp. The film is otherwise handsome, vaguely true to the old soap opera, and inert. Toward the end of the movie, Tim Burton offers some visual nods to "Nosferatu," Hitchcock's "Rebecca" and, of all things, "Death Becomes Her," suggesting that, at some point, he may have had broader satirical notions batting around his head. But what he's actually put on screen is just kind of batty. I'm Bob Mondello.

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