The massive new 131-disc, 1,225-episode, complete-series box of creepy serial Dark Shadows sets an impressive standard in TV DVD packages.
Notice I didn't say "in TV DVD releases."
Because the show's release pattern is a whole 'nother story — one that's got DS diehards flaming on online comments sections.
The same distribution folks who put together this beautifully beefy box — it weighs 12 pounds, people! — also deliver a lavish assortment of bonus goodies, including the superb "coffin" box design that nicely salutes the immortal appeal of ABC's '60s gothic daytime fave.
But the MPI Video team previously delivered all those goodies in 35 separate releases, too — the 26 chronological sets of their Dark Shadows Collection featuring iconic vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid, left); the six pre-Barnabas episode sets called Dark Shadows: The Beginning; and three single-disc releases of highlights, outtakes, promos, talk-show appearances, cast reunions and other vintage goodies (Special Edition, Bloopera & Treasures, Reunion).
So it's a classic example of the "double dip" about which DVD collectors continually carp.
It's also assuredly to be expected, an inevitable way of doing business these days, and no reason why MPI shouldn't also create a complete-series set as glorious as this one.
And this is indeed the new state-of-the-art in TV DVD complete-series box sets. Dark Shadows fans not only get every episode of their beloved serial in one package, but a suitably durable package that protects all the content they crave. The 131 discs are safely affixed to hubs inside standard-size keep cases compactly holding five or six discs each. Yes, some of the discs overlap, but they're so tightly held that the likelihood of damage is minimized. None of those stupid cardboard pages, flimsy card-stock sleeves, or accordion paper nonsense. (We mean you, complete-series sets of The Sopranos, The Shield, Battlestar Galactica, The Wild Wild West and I Love Lucy.)
The 22 cases holding those discs come tightly nestled inside a thick, black, coffin-shaped outer box, which is seriously substantial (not like, say, you, Battlestar Galactica or It Takes a Thief). Open the coffin's hefty lid on its strong metal hinges, and you find the cases "stacked" in the 14-by-11-inch coffin with their spines forming a vertical photo of Barnabas Collins in all his undead glory. The spines also list the 1-to-131 numbers of the discs inside, with the back covers of those cases detailing each disc's episode numbers and bonus features, usually interviews of various vintages (not specified). Those total something like ten dozen DS insider recollections from cast, crew, network executives and genre experts.
Looking for a specific episode? Consult the 100-page guide booklet, which helpfully outlines the plot of each ABC half-hour, and each disc's extras, with lots of juicy black-and-white photos. The booklet also explains why two dozen episodes appear here as kinescope film copies rather than the original videotape (which can't be found). So why no cast listing, tracking which actors play which characters? Or crew credits, saluting behind-the-scenes players? Only a quibble. (But still.)
Another collectible goodie comes inside this current Limited Edition series box, released April 10 in a numbered lot of 2,500. It's a black-and-white postcard-size Barnabas photo autographed by star Frid, who sadly died last month, after filming a cameo in the new Dark Shadows feature film that provides such a handy peg for this box release. Frid seems to have signed in either silver ink (my review set) or blood-red (some lucky online boasters). And, of course, there's that edition number, on a sticker affixed to coffin-bottom.
The Limited Edition is officially sold out, though one or two pop up sporadically online. (Might not hurt to check local retail outlets, either, just in case.) The list price was $600; eBay auctions have been heading north of $1,000.
But if you don't need an autograph and a numbered sticker, MPI will be reissuing the same box without those two elements, on July 10, again at $600. It's already available for pre-order at Amazon, discounted to around $420.
Now to the double dip issue. Fans hate the practice, forcing them to pay twice (or more, if it's, say, Star Trek) to get all the bonus goodies. Distributors love it, since it maximizes their revenue. The good news with Dark Shadows, at least, is that if you've been an assiduous collector, you've already got all these episodes and extras in the three dozen previous separate volumes. There are no fresh on-disc bonus features that could make a complete-series purchase de rigueur.
Still, they've asked you to buy initial sets individually, never hinting that the whole shebang might be available down the road in one fell swoop.
Would it be better if the whole-series box came out first? With segmented volumes then following, for those who can't bite the complete-series cost bullet? That's been done with shows like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Six Million Dollar Man, offering a more obvious choice. And yes, for consumers, that's probably preferable. But do distributors make as much money that way? And would they continue to release the more obscure shows we also want to see — shows on which there isn't even enough interest to double dip in the first place — without the bucks-bang provided by surefire smashes like this?
Not making excuses here. Just explaining a situation that's exceedingly unlikely to change.
Sort of like fans' hunger for Dark Shadows. If you've gotta have it — like Barnabas' thirst for blood — at least it's there for the taking. And in this case, it couldn't be more tasty.