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Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Season One

review by Anthony D.

 

 

Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, Alyson Hannigan, David Boreanaz, Anthony Head

 

Studio: Fox

Retail Price: $19.98

Features: Television Trailers, Original Pilot Script, Interview with Joss Whedon and David Boreanaz, Interviews with Joss Whedon, Episode Commentary with Joss Whedon, Photo Gallery and cast Biographies, Web Links

Specs: 1.33:1 Full Frame, English Dolby Digital 2.0, French Dolby Digital 2.0, English Closed Captions, Chapter Search

Released: January 15th, 2002

 

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" flew from the fire of the film s failure to renew itself as a shimmering, successful staple of Tuesday night television. Removing itself as far from the film as possible, Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer proved on television that teen angst, with a side portion of monster of the week, can garner high ratings as well as critical acclaim. Major revamping (yeah, yeah, yeah -the punster has resurfaced) brought The Slayer from pop culture reference L.A., to gorgeous, Stepford-like Sunnydale where Buffy Anne Summers reluctantly uses her heightened agility, increased strength and the guidance of a Watcher to battle the forces of Evil, and to live out her destiny as The Slayer. Sunnydale, however, isn t as radiant as its name would have one belief.

Sunnydale sits atop a mystical, mythical convergence known as Hellmouth; a magnet for the forces of evil: vampires, witches, demons and what have you. Besides trying to fit into the culturally deprived Sunnydale, Buffy must weekly face off against whatever new incendiary enchantment the Hellmouth has unleashed, while worrying whether her not her clothing says slutty or the softer side of Sears. Armed with a unique sense of humor, as well as a precise feel for adolescence, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is living proof that the horror genre hasn't died; it s just going through its second childhood.

Fox's complete first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is, alas, only twelve episodes in length. Buffy the Vampire Slayer nestled into her cozy Tuesday night time slot as a mid- season replacement (okay, what series did it replace?), thus the sparsity of this set. What is here, however, is choice material. These episodes encapsulate Buffy's backstory, give her a couple of friends who will willingly become her slaying buddies and allow honest interaction to occur between Buffy and her Watcher, Giles. Oh, and then there s Angel, a two hundred year old vampire with a soul, for Buffy to ironically, and ultimately tragically fall in love with. The series also began its run on a fledgling network, the WB (for Warner Brothers), launching its meteoric rise against the four biggies. The budget was limited, the entrie first season was shot on 16mm film as opposed to the normal 35mm, and casting could not garner well-known names for the show, but magically, the casting of a Daytime Emmy Award winning actress and a man known basically for a series of romantic coffee commercials turned Sarah Michelle Gellar and Anthony Stewart Head into recognizable commodities.

Gellar plays Buffy with just the right amount of youthfulness - though I will say that her body double gets to do all the fun stuff like kickboxing bad guys - and yearning. Her Buffy, is much like Sissy Spacek's Carrie, in that in spite of her powerful nature, there s that part of her that yearns for a normal teenage existence. Even her choices in romance reflect this dichotomy: there s the to-die-for, mysterious Angel; a protector who just happens to be a vampire; and in one of the series' high points ("Never Kill a Boy on the First Date") there's Owen - the poetry-reading, quiet and shy type who finds that it s not the quiet and shy Buffy that he would like to date. Gellar has yet to be awarded for her role, an oversight which will hopefully be remedied - she is doing some of the finest acting on television, work that treads that thin line between reality and fantasy, and she does it more capably than any other actor in her age range. I hope that the Emmy for "All My Children" will not be Gellar's last. Anthony Stewart Head is just British enough, and just officious enough to be believable as Buffy's Watcher, Giles. It s a performance that s a far cry from hawking Taster's Choice coffee, and though Giles is usually given the difficult task of informing Buffy (and the viewers) exactly what deadly force she ll be reckoning with, he does it masterfully. The ragtag team of slayers incorporates the class geek and the class nerd (outsiders literally coming together as one) with the addition of Willow and Xander. The first season comes very close to getting a solid line on them (coming closest in the episodes wherein a). Xander asks Buffy to the spring dance and b). Willow unleashes a demon though the internet), but it would take more time to develop these Slayerettes.)

As it is, Willow is aptly named considering the wistful red-headed beauty of Alyson Hannigan; and Xander is the ultimate hormonal adolescent male: never feeling at home in his own body, a trait which is eloquently rendered by Nicholas Brendon. Once again, and then there's David Boreanaz s Angel. This guy broods like there s no tomorrow, when for a vampire there is always tomorrow. Boreanaz is charismatic and photogenic, this guy looks great in every single shot that he s in; and any viewer who can t feel the romantic tension between Angel and Buffy must not be watching or listening.

Like "The X-Files", Buffy the Vampire Slayer tries to mix mythology episodes along with monster of the week material, with mixed results. Season One's mythology episodes take up roughly half the season, completing a strong storyline from the series two part opener, "Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest" through to the season finale, "Prophecy Girl." In the course of these episodes, Buffy and the gang must prevent a trapped demon, The Master (comically and chillingly portrayed by Marc Metcalf under loads of ooey makeup) from fulfilling a prophecy allowing his freedom only once every one hundred years. The Master is a prototypical villain - according to a prophecy, this (insert a demonic name here) will rise and The Slayer will face Him gobbledygook - that the writing staff will continue to use the blueprint for in episodes to come. The mythology episodes contained in this first season, "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date," "Angel" and "Prophecy Girl" are all outstanding, with a high re-watchability factor. The Monster of the Week episodes are indeed a very mixed bag, however, and its highly unlikely that I'll be watching several of them again. On the other hand, the stand alone episode "The Pack" packs a wallop with its Val Lewton influenced bloody tale of transpossession. "The Pack" gets five students, including Xander, possessed by a pack of African hyenas. A laughable concept is given major shock treatment, for a very well-paced, highly original episode. "The Puppet Show" also takes a cue from the classics ("Dead of Night Magic") and spins a nifty, twisted tale of ventriloquist s dummy with a life, and agenda, all its own. The remaining episodes are merely okay: Witch-possessed cheerleaders; "Teacher's Pet" - carnivorous insect lady; "I Robot, You Jane" - pray your computer never gets a virus like Moloch the Corruptor; "Out of Sight, Out of Mind" - the title tells you everything needed to know as an invisible student wreaks havoc as the Spring Dance approaches. Which leaves "Nightmares" as the best of the non-mythology bunch. "Nightmares" is what the show is best at doing, turning adolescent insecurity into ghostly, paranormal chronicles. "Nightmare" also contains some of the finest acting that Sarah Michelle Gellar will ever do. I, for one, am looking forward to June, when Fox releases the follow-up season to DVD.

 

Buffy's roots are showing, her 16mm film roots, not her hair's. More often than not, the DVD presentation of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" is grainy. Very rarely do any of these initial twelve episodes rise above broadcast quality. There is very little shadow detail, something that is important to this genre, and I found the picture to be processed a tad on the dark side. These early episodes, however, were shot on a very, very tight budget and not on the standard 35mm film used for a majority of television shows. Considering that I have watched four straight seasons of FOX's "The X-Files" on DVD, and have been somewhat astonished by their video presentation; Buffy The Vampire Slayer readily disappointed me. One of my favorite episodes, "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date," is by far the most disappointing. This is probably the best that these episodes will look however, but this set has whetted my appetite for future seasons.

 

Talk about a variance factor! The Dolby Digital 2.0 English soundtrack, though not as disappointing as the video, is also not as aggressively produced as one might hope for. (Hey, I don t like being hard on "Buffy," but that s the fact!). There is hardly any surround activity going on, even in the episodes which positively scream for it ( "The Pack" could have utilized the surrounds a lot better). "Buffy" may have failing grades in history, but her French is quite up to par, thanks to the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack en francais.

 

Entertaining and informative, Josh Whedon's Audio Commentary is the major bonus feature offered. The creator certainly knows how to keep a brisk pace, and to not just describe the onscreen action, but to intelligently discuss the sundry budgetary restraints as well as topical digs at then current horror films. Josh is quite engaging, and I wish that the commentary had not been only limited to the first two episodes.

In the strange department, we have a four minute video interviews with Whedon and series costar, David Boreanaz. I don't know where these came from (my guess is that they were shot for syndication showings of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer," as they are similar to the promotional shorts on "The X-Files" discs), and they have been arranged in a disorganized way. Disc One finds Boreanaz and Whedon talking about "Welcome to Hellmouth" and "The Harvest;" but the second interview covers "Witch" and "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date," episodes which appear on different discs. Disc Three's Interview covers the episodes "Angel" and "The Puppet Show," the former episode appearing on the set's second disc. (Is anyone else confused by this?) These features, welcome as they are, are merely fluff.

A very nice photo gallery, with close to thirty images, can be found on Disc Two. A single trailer is on the first disc, and it's the series trailer; where are the individual episode promos? After all the promotional fluff, it s good to get to the first disc's Pilot Script, although, even it is the shooting script, NOT the half-hour pilot which Whedon talks about in his commentary. One can only hope that with the future seasons, the series will hold as much non-promotional as Fox's stellar "The X-Files" series sets.

 

Not a complete loss, but a true missed opportunity from Fox. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer " is a gem of a show which deserves a little more care than this set offers. Disappointments aside, hopefully this set will sell well, and next time around, Fox will come up with more interesting Second Season box.