Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Best of Buffy Review
1997 saw the reinvention of an icon, someone who would become part of late '90s pop culture and survive until her last goodbye in 2003…and her name is Buffy, or to quote her full name, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. First seen on the big screen back in 1992, it took five years before she was reborn on television – albeit played by a different actress, the insanely attractive Sarah Michelle Gellar.
The film on which the TV series is based was a truly dire affair, an object lesson in shocking filmmaking; cheesy and lacking totally in suspense or drama. Buffy was played by Kristy Swanson, and her poor performance no doubt resulted in her not being given the chance to return for the rebirth, which occurred in a 12-episode season. The show focuses on the titular Buffy, a regular American teenager until the day she is told that she is a Slayer – the Chosen One, the individual who must battle against the forces of evil and try to ensure that good prevails. Aided by her Watcher, Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), her home town of Sunnydale is inhibited by vampires and other unsocial beings, and so begins her battle against the forces of darkness…
This in turn spawned a total of six more seasons, before the end was officially announced in 2003 – seven seasons and many happy memories for the 'Scooby Gang', the group of friends that Buffy hung out with. The gang evolved and changed throughout the show's run, yet the core friendship remained throughout and so did the group's resilience to battle against the evil contained within Sunnydale.
During its run Buffy the Vampire Slayer accrued a very large fanbase, devoted viewers who first watched it on TV and then later on VHS and DVD, and as such Fox have decided to release a 'Best of' compilation to whet prospective fans' appetites and try and shift more copies of the already-available season boxsets. My previous encounter with Buffy came through owning the first season on DVD, before I sold it when I realised that collecting all of them would be too expensive – although I now regret that decision as I did enjoy the episodes in the boxset, it has resulted in my relative inexperience with all things Slayer-esque. This disc contains four episodes that fans voted for as their favourites from all seven seasons, and they are as follows:
Becoming – Part I (Season Two)
Angel (David Borenaz) prepares a ritual to awaken a demon that will suck the world into hell, but as Buffy prepares to kill her former lover, Willow (Alyson Hannigan) discovers another ritual that could restore Angel's soul – resulting in Buffy being torn between duty and her heart's murmurs.
The episode begins strongly, with Angel prowling around Sunnydale, a glint in his eye as he prepares to unleash havoc. After the Scooby Gang discover his plans they hatch a counter-attack, and the remainder of the episode is fairly enjoyable. The action comes fairly thick and fast, and it ends on a cliffhanger (which unfortunately isn’t resolved on this disc…!).
Graduation Day – Part II (Season Three)
Of course the first instalment of this two-parter again isn't present on the disc, but we soon gather what has happened – including the changes that occurred between the last season and this one…new faces, basically. This episode features a near-death Angel, wounded at the end of the first part, who without the blood of a Slayer will die very rapidly – and the ascension of the Mayor threatens the future of Sunnydale. After Buffy attempted to bring Angel the blood of Faith, a fellow Slayer, it soon went wrong and Faith ended up in a coma…and Buffy’s the last remaining Slayer that can save Angel. Will he end up drinking from Buffy herself? And can the Scooby Gang save Sunnydale from the threat of the Mayor, whilst preparing for their imminent graduation from high school?
It starts off well, with some excellent dialogue and set-pieces as the episode unfolds, yet all soon goes pear-shaped towards the end. The way the main characters deal with the Mayor, the plan they hatch, is pretty poor, yet the worst comes when we actually see the Mayor post-transformation – a laughable, so-bad-it's-funny CG dragon. Up until this point there was tension and a sense of impending doom, but that all evaporates with the sight of an eight year-olds creation sliding down corridors towards Buffy. What follows is equally as dire, meaning that the episode loses all credibility and is actually the worst one on the disc because of it.
Hush (Season Four)
After the residents of Sunnydale lose the power of speech, Buffy and the gang battle strangely silent assailants – The Gentlemen – who are determined to destroy Sunnydale.
This episode is already infamous, possibly the most acclaimed 45 minutes to come from the Buffy phenomenon, and I agree; Hush is so original and daring that it's easily the best episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that I've seen. Almost the entire episode is actually silent (the title does give it away…) and instead of being a negative factor, it is actually one of the best decisions Whedon et al made. The fearsome Gentlemen are genuinely chilling, constantly grinning adversaries who glide around the streets causing mayhem, and the direction the episode takes is unpredictable and very well executed. Superb.
The Gift (Season Five)
Buffy must square off against a true god when Glory prepares to use Dawn to break down the walls between the dimensions…and unleash Hell on Earth.
The biggest strength in this episode is the feeling of destruction that lingers in the air, as the gang realise that if Glory's plan does succeed – and the odds are stacked for her – then it really will be the end of the world as they know it. This is also perhaps the most poignant episode on the disc, as Buffy realises that Dawn may not be her sister per se, yet the connection they share is so strong, both physically and spiritually, that she doesn’t feel closer to anyone else. On the whole this episode is good, a little bit tacky in places (such as the vampires who serve Glory's constant attempts at humour, which instead backfire) and the ending is a real cliffhanger, and definitely unexpected.
It’s interesting to note that all the episodes on this disc are written and directed by creator Joss Whedon, and yet the episodes are not the best way to describe Buffy the Vampire Slayer: there are two quite good episodes, a third that may be superb, but also a pretty dire one as well. I remember seeing better episodes in the past, whether the odd one I saw on TV or in the season one boxset, and these definitely haven’t converted me to a Buffy fanboy.
Although every single Buffy episode is available in the season boxsets, Fox have released some themed discs to try and stir up interest in the show – this 'Best of', The Slayer Collection: a collection of discs focusing on four different Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters, and also a stand-alone episode (Once More, with Feeling).
The menus are static, with no animations or music whatsoever. The first screen presents you with the list of episodes (annoyingly not arranged in season order, so instead use my episode list above to work out which to watch first) and then special features and language selection. They are, however, easy to navigate.
There’s a controversy surrounding Buffy's DVD releases, and their video presentation. On Region 1, all the seasons are presented in 4:3 fullscreen, the ratio in which Joss Whedon intends them to be shown…however, in Region 2, from season four onwards they are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen – the ratio in which they were shot. So this disc has two episodes in fullscreen, with poor definition and a slightly blurred image, and then two episodes in widescreen…which of course are superior, with much better clarity and colour definition. However, even the widescreen image has slight flaws – it's a little too soft – but the presentation of these two episodes is much better than those from the first three seasons. The mark I have given is an average of the fullscreen and widescreen transfers.
Just like its TV broadcast, Dolby Digital 2.0 is the order of the day – but I found it to be fairly poor, even for a stereo soundtrack. The sound lacks definition, and there is little contrast between dialogue and action; meaning that the audio can sound muddled and mixed together poorly at times. A 5.1 remix with subwoofer usage would be excellent.
The season boxsets contain copious amounts of extra material, but the only things present on this disc are a collection of trailers and TV spots: Buffy and Angel on DVD, Buffy Season 7, Angel Season 4, The Slayer Collection and Firefly (created by Joss Whedon, completely separate from Buffy).
Buffy the Vampire Slayer certainly has potential, something that really isn't exploited fully here. The gaps between seasons leave holes in the show's flow, and just as you think you are getting to know a character, they disappear. My recommendation instead for prospective fans is to buy the (fairly cheap) season one boxset, 12 episodes and a wealth of extra material – and then if you enjoy them, you can carry on collecting the seasons; don’t waste your money on this unneeded release.