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Dark Shadows - Blu-ray Review

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Dark Shadows - Movie Review


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4 stars

Once again, director Tim Burton gets the quirk right and, once again, he’s come under fire for doing what he does so well: recapturing the world as he sees it with the camera.  Regardless of your feelings for Burton and Depp collaborations, one can certainly admit that it’s probably a very difficult thing to resurrect a soap opera that was, at once, so full of creativity and camp and also so beloved and to do it in such a manner as to not offend.

Dark Shadows, running weekdays from 1966 to 1971, was a groundbreaking soap that featured werewolves, zombies, monsters, witches, time travel and, a year into its run introduced the world to a vampire named Barnabas Collins.  It takes only a few minutes - once The Moody Blues playing “Nights in White Satin” kicks in - to realize that Burton’s playing off his past successes, namely Sleepy Hollow, Beetlejuice, and Edward Scissorhands, and giving us something that is just as skillfully balanced and fun.

Screenwriters Seth Grahame-Smith and John August turn up the spoof volume while keeping their tale sincere and highly enjoyable.  Barnabas (Depp - again!!! - looking like Dr. Caligari’s near-silent somnambulist) wakes from a 200 year cursed slumber and finds himself in very much alive 1972.  No, it's not Hammer horror we are heading into.  We've got camp and laughter before the bloodshed.  Fascinated by roads, Barnabas interprets car headlights as the devil’s eyes.  The electric hum and shine of a McDonald’s sign is the glowing presence of Mephistopheles.  In this manner Dark Shadows earns most of its humor from the whole fish-out-of-water routine that Smith and August freely play with.  Most jokes land with great gothic gusto.  Some gags just barely miss the mark, but all are sold with an agreeable energy.

After recovering from the disrepair his estate and his distant relatives are in, Barnabas works quickly to make things right again.  He comes clean to lady of the house, Michelle Pfeiffer in a performance that is a wonderfully strong return to the screen, and promises not to tell the other members of the Collinwood Manor – actors Jonny Lee Miller, Chloë Moretz (a scene stealer), Gulliver McGrath, Jackie Earle Haley and Helena Bonham Carter – which makes for some wonderfully twisted moments of plain sight comedy.  For the win, screenwriters Smith and August swoop in with rich moments of spoofing the early 70’s culture (counter and otherwise) as Barnabas does his best to reclaim his position as master of the household without drawing attention to his vampirisms and killing too many people.

Actress Eva Green, the witch responsible for his curse as a vampire and his 200-year sleep, is also kicking about in 1972.  It seems that her whole reason for existing (as she never died) is to rob the Collins family of their wealth; all of it.  She’s both excited and pissed at Barnabas’s return to the fold and tries – several times – to woo him all over again.  Their old game resumes, but he’s just not interested in mating with witches and his woes - both women and otherwise - are cramping his style.  There's no peace - not when the ghost in his manor of his past love are a haunting – actress Bella Heathcote in a two role performance.

Burton mines the material that, on the screen, reads as a wonderful throwback to the early years of his career.  Dark Shadows presents a design that showcases the greatest hits of Burton and, somehow, signals a more adult (read as sexier and bloodier) version of the artist at work.  Much of the film feels familiar and yet never forced.  Staying in a uniform motion is his imagination and those tired of “that” look simply need to move on from the talkback boards.  Step away from the keyboard, freaks.  From Depp’s use of his hands (Hello, Lugosi!!!) to the syncopated rhythms of the outside world as it descends upon Barnabas, there’s nothing here that haters are going to like.  This is Burton doing Burton doing Dark Shadows; he both owns and honors the material.

While the camera is pure modern day Burton – ala no swerving and winding, windswept movements – there’s no mistaking whose vision this is.  Burton loves the pasty look of his actors, the sunken-faced, big-eyed appeal of his cast and to expect anything different at this stage is just foolish.

While there’s a case to be made for restraint (no fancy opening credit sequence), certain shots eerily resemble key scenes in Beetlejuice as are the bizarre appearances of the family that surrounds Barnabas.  Are these 70’s-styled doppelgangers for Winona Ryder’s family from Beetlejuice?  Sequences are somehow familiar and bizarre; the abandonment of a child more than resembles the Cobblepot story in look and function in Batman Returns.  The eerie forest surroundings could have been straight out of Sleepy Hollow and the pop culture satire at the expense of the 1970’s is not unlike the send-up that went on in Mars Attacks.

And yet when The Carpenter’s classic “Top of the World” plays in its entirety and, as the bat guano hits the floor, Alice Cooper makes an appearance as himself for a couple of live performances, the heightened look of the film inside a culture of POP and fizz suddenly makes complete sense.  For Burton, this soapy world is a garden of wondrous delight and he gleefully digs in, inviting us to do the same, as he pokes and prods reality along the way in this fun madcap meltdown version of Dark Shadows.

Go see it with a family member and watch dysfunction get demonized.

{2jtab: Film Details}

Dark Shadows - Movie ReviewMPAA Rating: PG-13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking.
113 mins.
: Tim Burton
: Seth Grahame-Smith
Cast: Johnny Depp; Michelle Pfeiffer; Helena Bonham Carter; Eva Green
: Horror | Comedy
Every Family Has Its Demons
Memorable Movie Quote: "Witch, you cursed me to be this hideous creature! You may strategically place your wonderful lips upon my posterior and kiss it repeatedly!"
Theatrical Distributor:
Warner Bros. Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date: May 11, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
October 2, 2012

Synopsis: Upscale Font In the year 1752, Joshua and Naomi Collins, with young son Barnabas, set sail from Liverpool, England to start a new life in America. But even an ocean was not enough to escape the mysterious curse that has plagued their family. Two decades pass and Barnabas (Johnny Depp) has the world at his feet--or at least the town of Collinsport, Maine. The master of Collinwood Manor, Barnabas is rich, powerful and an inveterate playboy...until he makes the grave mistake of breaking the heart of Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). A witch, in every sense of the word, Angelique dooms him to a fate worse than death: turning him into a vampire, and then burying him alive. Two centuries later, Barnabas is inadvertently freed from his tomb and emerges into the very changed world of 1972. He returns to Collinwood Manor to find that his once-grand estate has fallen into ruin. The dysfunctional remnants of the Collins family have fared little better, each harboring their own dark secrets. Matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) has called upon live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), to help with her family troubles. Also residing in the manor is Elizabeth's ne'er-do-well brother, Roger Collins, (Jonny Lee Miller); her rebellious teenage daughter Carolyn Stoddard (Chloe Moretz); and Roger's precocious 10-year-old son, David Collins (Gulliver McGrath). The mystery extends beyond the family, to caretaker Willie Loomis, played by Jackie Earle Haley, and David's new nanny, Victoria Winters, played by Bella Heathcote.

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

Dark Shadows - Bu-ray Review

Component Grades

Blu-ray Disc
4 stars

4 stars

Blu-ray Experience
4 stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - October 2, 2012
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); UV digital copy; DVD copy; Bonus View (PiP)
Region Encoding: Region-free

Presented in 1.85:1 and as an AVC MPEG, Dark Shadows is a pretty strong one from Warner Bros. Visually very dark for most of the movie; the extensive shadow detail is strong throughout, never bleeding through the images. Dark greens and reds are the main colors, with a pale skin tone chosen for the actors (of course!). Film grain is evident and the transfer is vibrant with its details and well saturated. The 70’s orange shag pile and pastel-slapped cars pop with extreme color and detail. Burton uses plenty of full size and scale sets in his pictures and Dark Shadows is no different. With a minimal use of green screen effects, the detail captured in the transfer is strong. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is fully immersive and handles Alice Cooper, The Carpenters, The Moody Blues and the dialogue in a nice fashion. While nothing stands out, the immersive nature of the sound is quite crisp and engaging.



  • None

Special Features:

Well, the Picture-in-Picture commentary from Burton and company is really a weak way to handle the supposed Maximum Movie Mode Warner Bros likes to market their releases with. The picture pops up as a small box in the corner of the picture, and while information about the production is imparted to the viewer, the experience just isn’t that satisfying. Compromising about 40 minutes of the PiP’s time, optional Focus Point featurettes are accessed. Segments include "Becoming Barnabas," "Welcome to Collinsport," "The Collinses: Every Family Has Its Demons," "Reliving a Decade," "Angelique: A Witch Scorned," "Alice Cooper Rocks Collinsport," "Dark Shadowy Secrets," "A Melee of Monstrous Proportions" and "Dark Shadows: The Legend Bites Back." From a look at how Johnny Depp became a vampire, both in makeup and person, to a look at the stunts in the film, and the secrets in the movie, the nine featurettes are interesting as viewed separately from the PiP track. Fans will have fun with discovering just how many storylines from the series Burton massaged into the feature. The six minutes of Deleted Scenes are surprisingly perfectly mastered for the movie AND add much to the characters of the movie. From a funny discussion about dinosaurs between Barnabas and David to scenes with Michelle Pfieffer, these five scenes NEEDED to be added to the movie.

  • Focus Points (37 min)
  • Deleted Scenes (6 min)

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