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Published:December 2nd, 2012 12:15 EST
Dark Shadows and the Use of Color

Dark Shadows and the Use of Color

By Tony Graff

I`m not a Tim Burton fan. I`m usually the first to bring out the fact that his storytelling is lacking, and his obsession with the macabre has reached its most success in keeping Hot Topic shelves filled. That having been said, I picked up Dark Shadows and thought I`d give it a shot.

For the most part, it fit about what I would expect from the man who gave us movies like The Corpse Bride, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and James and the Giant Peach. However, Tim Burton did succeed in keeping his audience`s attention right where he wanted through the use of color.

The scenes he create in this movie, based on a TV show in the sixties and seventies, are set in both 1752 and 1972 in a fishing town. The Collins family has held power there through their control of the fishing business since the original Collins family moved there from Liverpool, England. The heir of the family fortune, Barnabas Collins (played by Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean, Secret Window)), has a girl on the side named Angelique, who he admits isn`t the girl for him, just a girl for getting his kicks in. When he finds the girl of his dreams, Angelique curses him to become a vampire and causes the fledgling town to bury him. He wakes up over two hundred years later to a world filled with hippies, electronics, and vehicles.

Foreign to the world of the Seventies, Barnabas Collins focuses on bringing the failing Collins family, a daughter who runs manages the failing business along with her children and deadbeat husband, back into the prosperity they should be enjoying. However, Angelique, the same witch who cursed him two hundred years ago, isn`t too keen on letting him take over the town she now controls through the Angel Bay Fishing Company. She has her heart set on him, and will destroy everything he loves to make him love her. Storyline wise, it`s pretty cheesy.

Half an hour into the movie it`s clear how it`s going to end. Throw in a couple of deus ex machina, such as the daughter who`s conveniently a werewolf right when it`s called for and complete with cheesy line, and everything is predictable. But what stands out the most is how Tim Burton directs the audiences attention through the colors he chooses for the characters.

Dr. Julia Hoffman, played by Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter series), is the clearest example. Right from the first moment, our attention is drawn to her bright, candy-orange hair. When you see her hair bob into the room, we lose attention to the fact that there are walls. In the drabery of a crumbling building set with fading colors, there`s no way to let Julia Hoffman go unnoticed. No matter what she`s doing, her presence is clear. Another example is the daughter, Carolyn Stoddard, the convenient werewolf.

For most of the movie she`s as bland of the background. It`s not that she isn`t interesting as a character or useful in moving the plot along, she just doesn`t capture our attention until she is wearing the shiny purple dress the night that Angelique attacks the Collins family at their home. Then she`s hard to ignore. Which is good, because otherwise the werewolf transformation would be out of place.

Not that it isn`t, plot-wise, but once we as the audience are familiar with Tim Burton`s use of color throughout the movie, we know to expect something when we see the bright, unnatural color. Then we get to Angelique herself. She doesn`t attract much attention during the introduction, unless the light through the red stained glass is on her. But bring her to the 1970`s and she is a clear character for the audience to give attention.

The brighter reds and blues she wears makes it obvious that when she`s in the room, she`s the focal point. Then at the end, when she pulls her own fake heart out of her shattered chest, the color focus shifts from her to the heart, then dissipates when the hearts withers and dies. Tim Burton uses a simple technique like the colors to present the true heroes in the story. In some scenes, he pretty much has to in order to keep the attention off of Johnny Depp.

The women are the major players in this film, and the vampire Barnabas Collins is the vehicle to bring these strong characters together. Say what you will about Tim Burton, like his movies or not, he does exhibit some control over the audiences he presents his work to. Dark Shadows makes a clear presentation on his ability to direct the audience where he wants them, when he wants their attention there.