Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 1

Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon, Anthony Stewart Head, Charisma Carpenter

Created by Joss Whedon

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

I saw the movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when it was released theatrically in 1991. It was a decent, mostly entertaining film, largely memorable at the time for a hilarious performance by Paul Reubens (his first after his infamous arrest, if you discount his non-speaking cameo in Batman Returns) and the pubescent squeals heard in the theater when then-heartthrob Luke Perry shaved off his then-famous sideburns on-screen. In short, nothing that was memorable enough to get me excited about the television series that followed a few years later. And when I started hearing good things about it a year or two into its run, I felt like I was too out-of-the-loop to catch on. Buffy felt like one of those shows that you needed to watch from the beginning, and so I didn’t bother (oddly, I felt the same way about The X-Files, yet ended up picking up that habit mid-series).

But I kept hearing great things about the show, and my interest was piqued. Finally, friends on the Tony Isabella Message Board convinced me that this season was a good jumping on point, and now, Buffy is my favorite current series.

While friends have helped catch me up on various points of series continuity, I was really excited when this DVD set, collecting the entire first season, was announced, as it finally allowed me a chance to get in on the series at the ground floor. And I’m glad I did. The three-disc set includes all 12 episodes from the show’s first year (when it debuted as a mid-season replacement), four per disc, each making a solid transfer to DVD with sharp picture and excellent sound. I’d been warned that the picture quality might seem muddy as the episodes were originally shot in 16-mm, but the only places the episodes seemed dark were in the places it was an intentional choice on the parts of the creators.

For a relative newcomer to the series, it was great fun to experience the town of Sunnydale the way Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) did when she moved there after the events of the movie. Buffy is the latest in a long line of Slayers, teenaged girls gifted with enhanced strength and speed and given the mission to destroy vampires. Buffy believes that by moving to Sunnydale, she’s escaping her destiny and will be able to lead a normal life. It doesn’t take long for her to find out she’s wrong. Sunnydale is built on a Hellmouth — basically a pit of evil that acts as something of a beacon to all manner of vampires, demons, and all manner of supernatural creatures and weirdness. In short order, Buffy meets her new Watcher (a Slayer’s mentor and advisor), Rupert Giles, the school librarian (Anthony Stewart Head), befriends the witty, goofy Xander Harris (Nicolas Brendon) and the shy, brainy Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) — both of whom quickly become “Slayerettes” — and forms an enmity with the most popular girl in school, Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter).

The central points of the series are quickly set up: 1) no horror movie convention/cliché is ever exactly what it seems (personified by the fact that Buffy appears to be the stereotypical cute blonde chick that gets killed when she wanders off alone, but in reality, she’s the heroine and kicks monster butt); 2) a contrast between the strangeness and alienation of a life dealing with the supernatural and the strangeness and alienation that we all feel as teenagers; and 3) a hip, irreverent attitude. The writers, headed by series creator, executive producer, and sometime director Joss Whedon, never fail to keep these three tenants central to every episode, and it is their sharp, intelligent writing that is one of the keys to the show’s success.

The other key is in the strength of the performances. Gellar, Head, Brendon, Hannigan, and Carpenter are all wonderfully cast, and despite all the outrageous supernatural goings-on, never fail to make the characters wholly believable or anything less than “real.” Guest roles are also sublimely cast, from recurring roles like the tormented vampire-with-a-soul, Angel (David Boreanaz) and Buffy’s somewhat clueless mom, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland), to the deliciously wicked “big bad” villain, The Master (Mark Metcalf — yes, Neidermeyer from Animal House, almost completely unrecognizable under heavy makeup and a compellingly different performance), to the various, random high school kids. Something about the show seems to bring out the best in the actors involved, making it all the more entertaining.

The DVD is a solid value for the cost (suggested retail is around $40, but you should be able to find it under $30 in most stores). In addition to 12 hour-long episodes, extras include a series of interviews with creator Whedon, and short interview with Boreanaz, photo galleries and biographies, the full script to the pilot episode, and most interestingly, a full-length commentary from Whedon on the first two-parter. The commentary, in fact, is one of the best things on the disc, as Whedon affably chats about everything from technical details to trivia (like the fact that Gellar was initially cast as Cordelia!). There is also a DVD-ROM section, and this is the only place –for me — that the DVD loses points. The characters often use Macs on the show. Why, then, release the DVD without making it Mac-compatible?

The last, though, is a minor quibble, and certainly not enough to keep me from heartily recommending this set. This is a great value for the amount of entertainment provided, and a great chance to get in on the ground floor of one of the best shows on television. I’m already saving up for the promised Second Season set (which should be twice as long — season two was the series’ first full season), due later this year!


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