Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Five Review
Season Four of Buffy The Vampire Slayer was, for many fans, a bit of a disappointment. After the fantastic third series, it was of course very difficult to top what had come before and as such it was almost as if the producers were giving themselves a chance to regroup. In some ways, Season Five could almost follow on directly from the events of the third series.
The series starts with a bang with Buffy facing what many had originally expected to be the season's main villain - the one and only Count Dracula. However, after quickly despatching him, we discover all is not as it was in Sunnydale. The first sign of change is the sudden appearance of Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) who is apparently Buffy's sister. However, while the audience are surprised, to Buffy and her friends, Dawn has always been around. We're soon introduced to Glory (Clare Kramer), who eventually turns out to be Buffy's nemesis for the season. It's good to see a return to form as far as the 'big bad' goes. Glory is on a par with the Mayor as far as evil goes and Clare Kramer adds enough to the character to give her a certain edge. We soon discover just how powerful she is, and just how Dawn is related to Glory's plans to open an inter-dimensional gateway which will result in death and destruction on Earth.
Season Five is very much about loss and grief. By the end of the year, every character has lost something or someone very important to him or her and you find yourself really feeling for Buffy as she struggles to hold everything together while her world falls apart around her.
Standout episodes for this season have to be The Body and The Gift. Both of which are integral to the storyline of the season and it'd be impossible for me to discuss them here without spoiling things for you. Let's just say that you may need a hanky ready. Other notable jaunts include the season opener Buffy vs. Dracula and The Replacement which sees Xander (Nicholas Brendon) split into two very similar, but completely opposite, people.
Season Five certainly has its critics - it's not the most joyful thing to watch and does lack much of the fun that characterised the series in the first few years. However, as far as intense drama goes, this delivers in droves. There are some lighter moments to brighten up proceedings, but the whole theme of loss means that they're few and far between.
Sarah Michelle Gellar excels in her portrayal of Buffy in throughout this season and her performance in The Body is the best work she's done to date. After a shaky start, Michelle Trachtenberg, manages to get into character as Dawn and by the end of the series she's very much a part of the cast. Finally, plenty of fans will be pleased to hear that Riley (Marc Blucas) ducks out of the season fairly early on.
As is now customary, Buffy Season 5 is packaged in the book-style packaging that has accompanied the series since the second season. Now that all the technical problems with the packaging are out of the way, I'm pleased to say that it suits the programme well and I'm glad that Fox persevered. All I ask now is that Season One is reissued in this new style of packaging.
Fox have hit their stride with these releases now. While we had some teething problems in earlier seasons, there's little to complain about for this release
Framed correctly at 1.78:1, this transfer is near perfect apart from one or two minor issues I'll address shortly. In terms of actual picture quality, what we have is very good. A sharp anamorphic transfer with very few noticeable digital artefacts - certainly a major step up from Season Four's widescreen transfer. Blacks are deep, colours are vibrant and there is very little in the way of print degradation.
My only minor reservation is with the episode Spiral in which some of the outdoor scenes appear to be very slightly window boxed at times - in particular in the horse chase across the desert. In these scenes the picture also looses a little definition and is slightly soft. For the most part, this isn't noticeable thanks to the over scan on most TV's, but projector or PC users will notice it quite easily. It's not a major drawback and on the whole, this is the best Buffy has ever looked.
As per usual, we have a functional Dolby Digital 2.0 Pro-Logic soundtrack. For the most part it's decent enough with ample surround action and good clear audio. There's not a lot to say - nothing noticeable jumped out at me as being out of place, and the pro-logic surround gives just the right amount of ambience. There are some directional effects on the front soundstage that add to the atmosphere.
Once again a nice varied selection of features, commentaries and other assorted bits and bobs add plenty of justification for fans to pick up the DVD release. Here's a disc-by-disc rundown...
First up is an informative commentary by David Fury (Writer) and David Grossman (Director) for the episode The Real Me. It's quite a dry listen, but with plenty of interesting pieces of information scattered throughout fans are certain to find something worthwhile here.
The disc also contains the script for The Replacement, as always presented as static text.
Doug Petrie provides the second commentary of the set for the episode Fool For Love. For some strange reason this kicks in post-credits, so don't go thinking it's not working! Probably of interest mainly to budding scriptwriters, this one sees Doug discussing the differences between the script and the final result as seen on screen. Quite an interesting commentary track and certainly a bit more engaging.
We also get a script for the same episode.
Now we get to the meat of the package with a selection of featurettes, trailers and at long last outtakes...
A look into Buffy around the world, with various dubbed soundtracks demonstrated as well as interviews on the subject of non-US/UK fans. Quite an interesting, albeit short, look at the worldwide impact of the series.
Demonology - A Slayer's Guide
Danny Strong (who is more recognisable as Jonathan in the series) introduces this slightly tongue in cheek look at the various monsters that make up the Buffy-verse along with interviews with the actors behind the make up and Joss Whedon.
A look into the casting process for the show's main characters. We get to see Sarah Michelle Gellar in a different guise, but unfortunately we don't get to see the faces from the show's first, as yet unavailable pilot (in particularly a very, very different Willow).
This one's a look at the stunts of the series. It's quite a detailed look at the stunts in the series including the wirework and interviews with a number of stunt people - in particular an interview with Sarah Michelle Gellar's stunt double.
We finally get to see the long-awaited outtakes that have been mentioned alongside Buffy from Season One onwards. They had all gone through the BBFC, but it looks like Fox waited till they had a good selection before including them. Certainly makes more sense than having a couple of outtakes per box set so there was method in their madness after all. The outtakes are pretty poor quality, but that's to be expected given that they were never given the post-production that the episodes were...
We have trailers for Seasons 2, 3 and 4 of Buffy on DVD, seasons 1 and 2 of Angel and also the trailer for the original film staring Kristy Swanson.
To round off we have the script for Into The Woods
Jane Espenson provides the commentary on this disc for the episode I Was Made To Love you. Again it's a little dry and in terms of content a little sparse with Jane basically going over the onscreen action. Worth a listen, but don't expect to come away knowing any more about the series.
We also have a script for Checkpoint.
Joss Whedon provides the commentary this time around for The Body. Given that the episode itself is probably one of the most moving and realistic of the series, it's good to see Joss making an effort to provide an interesting insight. It's a shame he kicks off sounding less than interested, but it certainly picks up post-credits. We get to hear Joss's thoughts when he was formulating the script and the decisions he made to gain the greatest impact - both in artistic and practical terms.
The final disc of the package once again greets us with a wide array of features...
The Story of Season Five
It goes without saying that this is basically a rundown on the events of this season from start to finish. As always, it's not a good idea to watch this before watching the series as you're certain to get a lot spoiled for you if you're not careful.
Another close look at The Body. It covers quite a lot of the ground that is covered by Joss Whedon's commentary, but includes interviews with a few other crew and cast members. Again, it's worth noting that you're better off watching the episode before watching this analysis...
Spotlight on Dawn
A brief look at the season's main new cast addition - Dawn.
To round off we have a stills gallery.
A fantastic package for one of the best seasons of Buffy to date. After Season Four left us wanting, Season Five piled on the action and emotion and delivered both in droves. The DVD release is the best yet for Buffy with a near-perfect picture and a wide selection of extra features. Again an excellent example of how to present TV on DVD.