A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 473 – Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – June 16th, 2011

Well before Joss Whedon was the well-known character killer he is now, he wrote a script about a seemingly vapid teenage girl who was destined to slay vampires. And that sounded so very silly at the time and he wasn’t given full control over the movie that the script was made into and I’m sure we all know that eventually he went on to “correct” the mistakes made on the big screen. His small screen version of Buffy was a very different creature from this movie, but you can see Whedon’s touch showing through in quite a few places. It’s an interesting thing to see.

Now, I’m not going to spend a lot of time putting one up against the other. Whedon has said that this movie stands alone and isn’t considered part of the timeline for the show and given how many other people were involved in the making of the movie I don’t think it’s right to hold Whedon responsible for much of it in the end. After all, how many characters are we invited to actually care about? I’d say three, tops. And while one of them dies, it’s not unexpected. If Whedon had been given full control I have no doubt that a whole host of characters would have been sympathetic and at least two of them would have been brutally killed off without any sort of warning or foreshadowing. So you see, obviously someone came in and kept things light and fluffy.

And fluffy is the best word I can think to describe this movie. There’s almost no emotional impact here. It’s like trying to make an impact with marshmallows. There’s some backstory for Buffy and the leader of the vampires and how he’s hunted her through all her previous incarnations and they’ve got this creepy stalkery thing going on where he finds her and hypnotizes/seduces her and then kills her. And Buffy herself goes through a pretty severe character development arc where she goes from a flaky cheerleader who only cares about shopping and boys to a determined Slayer who’s determined to protect her friends. And in the process she becomes a more sympathetic character and blah blah blah. Honestly, does anyone watch this movie to see Buffy’s character arc? Cause it’s nice and all but it’s definitely not my motivation for putting the movie in.

This movie is very much The Lost Boys meets Clueless (the latter of which came out three years after this, but my point stands). Vampires and early 90s fashion and slang. The movie is awash with turns of phrase that I don’t think ever actually were said in the 90s and certainly aren’t said now, but which embody the representation of early 90s California teen culture in movies. And at the same time it’s obvious that these reference points are all meant to be jokes anyhow. Whedon’s very good at writing quick and snappy banter and he’s always seemed to me to have a good ear for what sorts of things people might not say, but might wish they’d thought to say. Here that’s played out to an extreme sort of situation. Of course, quick banter and cute phrasing doesn’t make up for some messy backstory and plotting. Given the lighthearted tone of most of the movie the slow and supposedly serious flashbacks that Buffy gets in her dreams, not to mention her encounters with Lothos (vampire leader) in the present just seem ill-fitting. I’m going to go ahead and blame this on a number of factors, but mostly on the disconnect between what I assume Whedon wrote, and what the director and various other responsible parties were trying to do with it. Or maybe it is his fault and he hadn’t found a good way to marry the serious with the flippant. It’s impossible to know for certain just how much got changed.

What I do know for certain is that if you ignore the uneven bits with the serious tone, and you get past the incongruous casting of Donald Sutherland (he seems every bit as confused by his role as I am) as Buffy’s mentor, Merrick, and take this whole thing as a parody and farce? Then it works. It works so well. It’s fun and it’s funny and clever and it doesn’t make you think too hard. It’s just enjoyable. Watch Buffy in her training montage! Watch her new friend Pike argue with his now-a-vampire buddy as said buddy floats outside his window! Watch Buffy’s friends completely fail to twig to the fact that their town is overrun with vampires! Watch Stephen Root go on at length about LSD while trying to counsel Buffy! Watch vampires show up at the senior dance and watch Buffy rip off her skirt to go kick some ass! Watch her use hairspray as a flamethrower! Watch Paul Reubens take forever to die! I just can’t take it too seriously. There are too many funny and irreverent bits.

I admit, there was a point when I’d seen this movie a number of times and loved it and had only ever seen snippets of the “new” series and just couldn’t see the appeal. It was too serious! It wasn’t silly enough! Where was the parody? Where was the farce? It took some time for me to warm up to it. Which is silly, because I shouldn’t have been trying to compare the two in the first place. They took the same characters and premise and did thoroughly different treatments. And so while I now do enjoy much of the series (though it has its flaws), I also enjoy this movie (flaws and all as well) and I enjoy them at the same time!

June 16, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

June 16, 2011

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I own the box set that contains the complete television series that was inspired by this movie. I bought it for almost nothing from the Suncoast Video store I used to manage when it was going out of business. I haven’t watched all of the series (I pretty much stipped watching it when Tara was killed) but I did love it – especially in the earlier years. When it first came out though I was skeptical because although I had seen this movie in the theaters and enjoyed it I couldn’t really conceive why anybody would want to re-make this. It’s a somewhat uneven movie, after all, and so light hearted as to appear vapid as its protagonist at times. I didn’t really think there was enough material there for a television series.

Over time, of course, I have learned not to underestimate Joss Whedon, but tonight’s review is about this movie, which came out long before that name meant anything to me. What it is is a fun sort of teen vampire movie in the vein of Lost Boys (though not quite as good.) Buffy is a brainless cheerleader who cares about nothing but shopping with her tight group of Heathers. Her biggest challenge is picking a theme for the high school senior dance (they chose the environment – because she’s concerned about the ozone layer. That’s got to go.) She has a secret though which she’s never told anybody. She has reoccurring dreams of past lives where she used to fight vampires. A strange old man shows up one day and tells her that this is because she is the chosen slayer – a girl destined to fight the never ending tide of vampires that plagues the world.

So Buffy has a training montage and discovers that she has a purpose in the world, which makes it much harder for her to hold on to her childhood dreams of marrying Christian Slater and moving to Europe. There are vampires in her home town, led by a sinister elderly master named Lothos who has been hunting the slayers down through the years, waiting for one to be a worthy opponent. As Buffy begins to realize how shallow her old life was she befriends a local townie named Pike who is the sort of person she used to ridicule in the old days. Naturally everything comes to a head when Lothos encourages his vampire horde to invade the senior dance to draw Buffy out of hiding so he can confront her and destroy her.

There’s a lot of silly fun in this movie. Paul Reubens steals every scene as the vampire second in command Amilyn (going so far as to get a stinger near the end of the closing credits.) Stephen Root is the clueless principal who drones on about his drug experiences in an attempt to seem hip. (I prefer Armin Shimerman as a principal foil for Buffy, but Root provides a number of good laughs.) Luke Perry as Pike sort of plays with his 90210 heart-throb status and is somewhat of a goof, which I enjoyed. I even enjoy Kristy Swanson as Buffy, with her valley girl attitude.

It is not a movie without its flaws though. Donald Sutherland (better known for his role as the clumsy waiter) sleep walks through his performance as Buffy’s mentor and watcher Merrick. I suppose it must have been trying to be playing a humorless fogey and exposition machine in an action comedy, but he almost looks like he doesn’t want to be there at all. Then there’s the utterly bizarre performance of Rutger Hauer as the vampire Lothos. He looks ridiculous with that silly mustache and he seems to be having a lot of trouble enunciating around his fangs, resulting in a very mealy-mouthed delivery to many of his lines. (Did he have something against re-recording in ADR?) I don’t know, maybe the fault lies with director Fran Rubel Kuzui, who might have felt that since this is a comedy the main villain should be laughable. In my opinion it leaves the movie feeling flat and lifeless right when it should be rousing and adventure filled.

Still. It is a movie with a lot of great quotable bits and some very funny performances. It stumbles a bit in its never-ending and desperate attempts to keep us laughing, but I enjoy it nonetheless. I am very glad, however, that Joss got a chance to re-boot the idea and do it his own way, because the television series is a thing of beauty filled with humor, surprising emotional depth and some strong messages about how hard growing up can be.

June 16, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment