Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season One Review
As you may have guessed from reading DVD Times over the last few months, I have a very strong interest in Buffy. I've only really got into the series since the beginning of this year, but I have now seen every episode up to the end of Season Four!!! Rumours of a DVD release have been rife for some time and we've been following the story in detail from the original rumours up until the first season's DVD release which is due on 27 November...
So, where does it all start? Buffy came into being as a film in 1992 starring Kristy Swanson - it wasn't exactly very good, in fact it was nothing more than passable. It therefore came as a bit of a surprise when Fox agreed to let the film's writer, Joss Whedon, adapt the story for the small screen. It's widely accepted that the original film wasn't quite as Joss had intended and was played more for laughs than the original script... Thankfully with Whedon at the reigns of the series, we finally get to see just how things were meant to be!
One of the trademarks of Buffy, and something which was lacking from the film, is the witty dialogue and wry humour. Joss Whedon was partly responsible for the original Toy Story script and in some ways the humour is similar.
The first season only ran for twelve episodes - it was brought in as a mid-season replacement for another series. It's remarkable just how well the writers - lead by Whedon, have managed to bring together the teen high-school angst aspects and horror to create a very believeable (in a vampirey/demony sort of way) world which people can relate to. While it shares a little with the recent teen-slasher/horror movies, it's also starkly different.
The series opens with Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) arriving in Sunnydale - she was expelled from her last school for destroying the gym (which just so happened to contain a bunch of nasty vampires). Of course, she can't escape her calling as the one-and-only Slayer and as fate would have it, Sunnydale stands on the 'Hellmouth' - a Hellmouth which is just about to be opened by 'The Master' (Mark Metcalf). Vampire activity is rife on the streets of Sunnydale so Buffy has her work cut out.
She's not alone in her fight - her 'Watcher', Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) keeps an eye on things and has books on every demon-related subject you could think of. Through the course of the first episode Buffy also makes a few friends - Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Xander (Nicholas Brendon) (and later Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter))- who end up finding out about her secret and help in the cause. Finally we also have the mysterious Angel (David Boreanaz) - the Vampire with a conscience who has made it his job to protect and warn the Slayer of all the impending danger.
Here's a rundown of all twelve episodes...
Welcome To The Hellmouth
Buffy Summers arrives in Sunnydale - hoping to escape her calling as the Slayer. However, it turns out that Sunnydale is the last place on Earth she can do this and despite her initial reluctance she once again accepts her destiny...
The Master is intent on opening the Hellmouth and only one person can stop him. So, before the gates to hell are opened Buffy goes underground with the help (or hinderance if you like) of Xander who wants to rescue his best friend Jesse...
Buffy decides that in order to lead as normal a life as possible, she should get involved in the Cheerleader tryouts. Being Sunnydale, even this all-American high-school activity isn't quite normal and it turns out there is a witch in their midst...
A prayingmantis-type demon disguises itself as a teacher in Sunnydale High and sets about devouring the male population of the school! Xander, being the typical high-school boy develops a crush on this not-so-normal member of staff!
Never Kill A Boy On The First Date
Buffy starts dating one of her classmates, but things turn bad when the Master returns and trys to lead her into hell. Buffy's pre-occupation results in her friends getting into danger.
Xander and a group of other students are possessed by demonic hyenas and go on a rampage through the school slaughtering along the way Principle Flutie!
We finally get to find out about Angel and some of his past. Buffy realises she must learn to deal with what he is and what he has done.
I, Robot... You Jane
Molloch, a trapped demon is released onto the internet when Willow scans in a ancient book. It's up to Buffy to stop him before he causes too much damage both on, and off-line.
The Puppet Show
Someone or something is killing Sunnydale students for their organs! Buffy and co need to find out who before every resident is missing some vital body parts! Could the killer be a ventriloquist's dummy?
Everyone's worst nightmares start to become reality - including Buffy's. She has to fight her inner demons and stop Sunnydale being overrun by monsters out of people's dreams.
Out of mind, out of sight
Cordelia is capaigning to win the May Queen crown - but someone or something doesn't want her to get it. An invisible force seems to be doing everything in its power to bring Cordelia down a peg or two and Buffy and the gang are the only people who seem qualified enough to do it!
Giles comes across a prophecy in one of his books - and it's not good news. According to the text, Buffy will be killed in the impending battle with The Master. While their first instincts are to protect the slayer, her friends soon come to realise that the only chance they have is if Buffy takes her life in her hands and faces The Master before he opens the Hellmouth once and for all.
All in all, a very eventful season and with one or two exceptions it's all very good television!
I was a little disappointed in the picture quality which is quite variable. That said, the first series has always looked a little ropey and the DVD transfer is far better than the recent airing on Sky Digital.
The main problem is that the picture is both soft and grainy. The transfer itself is fine, but the original source material is a little disappointing to say the least. This is the best the series has looked, no doubt about that, but DVD can and has done better in the past.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is suprisingly involving and there's a fair amount of surround action. Of course, it's not as good as a dedicated 5.1 channel track but as one doesn't exist there's no reason to complain - the 2 channel DVD soundtrack is the best we can expect and it does it's job very well indeed.
The extras are also pretty impressive for a TV series. The best extra has to be the commentary by Joss Whedon which covers the first two episodes and reveals a lot about the thinking behind the writing! We get to learn a lot about how things were done and what was originally intended and Joss lets slip some interesting casting facts. It has to be said that a lot of what he says has already been covered in various interviews and articles but there's still quite a bit here which hasn't been mentioned before and I highly recommend it. Joss seems pretty laid back about things so it's an enjoyable commentary to listen to. Oddly, the commentary also features forced French subtitles - it would have been nice if these could have been switched off but I couldn't find a way to do it...
The interview with Joss and David Boreanaz for just over four minutes, and doesn't really cover any new ground. It's interesting to watch once but it's unlikely you'll bother going back to it more than a couple of times.
The 'original pilot script' doesn't actually cover the original pilot - in fact it's the script for the final version of 'Welcome to the Hellmouth' and 'The Harvest'. It's a huge disappointment that Fox didn't make the original unaired pilot available, and I thought this script would have been the script for that... Oh well - maybe they'll rectify this with the next box set?!
There's the music video for the pretty annoying Hepburn song 'I Quit' and a photo gallery - which as far as photo galleries go is pretty average and consists mainly of promo shots and some stills.
The final disc contains a selection of cast and crew biographies split over around 50 pages. They're not the sort of thing you'll return to time after time. The biographies here cover Joss Whedon, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Anthony Stewart Head, Nicholas Brendon, David Boreanaz and Charisma Carpenter. In general the biographies themselves cover both the characters and the actors and while there's not a lot here that fans will not already know there are a few little interesting tit-bits to uncover.
To round off, we have a 28-page episode guide which actually goes into quite a lot of detail on the first season episodes. There are loads of little bits and pieces that you probably didn't know and some interesting facts have been extracted and presented in a way which means you should be able to just pick up the booklet and locate the bit you want to read. It's a great addition to the overall package - and one I wasn't actually expecting so well done on that score Fox!
The DVD release of Season One is pretty much as expected. The slightly ropey picture quality is a little disappointing, but given that this is still better than I've seen it anywhere else I can't really complain. Hopefully later seasons will improve.