Dark Shadows: The Revival was NBC's 1991 attempt to revive the cult daytime soap opera that aired on ABC from 1966 to 1971. The show was a mid-season replacement for NBC that most likely got the green-light due to the popularity of Twin Peaks over on ABC. Although die-hard fans have complained that the show was never given a chance by the network, the fact was that, despite having their first regular Friday night show interrupted by coverage of the 1st Gulf War (actually the 4th Episode, since NBC had aired four hours – including the 2-hour pilot - in a mini-series format earlier in the week), the show just wasn't pulling in enough viewers to warrant a renewal.
Watching these episodes pretty much for the first time (I did watch the first few hours back in 1991, but quickly lost interest), I feel I can safely say that while it did have some potential, there wasn't quite enough here for an ongoing TV series. The actors (which include such notable stars as Ben Cross, Roy Thinnes and Jean Simmons) deliver most of their dialogue either with monotone sincerity or with over-the-top hilarity. Fortunately, the pace of the episodes moves along fairly briskly – so while you may not be that engaged in what is happening to the characters, you shouldn't be bored either. The exception to this is the pilot...which takes a good hour or so to get rolling. Which is ironic, because it may have been that slow-moving first hour which caused a lot of viewers to tune out back in 1991.
While I didn't follow the original series – mainly because I wasn't born yet, and have never taken the time to catch up with the original show since then, my Internet research tells me that the stories in these episodes pretty much follow the same storylines that were in the daytime soap. Which may be yet another reason why the show was unsuccessful – if the die-hard watchers already knew what was going to happen, why would they want to continue to watch?
The basic premise of Dark Shadows has young governess Victoria Winters (Joanna Going) arriving in the coastal Maine town of Collinsport, where she encounters and falls in love with the mysterious Barnabas Collins (Ben Cross), who just happens to be a vampire. Although Barnabas kills for blood, he's very much in the mold of Buffy The Vampire Slayer's Angel, in that he seeks a cure for his vampirism. But to call Barnabas "good" would probably be stretching things a bit...but I wouldn't be surprised if Joss Whedon borrowed a lot from Barnabas when he was developing the Angel character. One interesting twist that happens during these 12 episodes is that about halfway through the season, the character of Victoria is transported back to 1790, where the show takes on a whole new look for the remainder of its run. The same actors remain on the show, but the majority of them play their 1790 ancestors. It's a neat twist, but frustrating at the same time, since the show ends without any real conclusion for any of the characters.
The DVD consists of two "slimcases" inside of a slipcase, with two discs in the first slimcase and the final disc in the second slimcase. There are four episodes per DVD.
This is where it gets interesting. The episodes are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic, and I'm almost positive they've been matted for this presentation. For starters, I can't imagine the show was shot widescreen, and the fact that both the opening and closing credits on each episode (aside from the pilot) are shown "pillar box" style – with bars on the right and left, seems to confirm my suspicion. Which means we're losing episode information on either the top or bottom of the screen (or both) and the shows are not being presented in their original aspect ratio. Way to go, Sony.
As for the quality of the transfer, there's a lot of grain and dirt evident on the print – and the picture has a somewhat "soft" look to it overall. It's not bad enough to be a distraction, but it's obvious that no great effort was made to clean the episodes up during the transfer process.
The audio is presented in 2.0 Dolby Surround, and sounds pretty decent, although it's not an overly-active track. There are no apparent glitches with the audio, however, and overall I was pleased with how the episodes sounded.
Barnabas Collins must have sucked all the bonus features from my DVDs, because this set doesn't have any. Other than an option to pick which episode you want to play (or play them all back to back), there's nothing on these DVDs. Oh, the horror!
THE BOTTOM LINE
Dark Shadows: The Revival is watchable, and provides some entertainment value, but I don't think the "replay value" is very high. So, unless you are a die-hard fan, I suggest renting these at your local store or through an online service before making your purchasing decision.