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Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Fox // PG-13 // September 4, 2001
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 19, 2001 | E-mail the Author
I was first introduced to Buffy Anne Summers and the vampire-infested Hellmouth of Sunnydale as the third season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer premiered on September 29, 1998. Far too many of my friends in college were hopelessly addicted to the series and, after much prodding on their part, sucked me into their arcane Tuesday night ritual involving the Slayer and ridiculously inexpensive pizza. On those dreaded weeks where no new episode was in sight, I often suggested renting the 1992 feature film that inspired it all, which usually lead to quite a bit of groaning and eye-rolling. Distaste for Buffy's big-screen debut is hardly limited to that small group -- in the three years I've spent poring over a number of Buffy discussion forums, I can't recall offhand a single positive comment about the movie, even from the most blindly rabid fans. I couldn't resist a chance to snag the film that spawned my favorite television series when it finally made its way to DVD, though I was expecting a nearly-unwatchable butchering of the show I've come to love. Although I can't say that I was particularly impressed by Buffy The Vampire Slayer, my low expectations were definitely exceeded.

The basic elements of the plot should sound fairly familiar. Kristy Swanson stars as the titular Buffy, and...hey, I mean 'titular' as in 'derived from the title'. What's wrong with you people? Anyway, Buffy is your average valley girl cheerleader -- egocentric, daft, living for the moment, and well-versed in now-laughably outdated chic-speak. Merrick (Donald Sutherland) is a clumsy waiter...errr...watcher who has been training vampire slayers for a hundred lifetimes, and after stalking Buffy for an uncomfortably long period of time, informs her of her birthright. A moonlit vampiric demonstration at the local cemetery is enough to convince Buffy that Merrick is on the level, and she trains endlessly to prepare herself for a face-off with Lothos (Rutger Hauer), the immortal bloodsucker who lords over the legions of the undead.

No discussion of Buffy The Vampire Slayer is complete without pointing out some of the interesting casting choices made. Natasha Gregson Wagner has a fairly insignificant role as Cassandra, predating her take on the undead in 1998's Modern Vampires. Paul Reubens is nearly unrecognizable as Amilyn, his first prominent role after his rise to fame as Pee-Wee Herman, not to mention the first part of any note after his much-publicized arrest. The now-ubiquitous Hilary Swank pops up briefly, as do David Arquette (from the thrice-damned 1-800-CALL-ATT spots), NewsRadio's Stephen Root, and Ben Affleck. If the cover art wasn't enough of an indication, Luke Perry turns up as the requisite love interest/sidekick in his most notable post-90210 role. As for the movie itself, its biggest flaw is that it spawned such an incredible television series. Supposedly Fox convinced Buffy scribe Joss Whedon to tone down the horror elements and crank up the comedy a few notches, and the end result is a movie that's neither particularly funny nor particularly scary. There was only one bit in the entire film that made me flinch, and I don't recall so much as chuckling once. The pacing is decent, and it's engaging enough that I didn't feel like hopping up and doing dishes or something. Buffy The Vampire Slayer isn't any sort of unjustly overlooked gem o' brilliance, but with box sets of the series as a distant possibility and the premiere of season six still well over a month away (as I write this, obviously), this DVD might be just the fix that Buffy fans need to get them through this dark time.

Video: For the first time since its theatrical release, Buffy The Vampire Slayer is presented at 1.85:1 and, as is the case with the great majority of Fox releases as of late, enhanced for widescreen televisions. The presentations on FX seemed excessively soft and washed-out, and this disc is a massive improvement over that disappointment. The image is sharp and detailed, and colors seem largely accurate, if a hair on the dull side. A fair amount of grain is present in certain dimly lit portions, though rarely to the point of distraction. A decent effort overall, but considering the rejuvenated interest in Buffy and Fox' level of quality in general, I was expecting just a little more.

Audio: Though I didn't give the stereo surround mix a spin, the Dolby Digital 4.0 mix probably wouldn't be remarkably different. The ever-present hiss on cable airings seems to be largely removed, though it's still present to a far lesser extent. Surrounds are used so infrequently as to hardly warrant a mention, and much of the dialogue has an unnatural, studio quality to it. Serviceable, but nothing more.

Supplements: This seems like a missed opportunity. With the slew of supplements on the season boxes of the Buffy series available overseas, it's a letdown to see so little presented on this DVD. A copy of Joss Whedon's original script would've been a worthwhile addition, as would as a commentary by Whedon himself. All we're given here is the traditional bunch of generic supplemental material -- an anamorphic trailer (far wider than the 1.85:1 presentation of the feature, interestingly), a pair of TV spots, and an electronic press kit-style featurette. Trailers for a few unrelated Fox DVDs are included as well.

Conclusion: After several years of hearing only negative remarks on Buffy fan groups about the big-screen incarnation, I was fully expecting to write a fairly harsh review. To my surprise, I came out indifferent, as Buffy The Vampire Slayer is decidedly average. Though it rarely approaches the brilliance of the long-running television series, fans of the show may find this affordable disc worth a purchase out of curiosity if nothing else.
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