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Dark Shadows: The Complete Original Series (DVD Review)

19 Apr, 2012 By: John Latchem

Limited Edition Now Available; Wide Release Street 7/10
$599.98 131-DVD set
Not rated.
Stars Jonathan Frid, Lara Parker, David Selby, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Joan Bennett, Grayson Hall.

Long before “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “True Blood” and “The Vampire Diaries” captured their audience’s desires for spooky fantasy, there was “Dark Shadows.”

This half-hour gothic daytime soap opera ran for five seasons on ABC from 1966 to 1971, amassing a total of 1,225 episodes. The show focused on the supernatural adventures of the Collins family at their sizable estate in Maine. The second season introduced Barnabas Collins, a suave yet morally conflicted vampire who soon became the show’s most recognizable character (so much so that earlier DVD releases treated Barnabas’ arrival as the start of the series, labeling everything before with the prequel prefix “The Beginning.”)

With content spread over 131 discs, the running time for the new Dark Shadows: The Complete Original Series, with extras, clocks in at 470 hours. Watching just the episodes, marathon style, non-stop other than eight hours each day for sleep, would take 28 days or, if you prefer, 14 weekends (add in another two days to watch the bonus material). That should be more than enough to tide over fans until the May 11 debut of Tim Burton’s new comedic big-screen version starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas.

The early production values of the show may be a little rough for new viewers (as many of the source materials were in bad shape), but the storylines are relatively timeless, especially in later years when the show delves into time travel and parallel realities.

The show switched from black and white to color midway through the second season. And one episode toward the end of the run was lost, reconstructed for DVD using a surviving audio track, still photos and re-recorded narration. (One need only listen for a few moments to the plot recap in the introduction to the episode to realize that, yes, this is a real soap opera.)

Among the cast, several faces would achieve recognition for their work after the series. The most significant is probably Kate Jackson, who went on to hit it big on “Charlie’s Angels.” Then there’s a pre-Godfather, pre-“Barney Miller” Abe Vigoda popping up in a few episodes, as well as Conrad Bain, better known as the dad from “Diff’rent Strokes.” And the early seasons featured Mitchell Ryan, who went on to play the villain in the first Lethal Weapon movie, as well as Commander Riker’s father on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and Greg’s father on “Dharma & Greg.”

Content-wise. there is nothing “new” here, as the set is a compilation of all of MPI’s “Dark Shadows” material previously released as individual collections. The individual disc content is the same from those previous releases (with the menus reflecting the numbering of the individual releases), with the labels updated to reflect the complete-series set.

What makes this set stand out is the awesomeness of the packaging, which is shaped like a coffin, with the disc spines forming a picture of Barnabas Collins at rest. Completing the set is an episode guide with photos and a complete listing of all the content.

The sheer girth of the collection probably makes it the largest boxed set in the North American region, surpassing the 104 discs of last year’s Law & Order: The Complete Series and the 110 discs of 2007’s United Artists 90th Anniversary Prestige Collection. However, the world record remains with Australia’s Prisoner: Cell Block H, which offers 692 episodes on 174 discs.

The initial run of the complete series was limited to 2,500 copies, distributed in early April with an exclusive autographed photo of Jonathan Frid as Barnabas. Fans who missed out the first time have another chance July 10 when the set will be re-released to wider distribution (without a number stamp or the Frid autograph).

MPI also made available two single-DVD, nine-episode samplers at $14.98 each: Fan Favorites and The Best of Barnabas.

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