Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Three Review
The third year of Buffy the Vampire marks a slight change of pace for the popular series. Season two was very much one of relationships, and as such was filled with a huge number of emotional storylines. It appears that for the third season, Joss Whedon decided to return to a more fun-filled approach that made up the shows first year.
Following the apparent death of Angel (David Boreanaz) - the Vampire with a soul, the season starts with the episode Anne and sees Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) leaving Sunnydale to get away from things. Arriving in LA she takes a job as a waitress under her middle name, Anne. However it's not long before the trouble streets of the city draw her in and she finds herself battling demons from another dimension. Later in the series in the episode 'Faith, Hope and Trick' we're introduced to a new Slayer - Faith. Following Buffy's death and resurrection in the Season One finale, and Kendra's (Buffy's replacement) death in the Season Two finale, Faith is called by the Watchers council and arrives in Sunnydale to take on the Vamps. Unfortunately, she's a little too fond of killing Vampires and slowly finds it difficult to draw the line between them and innocent humans - she's not helped by the support of the Mayor who just happens to have his own plans.
As always events build up until the finale (Graduation Day parts one and two) when everything comes to a head. There are also some tantalising glimpses for the next couple of seasons, although in some ways these make the fourth seasons seem a little out of place as it has very little consequence when looked at in relation to the series as a whole. There's no surprise that things are very well written - there's always an ongoing theme and even when an episode isn't directly related to the ongoing plot it still has significance. In fact I'd go as far as to say that most of the stand-alone episodes here are easily on par, story wise, to the arc-based episodes. A couple that stand out are 'The Wish' and 'Doppelgangland' which make up a sort of prolonged two-part 'alternate universe' story featuring the characters in different roles - including of course, everyone's favourite 'Evil Willow'.
While certainly not the emotional roller coaster that the second season was, the third season certainly ranks up there as being one of the best series so far. ALL of the original main cast are still present - this is the last season that everyone is together (the most obvious departure is that of Angel - but he's not gone for good, instead moving onto his own spin-off series which is some ways follows up on Anne). The Mayor is an excellent villain - on the outside he seems likeable enough, but once his evil plans are uncovered he's seen in a whole new light. Faith adds an excellent new dynamic to the series - Dushku was the perfect choice for the role. She's a much harder person than Buffy, but at the same time she finds it hard to distinguish between right and wrong.
The DVD - Sound and Picture
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Three is presented in a six-disc box set. The packaging is very similar to the Season Two release and takes the form of a book. However, unlike the Season Two packaging a little more though has gone into this one with bigger ‘pages’ that have been specially coated to remove the risk of scratching the discs. Another corrected flaw for this season is the reintroduction of ‘Previously’ segments which quickly recap what’s happened in previous episodes - these were missed off in season two and there was quite a few comments around the various newsgroups as these segments were scored along with the episode in question making their omission seem more than a little jarring.
The picture across all six discs is reasonable - it’s not going to win any awards, but it’s a step up to what we’ve had before. The main problem is that it’s a little soft - detail is lacking at some points and there are moments when there is a little smearing, but again nothing on the scale that we’ve seen on the previous two box sets. The series is largely made up of darker scenes and the problem with the lack of detail mentioned above is that it’s quite difficult to make out what’s going on at times - it was difficult grabbing screenshots for this review as anything that was too dark didn’t look very good when freeze framed hence the predominance of lighter scenes on display here.
The sound is also reasonable - again it’s not award winning material. The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is largely geared towards dialogue and as such this is nice and clear with no major worries. There isn’t very much in the way of surround action apart from some atmospheric sounds - the mono rear channel obviously limits what could be done. As the dialogue is of most importance in this series there’s not really a lot of complaining to be done, and when action scenes are in progress the speakers come to life in a pretty convincing way - nice bass and the front soundstage is suitably wide.
The DVD - Supplements
I’ll take a look at each disc individually…
Episodes: Anne / Dead Man's Party / Faith, Hope and Trick / Beauty and the Beasts
The first discs extras are limited to the script for Faith, Hope and Trick - this is adequately presented in a readable typeface. The main thing to note with this disc is that it contains the only episode of the series that has been cut by the BBFC - Dead Man’s Party which has two cuts to prevent the episode getting an 18 rating, the first is a scene depicting a the hotwiring of a car and the second is a head butt. The first is quite noticeable, but I don’t believe it’s a good enough reason to avoid the Region 2 release.
Episodes: Homecoming / Band Candy / Revelations / Lover’s Walk
This one features scripts for Band Candy and Lover’s Walk presented very much in the same way as above - in fact, they’re identical!
Episodes: The Wish / Amends / Gingerbread
At last we’re getting to the meat of the extras with this disc - the reduction in the number of episodes means that we get to see a few featurettes appearing. First up we have ‘Buffy Speak’ which looks at the way the series plays around with the English language. The second featurette is a ‘Season Three Overview’ which runs to around 18 minutes with plenty of interviews and the like (although a certain Miss Gellar yet again fails to make an appearance) - it covers the events in the series in some detail and does give a few plot points away. In addition we have a gallery, biographies and a script for The Wish
Episodes: Helpless / The Zeppo / Bad Girls / Consequences
The first commentary tracks appear on this disc. Writer David Fury talks about the episode Helpless, Doug Petrie talks about his episode - Consequences and Michael Gershwan chats about Bad Girls - each commentary has it’s own individual feel. Gershwan is probably the least appealing as he sounds fairly ‘dry’, but if you persevere there’s quite a lot to be gained. David Fury is a little more interesting, but rarely goes outside of the bounds of the episode he’s talking about unlike Petrie who discusses both Consequences and the way it fits in with the overall plot.
Episodes: Doppelgangland / Enemies / Earshot / Choices
A fourth commentary track makes up the only extra on this disc. In it, Jane Espenson talks about the episode ‘Earshot’, which was in itself quite a controversial story which was due to be first aired after one of the high-school shootings in the US. Basically, the controversy comes from the fact that events in this episode mirrored real life quite closely with an outcast student planning to take revenge on his schoolmates. It’s interesting to hear what Espenson has to say about the episode in question.
Episodes: The Prom / Graduation Day pt. 1 / Graduation Day pt. 2
Another big batch of extras fill up the space on this disc. There are three featurettes – ‘Wardrobe’, ‘Weapons’ and ‘Special Effects’, each of which is fairly self-explanatory! Wardrobe looks at the costumes worn by the various actors and how they’re chosen. Weapons looks at the wide range of hand weapons used by Buffy, her companions and their enemies. Finally, there’s a 13-minute look at the special effects which briefly covers a number of key effects sequences used in the series – the running time means that there isn’t too much digging, but you do get a good idea of what is required when putting these effect sequences into action.
The DVD – Overall
Once again, it’s a good release for Buffy. The six discs are packed so that they’re overflowing, however other than the commentaries, there’s little here of any great consequence. The improved picture quality is nice, but it’s still not quite as nice as I’d have liked and the sound is adequate. A worthwhile purchase? If you’re a fan then yes, if not then it may be worth investing in a copy of the season one box set first as that’s considerably cheaper – or even better try and catch a few episodes on TV then it won’t cost you a penny.
This review was based on a test pressing although these are expected to be identical to the final product.