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Studio: Warner Home Video
Year: 2012
Cast: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller, Chloë Grace Moretz, Bella Heathcote, Gulliver McGrath
Director: Tim Burton
Release Date: October 24, 2012, 6:15 pm
Rating: PG-13 for (comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language, and smoking)
Run Time: 01h:53m:04s

“It is said that blood is thicker than water. It is what defines us, binds us, curses us.” - Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp)

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Despite a slew of bad reviews, I'm still excited to see what Tim Burton has in store for the great character of Barnabas Collins. At worst, it sure looks like Depp is having a blast with the role.

Movie Grade: B-

DVD Grade: B+

Remakes, reimaginings, reboots, however you slice it, films centered around not-so-original ideas are both extremely hard to pull off, and, sadly, the norm in Hollywood these days. The latest victim of such a practice is the macabre 1960s, ABC series Dark Shadows, which introduced the character of Barnabas Collins to the masses. This original series, itself, was remade as another TV series of the same name in the ‘90s, and this new, identically-titled movie version saw visionary filmmaker Tim Burton take the reins for its summer 2012 theatrical release. While not a huge hit domestically, the film did take in over $230 million at the worldwide box office, but I imagine with Johnny Depp playing Collins, sales of Warner Home Video’s new Blu-ray release will be even more impressive.

Growing up in the 18th Century wasn’t good to young Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp). Not only has the love of his life, Josette (Bella Heathcote) just jumped off a tall cliff against her will, but Barnabas has leapt after her, only to discover, once he hits the rocky bottom, that he’s been turned into a vampire by a witch named Angelique (Eva Green), who wants him for herself. Jump to 1972, and the Collins family, along with the rest of the world, has changed quite a bit since Barnabas’ days. This is something he’ll soon discover, himself, as he escapes an Angelique-made tomb, and meets the new inhabitants of his former house, young David (Gulliver McGrath), his Father, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), Mother (Michelle Pfeiffer), Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz), along with the groundskeeper, Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley), and David’s shrink, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter). Barnabas doesn’t have much time to adjust to his new surroundings, though, as he’s too busy simultaneously growing close to the manor’s new governess, Victoria (Heathcote, again), who looks just like Josette, and fending off a business mogul who just might be a rival from his past.

Tim Burton has always had an underlining style and a prevailing look that makes it unmistakable that a given film did, indeed, have him at the helm. Some elements of that style are evident in Dark Shadows, but this is that rare instance where the uninitiated could peg this as the work of any director working today. Sure, everything has the same dark settings and lavish costumes, but there’s just not that same magical feeling that one gets from a Burton film. The film, as a whole, just feels hollow, leaving us with the constant feeling that there’s just something missing here. This is a case of Burton wanting to have his proverbial cake and eat it too, as he’s essentially waging a 113- minute war between the actual plot in Seth Grahame-Smith’s screenplay, and the underlying campiness that said story demands. Unfortunately, Burton’s biggest problem is that said plot points and campiness never play nice together and drag the film down, making it appear to often slog along aimlessly, when we should be anticipating what the next scene might bring.

It’s tough to fault the cast here, as they’re doing what they can with what they’ve been given to work with, but the focus of Dark Shadows does, and always will, be on Johnny Depp. He’s an actor who never seems bored, and always appears extra-invigorated when he’s working with his frequent collaborator, Burton. Depp is certainly engaged and lively here, but he just doesn’t seem as comfortable in Barnabas Collins’ shoes as he did in, say, Willy Wonka’s or even Ichabod Crane’s in the underrated Sleepy Hollow. He does have his moments, though, as he’s just horrifically brutal enough when it’s feeding time, and quite funny and engaging when discovering the fashion of the era and the joy of ‘70s music. While it’s far from his best stuff, Depp fans will still come away from Dark Shadows having gotten their Depp fix for the moment and looking forward to the inevitable news that their favorite actor has signed on for a sequel.

Warner’s Blu-ray disc is a top-notch release, especially when it comes to the audio and video presentations. The 1.85:1 widescreen image is presented in 1080p and does an outstanding job with black and contrast levels, both of extra importance here, given the over-abundance of dark set pieces. Image detail is pristine, and the lively color scheme brings the clothing and lighting of the era to life, despite the darkness. The audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that brings a great deal of life to the proceedings even when Barnabas is draining the life out of some poor soul. Directional effects are used splendidly, as the rear speakers are alive throughout the entire film, and deep, booming bass adds quite a punch. The dialogue is always crystal clear, as well, integrating itself into the overall mix without a hitch.

Extras-wise, we get the ability to watch the feature in Warner’s “Maximum Movie Mode,” meaning that during the film we also see a small window that occasionally appears at the bottom of the screen with behind-the-scenes footage and cast and crew interviews pertaining to that particular scene playing. If you’ve already seen the film, this is an interesting way to watch it again, but these same so-called “Focus Points” can be accessed separately via the “Special Features” submenu. There are nine of these in all, with some of the more interesting ones focusing on Alice Cooper’s appearance and a short look back by Johnny Depp at how the film came about. There’s also five Deleted Scenes, and it’s actually a shame this five minutes of extra footage wasn’t included in the finished film, as they are quite entertaining and would have fit, or even enhanced the overall, often languid, pacing.

Chuck Aliaga October 24, 2012, 6:15 pm