What’s Up With Johnny Depp’s ‘Dark Shadows’ Look?

By John Mitchell

The first image of Johnny Depp in character as Barnabus Collins for Tim Burton’s hotly anticipated big screen adaptation of the late-60s soap opera “Dark Shadows” found its way online today and it is … well, it’s just so wrong.

Depp wears heavy white makeup and exaggerated sideburns to play Collins, a 200-year-old vampire awakened during an attempted jewel theft in the Collins family mausoleum by Willie Loomis (Oscar nominee Jackie Earle Haley), and, frankly, the character appears to more closely resembles Depp’s takes on Willy Wonka or the Mad Hatter than the mysterious, sexy vampire introduced on the cult classic series.

The series remains one of my favorite guilty pleasures. It aired originally from 1966-71 on ABC but was brought back to life in reruns in the early ’90s by the SyFy Channel. Sure, it’s kind of a weird thing for a 10-year-old boy to be into, but I loved every second of the melodrama. I was sucked in by the over-the-top tales of vampires, witches and time travel and rejoiced when NBC brought the show back for a short-lived remake that featured a very young Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

So I’ve been excited about this movie since the moment Warner Bros. acquired the rights to the series in 2007 and Burton announced he would direct. Burton is at his best when his material runs Gothic and “Shadows” looked like the perfect return-to-form vehicle for the director. His recent films have been his biggest box office hits – “Alice in Wonderland” topped $1 billion in worldwide grosses – but few would argue they are his best films. With its dark, atmospheric New England setting and myriad mysterious characters, “Shadows” should have more in common with “Sleepy Hollow” or Burton’s “Batman” films than it does his candy-colored “Alice.”

But Depp’s makeup and costuming make it seem like the director has decided to take his “Shadows” down the rabbit hole. In these images, Depp looks like a cartoon, which is what it is, but it’s not Barnabus Collins. He’s not an eccentric weirdo; he’s a troubled man, cursed to eternal life by jealous witch Angelique (Eva Green), who started the series’ run as a frightening figure and evolved into a complex sort of hero that fights to save the Collins family from falling apart while battling his feelings for his lost love Josette and her doppelganger Victoria Winters (newcomer Bella Heathcote).

He’s not the Mad Hatter with fangs.

Another issue I have with Depp’s makeup and styling is that several key plots from the series hinged on women being attracted to Barnabus in a major way. Barnabus was, after all, turned into a vamp when he ended his affair with the character played by Green, who is perhaps one of the most gorgeous women on earth. He also has a complex-but-obvious chemistry and attraction to young and beautiful Victoria Winters. It’s not hard to imagine women being attracted to Johnny Depp. It is, however, difficult to imagine women being overwhelmed by their attraction to whatever Depp is playing in these shots.

In short, Barnabus is meant to be a darkly alluring figure in the vein of Tom Cruise in “Interview with the Vampire” and other classic cinema vamps, not a vividly white vamp reminiscent of something out of “Twilight.”

I’m still excited for the film and hope my gut response to Depp’s styling is wrong. Perhaps he’s overdone because of the lighting Burton is using for a specific scene, or maybe it won’t come off as over-the-top in the context of the film. But this flick already had so much going for it – the supporting ensemble is perfectly cast, from Green and Haley to Michelle Pfeiffer and Chloe Moretz – that it just didn’t need this. It’s just worrisome because much of the audiences’ emotional connection to the show hinged on sympathizing with its lead vampire, and while Depp is a great actor, no amount of emoting is going to make me connect to the undead cartoon character in these images.

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