Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season One Review
The First Series
The buzz around Buffy has final started to decrease - after running for five seasons it's slowly being relegated by the press to the 'just another television show' status. That said, the Region 1 DVD release will probably stoke the fire a bit and get a few more people interested.
Buffy was first conceived back in the very early nineties as an ill-fated film. However thankfully even though the film was a flop, the man who came up with the idea - Joss Whedon - still felt there was promise in his concept and finally sold the idea to Fox for a weekly TV show. After a fairly muted start, the show found its footing well in it's second season and now has a following that would put pretty much any other series to shame.
The first series of Buffy ran for twelve episodes - not a lot by US standards, but the show was brought in mid-season to replace a series that had bombed. This actually works in the show's favour for the first season as it gives a chance for Whedon and Co to try the show out before serious amounts of money were committed. The first series definitely plays off of the 'schoolyard' setting far more than subsequent series and Buffy is much more a normal girl coming to terms with her 'gift'. It's interesting the see the characters how they started out - especially now that we're a number of years down the line and it hard to believe the amount that each and every key cast member has grown over time. Even those with relatively minor roles have shown signs of development.
The first season also has, in my opinion, the best 'villain' so far in the form of the Master - a Vampire so old that he no longer has the ability to look human. What better way to kick off? The whole cast and crew gel very well indeed. Sarah Michelle Gellar has made Buffy her own over the course of the series, but even in the first episode she looks at ease with her role - she's much more suited to her current role than the one she was originally intended for - Cordelia. The whole cast seem to fit into their characters extremely well - I couldn't imagine anyone else playing any of their parts.
The variety of episodes making up the first season is quite wide ranging - the opening two-parter 'Welcome to the Hellmouth' and 'The Harvest' sets quite a high standard but thankfully that standard is almost universally met. There are of course a couple of stumbling blocks - and they're usually the episodes that try to take 'real world' concepts and give them a demon-like edge - the most obvious being 'I Robot, You Jane' which sees a demon set loose on the internet after an ancient book was scanned into a computer.
All in all the first season manages to deliver what it set out to in the first place...
This review will compare the Region 1 and Region 2 DVD box sets of the first season. The Region 2 release first appeared in late 2000, while the Region 1 release appeared a little over a year later...
Each release consists of three discs in foldout packaging. The Region 2 box folds out in the form of a cross whereas the Region 1 box is a more standard digipack, similar in appearance to the X Files box sets. All twelve episodes are included along with a selection of extra features. Menus on both releases are identical.
The details to the right are for the Region 1 release. For Region 2 details check our review.
The Region 1 picture quality does improve quite a bit over the Region 2 release. It's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but the problems associated with the Region 2 box are certainly reduced.
We do see a little smearing, but the image is much sharper than the UK release. Grain is clearly visible in all scenes, but this can be put down to the 16mm film used for the first couple of seasons. The images dotted through this review compare identical scenes from the Region 1 and Region 2 box sets - it should be noted however that the main differences are more visible when watching as movement exasperates the problems on both releases.
I'm not sure whether the improvement in picture quality is because of the lack of NTSC conversion or whether some extra effort has been put in to clear things up a bit. However, it is noticeably better.
Winner: Region 1
Both discs are near enough identical. We have the same soundtracks (the Region 2 disc has different subtitles) and as far as the English soundtracks are concerned there is no discernable difference. Nice and clear with plenty of bass giving any pro-logic capable system something to work with. There is some surround action, but not a lot and of course it's limited to one channel. Not bad at all, just nothing to go shouting from the rooftops about...
This is where the big debate lies - is there any difference between the extras on the Region 1 box set and the Region 2? I can say that all of the extras from the Region 2 release are included except the twenty-eight page episode guide which was in my view pretty good and the Hepburn music video which wasn't.
The Region 1 release does score a few points over the Region 2 in another respect - there are a number of segments featuring Joss Whedon talking about various episodes. These basically just see Joss talking direct to the camera on the various aspects of the show interspersed with clips from the series. Each segment runs for a few minutes at most but they do offer a little insight into the episodes covered (Welcome to the Hellmouth, The Harvest, Witch, Never Kill A Boy On The First Date, Angel and The Puppet Show).
The other extras are the same on both releases - the most important is the commentary on the opening two-parter which expands quite a lot on Whedon's comments in the segments mentioned above. Whedon is fairly laid back and at ease talking about the episodes and the series itself - although a lot of what he says here has appeared elsewhere in print and other media. Even so there's still quite a lot to be gained from listening to this commentary. It's worth noting that the Region 1 disc doesn't have the same subtitle problem on the commentary track that affects the Region 2.
The first disc also contains an interview with Whedon and David Boreanaz (Angel) but really doesn't cover anything new as far as the series goes. To round off the first disc we have a trailer, the script for the pilot and some pointless DVD-ROM features.
The second disc features a couple of the above-mentioned segments and a photo gallery. Exciting isn't it?! Finally the last disc also has a couple of interview segments along with biographies for Joss Whedon, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Anthony Stewart Head, Nicholas Brendon, David Boreanaz and Charisma Carpenter...
The Region 1 box set takes what we had in the UK and improves ever so slightly in the picture quality department. If you already have the Region 2 release then the improvements probably don't warrant another purchase, but if you don't then my advice is to consider the Region 1 box set superior and to go for that one - it's cheaper too...