Thursday, June 26, 2008

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – review

Director: Fran Rubel Kuzui

Release date: 1992

Contains spoilers

Long before a certain vampire slayer came to the small screen Joss Whedon’s vision was made into a feature and is a prequel to the events portrayed in the series… ish.

It is true that Whedon penned this movie but his original, critically acclaimed, script was changed so much that he walked off set during production of this movie. The film’s dark elements were excised and a comedy was born. Aspects of the original script that were excised, such as Buffy burning down the school gym in the finale, were referenced to in the series and so the original script was the prequel and not the final movie.

The film begins with a little bit of footage from the past letting us know of the Chosen One, the generational Slayer of vampires who bears the birthmark of the covenant.

Kristy Swanson plays Buffy – and despite imdb giving the character a surname it is never mentioned in the movie. Buffy is vacuous, a cheerleader with a basketball player boyfriend and friends who hang in the mall. I believe the term is Valley Girl – having listened to Frank Zappa in my youth. She and her friends are in the mall and decide to take in a movie.

As they enter an elevator it is stopped by a man, we later discover to be Merrick (Donald Sutherland), who looks closely at Buffy. In the cinema the girls constantly talk, much to the chagrin of bad boys Pike (Luke Perry) and Benny (David Arquette) – though they had sneaked in themselves.

One of the jocks is walking home. He hears something and we see Amilyn (Paul Reubens) – the vampires have come to town. The news is full of reports of slasher victims and the body of one of them has vanished from the morgue. Buffy dreams of other times, with herself as the female protagonist, she faces a mysterious man named Lothos (Rutger Hauer).

The girls are in a café discussing the Senior Dance when Pike and Benny come in. The two lads are drunk. Afterwards the boys are walking on a cliff top. They stop for a moment and Pike falls to the road. He doesn’t see Amilyn rise up the cliff, bite Benny and pull him away. Merrick happens along and takes the drunken Pike to safety.

Buffy is in the gym when Merrick appears. He talks to her of being the Chosen One and laments the fact that he has taken so long to find her and begin her training. She does not bear the birthmark as she had the ‘hairy mole’ removed. He wants her to come to the graveyard with him, which she does after he tells her of her own dreams. They wait for a vampire to rise, though Merrick knows there are two there, and Buffy despatches them both.

Buffy tries to deny her destiny but eventually capitulates and begins training. Meanwhile Pike is visited by a floating Benny and realises something is wrong in the world. Fate transpires to bring the two together and Buffy puts away childish things (to the disdain of her erstwhile friends). There is, however, the small problem of Lothos and his habit of dining on Slayers.

The lore in this is quite different to the series. The standard vampire deterrents seem to work. Holy water burns, they must be staked through the heart, invitations are needed to enter a domicile and crosses ward – the last being with the exception of Lothos who is too powerful to be effected by the cross. Vampires have less of a regenerative ability – Amilyn loses an arm and it doesn’t re-grow, earning him the nickname Lefty. There is none of the blood demon lore from the series and they seem more genre standard.

The Watchers Council isn’t even a concept in this. Merrick is the Watcher, and is reborn again and again (through 100 lives we hear) with the knowledge of the Slayer as part of him. He watches, the Slayer slays – though he does interfere this time around, an act that leads to his demise. Sutherland is a presence on the screen – as always – but is actually quite understated in his performance and some of the scenes with Buffy are quite touching.

The film boasts two of the finest comedy slays in the genre. When Buffy stakes Lefty (and the vampires do not dust as would later happen in the series) his death takes an age, complete with comedy gasps and frustrated little kicks at the wall. This sequence resumes within the credits. It is a highlight of the movie.

Lothos’ demise is nice for no other reason then Hauer exclaiming ‘oops’ as the stake hits home. Hauer is a favourite actor of mine and carries a suave presence through the film. Unfortunately he does have trouble with dialogue when his fangs are in, adding a lisp like quality. Though, as this is a comedy, it kind of works.

It is difficult to really comment on Swanson due to the fact that Sarah Michelle Geller made the role her own in the series (I have a similar problem with Sutherland as Hawkeye in M.A.S.H. as, via the series, Alan Alda is Hawkeye). Swanson looks more like how I’d imagine a Slayer to look, to be fair, in that she appears more athletic. She has a good stab at the role but will, forever, be lost beneath Geller’s shadow.

Unfortunately the film itself is comedic fluff – it always was, bar the two slays mentioned earlier. Worse than that the comedy hasn’t aged too well and the film feels incredibly dated now. This, we can clearly say, was not Whedon’s vision and will always be over-shadowed by the series. It does have some merit and some great cast members – Sutherland and Hauer would later appear in the 2004 mini series of ‘Salem’s Lot. 4 out of 10.

I’ll leave this with the cardinal rule, “One vampire is a lot easier to kill than ten.”

The imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...

i remember when this movie came to home video, my mom wouldn't let me see it after 10 minutes in.

I later revisited the movie, and it was kind of cool.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Sir Jorge - I think "kind of cool" is fair - it isn't brilliant but it has moments.

Totally out-manoeuvered by the series however, which I'll be taking a whistlestop look at tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Keno here. I'm gonna go ahead and be real...I saw this on HBO when I was about eleven or twelve and I think it rocked the house. Now, I know a lot of people are gonna say the series was better, but I gotta be honest: Kristy nailed the part better than Sarah did. Not saying Sarah's a bad actress or anything, but Kristy did the part more justice. She looked like she had fun playing Buffy: she told jokes, had a sassy Valley-girl attitude and her fight scenes seemed a little more believable (that's the main thing I focused on). So when I saw the series, I was expecting these same qualities to appear on Gellar, but it didn't show.

I tried to keep up with the t.v. series to the best of my ability, but I just couldn't (too many on and off relationships, humor was dry at times but still enjoyable and so forth). Also, Sarah was doubled a great deal for most of her fights and the scary movie club that I'm a member of all commented saying, 'They were better off letting the stunt double play the part of Buffy instead'.

But, the series does deserve credit: for creativity it gets an 'A'. Execution-wise, I'd have to give it a 'C-minus'.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers Keno - I appreciate your thoughts.

As I said in the review, KS was more as I imagined the slayer to be but... with 7 series to compete with she will unfortunately always, for me, be overshadowed by SMG - if only due to the sheer weight of repetition.

However I do appreciate your thoughts and have much sympathy with your position (as it were).

Unknown said...

Ok, gotta chime in on this one for a second. I saw this film long before seeing the series, and that was long after it was out of the theater. I liked this film quite a lot. The valley girl image Kristy presented was spot on, in my opinion, and she is a strong female. I avoided the show for a long time because I have never been much of a fan of Sarah Michelle Gellar, (and I am still not really, mostly she annoys me), but even more so I hated the idea of seeing someone else playing Buffy. Where Buffy was strong in this, I found Sarah Michelle Gellar's performance completely ridiculous most of the time. Her jokes and sarcasm always felt like insecurity to me and her peppiness was annoying. Whereas Kristy Swanson felt like a girl coming to terms with her strong feminist self. Perspective is everything in this case, and for me first impressions were lasting. I love this film. The humor might not translate as well for someone outside the states, but to me it is a comedy classic.