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© 1987-2017
Scott R. Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Still lurking in the Shadows

The holiday season should be the happiest time of the year. And yet many people suffer anxiety and depression in the last weeks of the year. Given the state of the world, I suppose this isn’t too surprising. And I think you know what I’m getting at. That’s right, who wouldn’t feel a bit down in the mouth when this is the first December in four years that we haven’t had a brand new Lord of the Rings movie to look forward to?

Still, there is a silver lining in the situation. Last week the extended DVD version of Return of the King was released, so we did at least get 50 new minutes of Peter Jackson’s opus. Of course, the Missus bought it for me for Christmas the first day it was available. And how do I know this? Well, because, in order to save her time and effort, I actually picked it up myself and sent her the invoice. It was the least I could do to make her Christmas shopping burden a little easier.

There are other silver linings in the film and TV world this holiday season. Two, in particular, involve projects to which I have alluded to before and which both happen to have the word “shadows” in their titles. Last February I mentioned both of them. I noted that the WB network had ordered a pilot of a new version of Dark Shadows, giving it the Smallville hip and young treatment. It was questionable whether this was actually good news, but it didn’t matter, since we didn’t get to see the new series anyway. As far as I know, the WB never aired the pilot, although I suppose there is still a faint hope that it could turn up at some point. I don’t actually get the WB here in Ireland, but fortunately (or not) there are British satellite channels that draw heavily from WB programming, so I am sure I would get my chance.

But, unexpectedly, I did get a burst of new Dark Shadows lore a couple of weeks ago. Somehow I had missed the fact that there had been a cast reunion, of sorts, of the original series, more than 30 years after it went off the air. A sequel was written as an audio play by Jamison Selby with assistance from Jim Pierson. It was performed by no fewer than eleven alumni of the original cast at a Dark Shadows festival in New York in August 2003 and recorded as a two-CD set. The CD set, I was happy to find out, is available from MPI Home Video ( Running 1 hour and 46 minutes, the play, called Return to Collinwood, brings us up to date with what has happened to the supernatural-plagued Collins clan in their centuries-old mansion on a remote, storm-prone part of the Maine coast.

The cast is led by David Selby, who reprises the role of Quentin Collins. For years I had had the impression that Selby wanted to distance himself from his work on Dark Shadows. While not exactly a Hollywood superstar, Selby has had a respectable career, appearing in movies such as Raise the Titanic, White Squall, the second Mighty Ducks sequel and a personal favorite of mine (if only for the title), Headless Body in Topless Bar. He is probably best known for spending practically the entire decade of the 1980s starring in the prime-time soap Falcon Crest. But it turns out that he named his son after a Dark Shadows character (Jamison) and now has starred in this audio play, which that same son scripted. Given that three decades had passed between the last episode of the regular series and this sequel, it is not surprising that a number of the original actors had passed on. In the audio play Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, played by the late Joan Bennett, has recently died and the plot revolves around a séance to contact her spirit. Her brother Roger, played by the late Louis Edmonds, has preceded her in death.

The absence that is most keenly felt is that of Jonathan Frid, who I believe is around 80 years old and still active. He played the vampire Barnabas Collins, and doing a Dark Shadows sequel without him is like doing a Dallas reunion show with Larry Hagman. There is an allusion to Barnabas and his friend and longtime confidante Dr. Julia Hoffman, played by the late Grayson Hall, being off on some spiritual quest. But a number of the old favorites did participate in the sequel. In addition to Selby, there was Nancy Barrett as Elizabeth’s daughter Carolyn, Kathryn Leigh Scott as one-time Collins family governess Maggie Evans, John Karlen (a regular for years on Cagney & Lacey) as frequently hapless handyman Willie Loomis, Roger Davis (of Alias Smith and Jones) as Carolyn’s latest husband Ned Stuart, and most importantly, Lara Parker is back as the evil sorceress Angelique. Various other old cast members are present as well, mostly playing new characters. For an old fan of the series, there is major satisfaction in getting an update to the Dark Shadows story. The play even incorporates known facts about the characters that were published as an article in TV Guide magazine back in 1971 by veteran DS writer Sam Hall, which tried to give some resolution to the various Dark Shadows story threads. On the other hand, because the series was a soap opera, by its very nature, resolution never really comes. As the play answers certain questions about what happened to the characters, new threads are developed and then, at the end, left dangling. Such is life in the serialized world. Anyway, in the end, it’s still way better than seeing the series revived with 20-something actors.

The other “shadows” project is a feature film presently titled Babylon 5: The Memory of Shadows. It has been more than a year since Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski dropped a hint that something big was in the works. He has been frustrating his fans ever since by not being able to add any information, presumably for contractual reasons, except to confirm the title. Information on the planned movie did finally come out a couple of weeks ago in Production Weekly, which reported that filming will begin in April in the UK and that the director is Steven Beck. According to the article’s summary of the plot, “the technology of the ancient and extinct Shadow race is being unleashed upon the galaxy by an unknown force, and Earthforce intelligence officer Diane Baker, whose brother was recently killed in a mysterious explosion, it out to find out who is behind the intergalactic conspiracy.”

A document purporting to be the casting call for the film quickly found its way onto the internet. It included a detailed description of Diane Baker as well as three other main characters. It makes a passing reference to Elizabeth Lochley, the commander of Babylon 5, who succeeded Capt. John Sheridan, who was the main character of the TV series. Controversy among the fans immediately ensued since one of the characters supposedly being cast is that of the techno-mage Galen, who figured prominently in the spin-off TV movie A Call to Arms and series Crusade. Why were they looking for an actor to play Galen when everyone knows that Peter Woodward plays Galen? And why does the character description have the note “star name only” attached? What other well-known B5 characters will figure in the story and will they be recast? Many loyal fans were quickly up in arms, some threatening to boycott the movie if their favorite characters were played by new actors. Is B5 fandom’s dream of a revised franchise going to be irrevocably compromised? Many people are still sore about the way that Turner Network Television’s interference with the Crusade series caused some of its stories to be altered from JMS’s personal vision and then led to the series itself being unceremoniously dumped.

I could get worried about it the possible recasting issue. Or about any other changes that the suits in charge might impose. Heck, I could even worry that the movie might wind up not getting made or released, as sometimes happens with movie projects. But I choose not to do that. I’m just grooving on the thought that there just might be a Babylon 5 movie in release in the next year or so.

On that positive note, let me wish my readers a very happy Christmas.

-S.L., 23 December 2004

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