Review Date: September 3, 2002
Released by: Fox
Release date: 9/4/2001
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
The vampire has long been a favorite character of filmmakers, from Count Orlok of Nosferatu to all the various incarnations of Dracula. Yet those that hunt vampires also make for great central characters as well. We've seen all sorts of Van Helsings, as well as the swashbuckling Captain Kronos, the bumbling Fearless Vampire Killers, the comical Peter Vincent, the outlaw Gecko Brothers, and even the animated Vampire Hunter D. So why not have a vapid high school cheerleader save the world from the undead? The first depiction of Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer
is in the 1992 film of the same name, now available on Fox DVD. Vampires!? Like, oh my god, totally freak me outů
Buffy (Kristy Swanson) is your typical California spoiled rich girl. She's obsessed with shopping, cute boys, cheerleading, and couldn't care less about real issues such as saving the planet. Well, she's about to get a real eye-opener.
One day after cheerleading practice, she meets the strange character that's been following her. It's Merrick (Donald Sutherland), who proclaims he's her "Watcher", one who is assigned to train the chosen few in the art of vampire slaying. Buffy's pretty quick to dismiss Merrick as a nut case until he is able to explain the mysterious dreams she's been having. He brings her to a cemetery, and she's able to make quick work of two vampires as they rise from their temporary graves.
Now convinced of her talents, it's training time (complete with requisite montage!), so that she can once again rid the world of the evil vampire Lothos (Rutger Hauer) and his sidekick Amilyn (Paul Reubens). Buffy must also keep her Slayer identity a secret, otherwise she'll become the primary target of all the vampires. In true high school movie fashion, it all comes down to the Senior Prom (well, OK, the "Hug the World" dance) where Buffy and her new rebel boyfriend Pike (Luke Perry) must put a wooden stake in the vampire menace.
Very few people (myself included) took Joss Whedon's television adaptation of this movie very seriously at first, and now I can see why. In fact, it might have been in his best interest to change the title so as to avoid any connections with the movie altogether. This Buffy the Vampire Slayer
is a light teen comedy that is (and was) easily forgotten. Now, it's not that I don't like teen comedies, but this isn't even a very good one. It falls in between Valley Girl (1983) and Clueless (1995) in terms of films that center on bubbleheaded Los Angeles high school girls. And Buffy has nowhere near the depth of either of those films, which is rather odd for a Whedon script. Either this film was seriously altered from his original idea, or he hadn't found his legs (or should that be arms?) as a writer yet.
The actors here don't do much of a job selling the silly premise either. The lead actresses all play the same style of big-haired shopaholic monosyllabic teen girls we've seen so many times before (but look for future Oscar-winner Hilary Swank as one of the girls). Donald Sutherland looks visibly embarrassed in his role as Merrick the Watcher. Luke Perry was a household name due to a popular stint on Beverly Hills 90210, and he seems to wonder why he couldn't parlay that success into a better theatrical role. It's the villains that do the best work here, as Rutger Hauer plays yet another one of his over-the-top bad guys, and Paul Reubens definitely showed he was capable of more than just Pee Wee Herman. Too bad he did something ELSE that became much more famous in the public eye.
I don't mind a movie that pokes fun at something, but it's not very clear just what Buffy is poking fun AT. There are no bad Bela Lugosi impressions, no effort to re-create the gaudy Hammer atmosphere, nothing. At least Scream was obviously ridiculing the ubiquitous 80s slasher films. If you're going to make a parody film, there needs to be elements of what it is you're actually parodying. Instead, I think Joss Whedon was really trying for his own style of vampire universe (something he has definitely done with both of his vampire television shows), but the movie producers were reluctant to cooperate and instead emphasized the typical teen elements. I have heard rumors that this film is nowhere near what Whedon originally intended. Oh well. At least the running time is mercifully short, although it still seems a lot longer than it's 86 minute length.
Even if it's not a great movie, this sure is a great looking disc! I was really impressed with the image quality here. While it is a relatively recent (<10 year-old) film, I've seen other films from around the same time that don't look anywhere near this good. The detail is amazingly crisp and clear, the bright Southern California colors are solid, and the black levels darn near perfect. Buffy is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and enhanced for 16x9 televisions. I'd love to see how this looks on an anamorphic monitor, 'cause it really looked great on my 4x3 screen. Like, totally awesome.
The sound doesn't disappoint either. It's in the rarely-used Dolby Digital 4.0 format. Basically, the only difference between 5.1 and 4.0 is that you don't get split surrounds or a subwoofer in 4.0. OK, some bass would be nice, but it sounds great nonetheless. All the dialogue is clear, the music has a smooth and full feel, and the effects make nice subtle use of the surrounds. Bitchin'
While not a jam-packed special edition, there are still a few bonus features on this disc. I wish there was a Joss Whedon commentary, so he could point out the differences between his original ideas and how this movie played out. Also, I wonder whether the television show was what he had in mind all along, or if he instead learned from his mistakes here. But alas, there is no commentary at all. Instead, the theatrical trailer is here, which is interesting because it's shown in 2.35:1 widescreen, when the movie itself was 1.85:1. I did a quick comparison of a few scenes, and it looks like the film was simply cropped to create the false 2.35:1 ratio for the trailer.
You also get two television spots, as well as a very short (4 minutes) featurette. This consists of a few sound bites from Kristy Swanson, Luke Perry, Rutger Hauer, Donald Sutherland, and director Fran Rubel Kazui. Unfortunately, it ends almost as soon as it's begun. Interesting to hear director Kazui purposely avoid naming Paul Reubens' alter ego of Pee Wee Herman.
Unlike the television show, the original theatrical Buffy film is a lightweight teen comedy that doesn't take itself seriously at all. And it's not even that good of a teen comedy, as the "Valley Girl" dialogue makes it feel more like an early 80s film than one from the 90s. But for those that do enjoy this movie, this DVD release of it is fabulous, with exceptional picture and sound. Fans will definitely want this, but those who like a little more intelligence in their horror parodies will probably need to look elsewhere.
Movie - C+
Image Quality - A+
Sound - A
Supplements - B-
- Running time - 1 hour 26 minutes
- Rated PG-13
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 4.0
- English Dolby Surround 2.0
- English and Spanish subtitles
- Theatrical Trailer
- TV Spots
- Fox Trailers