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In 1752, the Collins family sails from Liverpool, England to North America. The son, Barnabas, grows up to be a wealthy playboy in Collinsport, Maine and is the master of Collinwood Manor. He breaks the heart of a witch, Angelique Bouchard, who turns him into a vampire and buries him alive. In 1972, Barnabas is accidentally freed from his coffin and returns to find his once-magnificent manor in ruin. It is occupied by dysfunctional Collins descendants and other residents, all of whom have secrets.
For more about Dark Shadows and the Dark Shadows Blu-ray release, see Dark Shadows Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on September 24, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, ChloŽ Grace Moretz, Christopher Lee, Jonny Lee Miller, Eva Green
Director: Tim Burton
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Dark Shadows Blu-ray Review
"What sorcery is this!? Reveal yourself, tiny songstress!"
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, September 24, 2012
Tim Burton, purveyor of winsomely weird manufactured macabre, has had a tough go of things. With nearly as many directorial and producorial misses as hits to his name -- a narrow eleven to ten by my count, an astonishing eight of which have featured Johnny Depp -- the famously reclusive filmmaker has delighted audiences... before turning right around and leaving them cold. Yet every Burton film has its legion of devoted, often vocal fans, however small, and every last one has its own charms, however limited. At first glance, Dark Shadows struck me as a batty comedy destined to go down as one of the director's lesser efforts; a quirky but rather unnecessary feature film adaptation of ABC's 1200-episode '70s daytime soap. Flawed as it can be, though, Dark Shadows is more of a return to form than anything akin to an outright failure, and its semi-slapdash, monster-v-monster third act is the biggest thing that spoils the creepy camp Burton conjures up for the better part of seventy-five minutes.
Cursed as a young 18th century man and robbed of his one true love by a jealous witch named Angelique (Eva Green), brooding vampire Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is freed from his earthly grave after two-hundred years, only to come face to face with something more terrifying than he: the 1970s. Despite a nagging sense of honor, nobility and gentlemanly poise, though, Barnabas is a vicious vamp capable of slaughtering a dozen men in seconds, even on his worst day. With his fill of construction worker blood, he sets out to reclaim his old estate, where he meets his motley descendants: spook-spotting boy David (Gulliver McGrath), his inattentive father Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), icy matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), her firebrand daughter Carolyn (ChloŽ Grace Moretz), loyal groundskeeper Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley) and David's psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter). But Barnabas is more interested in David's new governess Victoria (Bella Heathcote) -- who bears a striking resemblance to the vampire's long-dead love, Josette -- and a rival business heiress lording over the town and the Collins family fishery; an heiress who just so happens to be the same immortal witch that turned Barnabas into a vampire and imprisoned him two centuries before.
Burning question of the film: is Dark Shadows little more than a thinly veiled Johnny Depp vehicle? Yes... and no. Depp elbows his way into the center of every frame with yet another marvelously mimed eccentric brandishing a scrunchy brow, wild eyes, and an uncanny fashion sense. His subdued but sometimes feverishly funny A-list castmates are often reduced to bit players -- whether by force, sheer skill or inadvertent comic magnetism doesn't enter into it, the results are the same -- and most scenes are constructed to serve Depp's impulses and indulgences, not vice versa. But let's not paint dear Johnny as the villain here. Burton and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith all but hurl the film at the feet of their leading man, failing (or perhaps neglecting) to make Elizabeth or the extended Collins family as fun or fantastic as her blood-sucking ancestor. Pfieffer and company are, more often than not, left to their own devices, each one crouched over a soap-y cauldron of the wacky and grotesque, but tend to evoke The Addams Family more than the original Dark Shadows. It doesn't help that the Collinses are such an eclectic lot, with children who see spirits, angsty teens hiding supernatural secrets, reincarnated governesses, groundskeepers falling under spells, doctors getting a taste of the otherworldly, and an ancient enemy hellbent on merging Barnabas' acquisitions with her own. Full of cheesy delights like the series that spawned it? Sure. Full of distractions and unwieldy subplots? Definitely.
Although, at least in part, that's the point. The late '60s soap opera was full of cheesy delights, distractions and unwieldy subplots. And Depp -- who was so bewitched by the series as a child that he did everything possible to attach himself to the adaptation when Warner Bros. acquired the rights, including luring an initially hesitant Burton onto the project -- was vigilant in seeing his beloved Dark Shadows handled properly. While the comedy is certainly more intentional (albeit more restrained than its theatrical trailers suggest), the story more focused and the characters less erratic, Burton's Shadows is an ode to the series first and foremost, period setting, sullen performances, stuffy gothic romanticism, rigid relationships and all. Some will balk, some will swoon. For those who were swept up in their own love affair with the original soap, the film will be a nostalgic, refreshingly unassuming return to Collinwood Mansion and a high-gloss Depp/Burton team-up fraught with gloomy storybook visuals, CG flourishes, a ridiculous, supernaturally charged love scene, and a requisite assortment of '70s gags. For those who've never seen an episode of the series, it will be a strangely amusing mashup of glib genre tricks and groovy haunted-house treats and a movie that chains itself to its own overripe melancholy, introduces too many characters, and puts a bit too much faith in its humble TV origins and slowly receding appeal.
When the camp-factor isn't draining the cheeky adaptation of blood, the cheeky adaptation is draining the camp-factor. It makes for a herky trip back through time and a jerky visit with the Collinses. Burton even takes more care in setting the stage for a sequel than he does in wrapping up Barnabas' long-standing feud with Angelique. And the cast? Pfieffer simmers then cools too quickly. Green has bite as a vexing vixen in the past but is all bark as a scorned '70s harpy. Moretz scowls, snaps her jaws and... that's about it. Miller can't find his way off screen fast enough. Bonham Carter lurches forward then putters out. Heathcote matters, and then doesn't, and then suddenly does again. McGrath has the thankless role of the boy who sees too much and does too little. Christopher Lee and Alice Cooper cameo, to what benefit I'm not sure. And Haley swipes a few scenes, even if his dim-witted caretaker shtick eventually stalls. It's hit, miss, hit, miss, and Burton never quite finds the balance he often achieved in his early films. Dark Shadows is still more of a purebred Burton flick, though, which goes a long way, and it's more of a self-sustaining dark comedy than an off-kilter carriage wreck. Had Burton maintained the momentum he establishes in the first act and much of the second, his adaptation would have been better off. Alas, style continually trumps substance, making Dark Shadows a film sorely in need of a smarter, sharper endgame.
Dark Shadows Blu-ray, Video Quality
Dark Shadows is true to its name, with fleshy, oppressive shadows adorning every inch of Collinsport and Collinswood Mansion. Not that Warner's 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer shies away from the challenge. Bruno Delbonnel's palette is dreary and desolate on the whole (almost to the point of being colorless on occasion), with overcast skies, sun-starved skintones, grim grays, dulled whites and smoky blacks. Primaries slice through the drab curtain every now and then -- especially where Angelique is concerned, with her bright crimson lips and cherry red sports car -- but otherwise color is limited to blood, mansion draperies, hippie gatherings and hearthside conversations. It's all intentional, of course, and perfectly suits the film, its gothic sensibilities and photography. Detail isn't razor sharp, nor is it completely subdued. The darker the shot, the less revealing it is. No surprise there. The surprise comes when light, however faint, enters a window pane or fills a room. Suddenly once-slight textures become more refined, delineation is more forgiving, and crush, minor as it is, ceases to be an issue. Edge definition is clean and satisfying throughout, as are closeups, which impress in spite of Delbonnel's diffuse lighting. The encode, meanwhile, doesn't run aground. Artifacting, banding, aliasing and other anomalies don't make any significant appearances, and a bit of elevated noise is the only inconsistency to report. All in all, Dark Shadows looks exactly like it should. It won't drop jaws, but it won't leave fans with anything to complain about either.
Dark Shadows Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Dark Shadows' DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track isn't the kind of lossless monster that goes for the jugular. It stalks its prey, closes in oh so patiently, pounces suddenly and retreats into the night to search for its next victim. And it serves the film wonderfully. Surging seas, squawking gulls, rustling branches, creaking floorboards, groaning doors, cavernous secret passageways, the echo of a grand hall, the chorus of a windy forest, the open skies of Collinsport... the rear speakers grab hold of it all, enveloping the listener in the quaint hustle and bustle of Barnabas' mansion and seaside town. Convincing directional effects make for an active and engaging experience, ghostly pans send spirits shooting from one channel to the next, LFE output is bold when attacking and subtle when simply lending weight, and dynamics are eerie and altogether excellent. Danny Elfman's score and the '70s hits that fill out the film's soundtrack are given full run of Collinswood too, and the resulting soundfield represents a perfect union of classic songs, playful genre music and plenty of properly prioritized horror hijinks. Dialogue doesn't disappoint either, with clear, well-grounded and smartly centered voices, as well as the freedom to venture out beyond the front speakers. Warner's mix is a fully immersive one and there isn't a single scene that underwhelms.
Dark Shadows Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Dark Shadows Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Dark Shadows doesn't fall flat on its face but it doesn't lord over other horror comedies either. At its best it's a return to form of sorts for Burton, who hasn't quite indulged in his particular breed of gothic fairy tale storybooking in some time, and for Depp, who does quirky and darkly eccentric better than any A-lister in Hollywood. At its worst it lurches and lulls, unsure of itself or exactly what it wants to do with a feature film adaptation of the original late '60s soap opera of the same name. Warner's Blu-ray release is much more consistent, though. Its faithful-to-a-fault video transfer impresses, its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is a blast, and its supplemental package, while a tad slight, covers plenty of ground. All things considered, fans of Burton and Depp could do a lot worse, even if they could also do a lot better.
Dark Shadows: Other Editions
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• Dark Shadows (2012) Blu-ray - July 30, 2012
In October, Warner Home Entertainment will bring Dark Shadows to Blu-ray. Director Tim Burton's screen interpretation of the cult horror-soap opera stars Johnny Depp (Sleepy Hollow) as Barnabas Collins, a vampire who emerges from a two-hundred-year slumber in ...
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