The final season of Frasier was released on DVD in late 2004 BF, Before Facebook. Spurred on by the advances in social marketing, Paramount asked fans to vote for their favorite episodes of the series, and compiled them in a single DVD called Fan Favorites: The Best of Frasier. This marketing strategy baffled me because all of Frasier is available on DVD. The devoted fans most likely have it all, or the seasons they liked the most. On Amazon, one review of this DVD lists the featured episodes, so a fan of the show can simply look at that list, and probably move on. And besides that, there will be the inevitable shock among fans about certain episodes not being included. This is probably why I’m not in DVD and Blu-Ray marketing, since I cannot see the logic in what is likely easily understood by those who have made this their career. Truly, they are remarkable people with some of these concepts, doing their damndest to make it work even when it seems useless in light of what’s already available.
There are some exceptions, however. A major one is MPI Home Video’s Dark Shadows DVD releases of “Fan Favorites” and “Best of Barnabas.” At a quick glance, this would appear to be an obvious cash grab ahead of the Tim Burton movie coming out in May. It is, but it’s cleverly more than that in two ways:
First are people like me. I am one of the two target audiences of this “Fan Favorites” DVD. I knew of Dark Shadows through pop culture osmosis, but had never been curious about it until seeing the trailer for the Tim Burton movie, which I know is controversial among devotees of the Gothic soap opera because of how it doesn’t seem to retain the spirit of what the series was. I knew nothing about that. I know that I was curious about what this series was like, and here is this DVD for me, to sample the series and see if I still want to go to the movie after that.
Second, on April 10, the same day that this DVD comes out, MPI is also releasing Dark Shadows: The Complete Original Series. All 1,225 episodes on 131 DVDs, encased in coffin packaging. A flyer inside the “Fan Favorites” DVD case touts a suggested retail price of $599.98. On Amazon, it’s $413.99. I’m sure most fans will not be able to shell out for this right away. They’ve got to save for a while, unless they have already once they heard about this coming out some time ago. For those who have to wait, here is this “Fan Favorites” DVD and also the “Best of Barnabas” DVD, something to watch while they wait for that sweet, sweet moment in which they can finally buy that massive, fan-focused DVD set. Plus, this DVD has new introductions by Kathryn Leigh Scott, who played Maggie Evans.
You won’t get lost trying to figure out what’s going on in Dark Shadows, not only because of Scott’s introductions which are well-written and graceful toward fans and newbies alike, but because you get quickly sucked into what’s going on. Childhood readings of vampires, werewolves and haunted mansions come vividly to life through a collection of fascinating characters, led by Barnabas Collins, the vampire who’s freed from his coffin after 200 years. That’s not the true beginning of this soap opera, but it is what it’s known for, and the forthcoming movie is based on this. It establishes the epic nature of this show, and most importantly, presented its seriousness about the matters at hand. Whereas Marlena’s exorcism on Days of Our Lives was outlandish and ridiculous, an exorcism inside Collinwood is just part of life. This is what happens to this family. And it’s done so well by the stately earnestness of these actors, most notably Jonathan Frid as Barnabas, who has become my favorite character of the series because no matter what happens, no matter how desperate a situation becomes, he always remains calm and rational. I don’t know if that changes, since I have only these episodes on this DVD, but it’s no wonder Johnny Depp wanted to play the character in the movie.
And now we come to the movie, or rather, the trailer. Before I saw even five minutes of the actual Dark Shadows, I wanted to see the movie. I thought it looked funny, despite the moldy comedy of a past figure not used to current circumstances, such as it is with Depp’s Barnabas unfamiliar with television. But now, having seen Dark Shadows, having watched Jonathan Frid’s Barnabas, having had the pleasant surprise of seeing Denise Nickerson (Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) in this, having been continually intrigued by many of these storylines, including that of a zombie, and an episode involving Parallel Time, an alternate universe, I’m iffy about seeing the movie. I go back and forth now because even though I’m not as big a fan as others are of Dark Shadows, I see what they mean. Collinwood itself is a production designer’s dream. It can be laid out more expensively than the original show allowed. But it feels like there’s missed opportunities for the Gothic drama this series is known for. When was the last time a movie featured a gloomy mansion like this one, with mysteries seemingly in every room, with supernatural upheaval at every turn? There are so many dramatic possibilities in such a setting, with a bigger budget. Maybe they are in this movie, but it doesn’t look like enough.
I hope that no matter how the movie turns out, it brings more exposure to the original series, because these episodes are worth the time. We will truly never see the likes of this again, never done this well. No matter how many times you see the mansion, no matter how many times characters climb up the same staircase, it is always fascinating. In its five years from 1966 to 1971, it became a most unique aspect of television history, and it still is today. It still lasts and still has the same effect. Besides, when have you ever seen an episode of a soap opera that had a séance as its central plot? It’s a lot of fun that way.