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Dark Shadows (2012)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/2/2012

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/2/2012

Tim Burton begin his feature film directing career in 1985 with Pee-wee's Big Adventure. This may seem like little more than a stepping-stone today, but it would've been a big deal at the time. Paul Reubens had built a following with his Pee-wee Herman character and getting the directing gig for a Pee-wee movie was a great grab for Burton. Of course, he followed this with Beetljuice and his career took off, and Burton remains one of the busiest directors in Hollywood, rarely taking time off between projects. But, what many people seem to forget is that, at heart, Tim Burton is still an odd goth kid who loves spooky and quirky things. This means that he doesn’t always connect with a general audience. This becomes very obvious in Dark Shadows.

Dark Shadows begins hundreds of years ago. The Collins family has come to America from England and settled in New England. They begin fishing the local waters, soon building a business, and a town, Collinsport, is built. The family resides in Collinwood mansion and all seems well, especially with Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp). However, things turn sour when Barnabas spurns the advances of a servant, Angelique (Eva Green), unaware that she is a witch. She kills Barnabas’ parents, and his true love, Josette (Bella Heathcote). She then turns Barnabas into a vampire. Enraged, the townspeople capture Barnabas, place him in a coffin wrapped in chains and bury him.

Barnabas is unearthed by a construction crew in the year 1972. Of course, he’s confused by the unfamiliar surroundings, not to mention the fact that he’s thirsting for blood. He makes his way to Collinwood and finds that the Collins family has fallen on hard times. The fishing business is all but gone, and matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) does her best to hold the family together. Her daughter, Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), is rebellious, and her nephew, David (Gulliver McGrath), has peculiar tendencies. Dr. Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) has been brought in to work with David, as his father, Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller), has little to do with boy. Victoria Winters (Heathcote) has just come to Collinwood to be a governess for David. Barnabas is shocked by two things -- the state of the family and Victoria’s uncanny resemblance to Josette. Barnabas quickly begins to make changes, but he soon learns that the witch’s curse still plagues the Collins family.

When I watch a movie, I typically try to formulate ideas for my subsequent review while doing so. Sometimes this can be a complete thought or even a paragraph (let's face it, some reviews write themselves). Other times, as with Dark Shadows, it can be just a single word on which I fixate and in this case, that word was "misguided". The film is based on a daytime TV show which ran from 1966-1971. (As the show ended in 1971, the film starting in 1972 makes sense.) The cycle of adapting old television shows into theatrical films has slowed (although 21 Jump Street showed how to do it right), so the translation of an old soap opera to the screen wouldn't be as unwelcome now as it would have been several years ago. In that same vein, vampires are still hot right now, so the subject matter is certainly on point. Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have a fairly successful track record when they team up, so that made this seem like a safe bet.

Dark Shadows gets off to a good start. The pre-credit sequence, which explains how Barnabas became a vampire is well-done, as it summarizes a lot of information in a short time. The credit sequence is fantastic and really gave me high hopes for the film. As The Moody Blues' "Night In White Satin" plays, we see images that look as if they came directly from a 1970s Italian film. But, after this, the movie settles into a weird groove, and yet, can never find its way. The movie isn't funny enough to a comedy. It's not gothic enough, and yet more violent than I had expected. There is a lot happening with the characters, but the movie doesn't reach a soap opera level of drama. The story was written by successful screenwriter John August and novelist Seth Grahame-Smith, with Grahame-Smith handling duties on the screenplay. Despite the involvement of two writers who have worked before, the movie seems to be simply throwing out ideas and scenes, hoping that something sticks. This leads to a lack of narrative flow, and some things (like Carolyn's secret) seem to come out of nowhere.

But, the blame must ultimately fall on Tim Burton. Again, despite his mainstream success and the fact that he's a household name, he and Johnny Depp both still like the quirky stuff. There were several scenes which were embarrassingly bad and I could just imagine Burton sitting behind the camera giggling like crazy at them. Burton has shown that he can do quirky comedy (in movies like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), but the jokes here simply don't work (the McDonalds logo joke was a memorable groaner). And what about the scene with Alice Cooper? How did that get past a studio executive?

To be fair, I do like the fact that Burton continues to tackle new projects and that Depp shows that he's one of the most fearless actors working today. If nothing else, Burton gives the movie a nice look and he shows that he can work with both darkness and color. But, while nothing succeeds like success, people should think twice before giving Burton and Depp $150 million to work on their pet project. In the end, Dark Shadows is a lot like Barnabas -- it's back after many years and has no idea what it's doing.

Dark Shadows shows that ocean front real estate isn't all that it's cracked up to be on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 24 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. This would a good demo disc for the colors alone -- the colors are bold and look very good, most notably reds. The darker scenes show true, rich black tones with no bleeding or overly dark corners. The image has a nice amount of depth (the actors are always clearly delineated from the backgrounds, and the level of detail is very good. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.1 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is an active track which delivers strong stereo and surround effects. We get many detailed sounds from the mansion and the track is very good at highlighting audio coming from off screen or behind the characters. The subwoofer effects help to create noteworthy explosions.

The Dark Shadows Blu-ray Disc contains a wide, yet narrow array of extras. The viewer can choose to watch the film with "Focus Points". This offers a variety of Picture-in-Picture pieces that include comments from the cast and crew, on-set and behind-the-scenes footage which explores many facets of the film's productions. We also get comments from people involved with the original show. The "Focus Points" featurettes can also be viewed individually. These nine segments average about 4 minutes each and "focus" on different things, such as the characters, the production design, and the surprise musical guests. The Disc contains five DELETED SCENES which run about 5 minutes. These are all brief and simply offer more dialogue scenes.

Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long