My daughter and I approached the new Tim Burton/Johnny Depp big screen version of TV's Dark Shadows with some caution, not because we were worried about the comic aspects promised by the trailers (which turned out to be deceptive),  but simply because it may not have been very good, since the buzz was less than overwhelming.

It turned out to be a highly entertaining celebration of the original series, with exactly the touches you might expect from the parties involved - horror, blood, pathos, humor, goth and irony.

Dark Shadows was made into a feature film before, in 1970, when the series was still on the air. MGM, which was going through one of its many financial downturns, was buoyed by the film's success. Unlike the series, it was filmed in several real locations, but like the series, it starred many of the original cast members. The film was more graphic in its violent, bloody retelling of the Barnabas storyline, but did so with the kind of brisk economy a daytime soap could not have.

However, no feature film or series revival could ever capture the magnetic power of the original series. Looking beyond the low budget and relishing the occasional flubs and shaking tombstones, the original Dark Shadows was able to dig deeper into its characters and pull viewers into the day-to-day "reality" of the lives of the denizens of Collinsport.

There were several kinds of characters, generally. The main protagonists were the supernatural creatures, and they all had a sort of awareness of each other, from werewolves, zombies, witches to of course, vampires. Like the witches and warlocks of Bewitched, they were a society unto themselves, either in opposition or alliance with each other.

Then there were the crossover characters who knew about the supernatural creatures but didn't necessarily have any powers of their own. Dr. Julia Hoffman was chief among them, moving and shaking among the Barnabases, Quentins and Angeliques.

Then there were what we like to call the "clueless" characters, who were drawn in and out of involvement with the supernatural people and events yet seemed to live on the periphery. Roger Collins, Elizabeth Collins and even Victoria Winters fell into this category.

Watching the series again on DVD is loads of fun, especially sharing it with your kids (I know it requires patience with the leisurely pace of the show, but they'll get drawn in).

You have to admire the clever way the writers protracted each storyline to maximum stretchability, but gave you just enough to keep hanging on, adding in wonderful moments that add more and more facets to each character. For example, the "B" story of Elizabeth's marriage to Jason McGuire is pretty tedious, but it brings out the gallantry of Barnabas and helps form him into the landmark sympathetic vampire that set the standard for all to come. Joan Bennett and Jonathan Frid have a fine scene in which she's thinking of jumping off a cliff and he talks about death -- each talking about different things, unaware of what the other is expressing, yet affecting each other. Those moments occur a lot on the original series, born of necessity to keep the series going, but also adding to the viewer's attachment to the characters.

There never was anything like it and there may never be again. But fortunately, all 1,225 shows are on DVD. You don't have to wait days between episodes like we did in the "old" days, and without commercials each show moves much faster and runs about 23 minutes.

As the series went on, things got more wild. There was parallel time in the present, trips back to 1795 and 1840 and parallels inside there, too. The cast was like a repertory groups, playing numerous roles. Keeping track of everything was part of the fun.

And yes, it was fun. Outlandish fantasy, but much like a fairy tale cut off from the real world for pure escapism. A getaway from the troubles of the day into a world of people with problems so off the wall that it's kind of cathartic. And it's often funny without meaning to be in its melodramatic fervor.

If you've never watched it before, start with Collection #1, which picks up when Barnabas joined the show and it skyrocketed. Continue to the end of the series as you please, and then if desired, there's a DVD series called "The Beginning," which covers the less-successful, pre-Barnabas shows in which the pedestrian gothic story was given jolts by the entrance of a ghost and a phoenix.

How much you get into it is up to you. But you'll never experience anything like it in any other form, no matter how much CG and 3-D and dazzling digital stuff comes along.

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