Monday, March 21, 2011

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a pretty bad teen horror comedy that is notable for two reasons. Obviously, it led to the much better and more successful television series and media franchise with the same title. Also, it stars some surprisingly talented actors, and features an abnormally large number of people in bit parts who would later go on to reasonably big careers. There's a pre-multiple-Oscar-wins Hilary Swank as a vapid high schooler, a pre-being-more-famous-than-he-should-be David Arquette as a punk-turned-vampire, and even a pre-Good-Will-Hunting Ben Affleck as a basketball player with one line. There's an early Stephen Root performance as a school administrator, and Thomas Jane apparently played someone named Zeph. Paul Reubens and Rutger Hauer play powerful vampires, Luke Perry found time to play a deadbeat who finds himself thrust into the sidekick/love interest role while he wasn't filming 90210, and Donald Sutherland is Merrick, a Watcher like Giles who is immortal for some reason. Star Kristy Swanson is practically the least currently famous person in the cast.

But anyway, I'm getting away from the movie, which was not very good. The script is credited to Joss Whedon, and while apparently several changes were made, I read the comic that was based on the same script, and a whole lot of it is the same, particularly the dialogue. The fact that the film is so amazingly unfunny despite using a lot of the same lines as the decent comic further proves something that was revealed in Alien Resurrection - as fun as Whedon's dialogue can be, in the hands of the wrong director and cast, it can be disastrous. Without the right attitude, it comes off pretty awkwardly, much more like somebody reading a script than talking. With the right talent it shines, but otherwise it can be bad. Buffy is the only character shared between the movie and show, and Swanson's interpretation just doesn't work. She's a pretty blond, but that's pretty much the extent of her similarity to Sarah Michelle Gellar's version. Buffy begins the series as a fairly normal teenage girl, but there's always that snarky undercurrent that kept her interesting right from the start, and the Buffy here is just too much the stereotypical popular high school student. Reading the comic in the show's voice showed how the material could have worked fine, but they just go another way with it that fails.

And with the dialogue failing so badly, a lot of the comedy gets shifted to the physical side of the movie, which just doesn't work either. There's a certain cheesiness to the martial arts action on the show, with some obvious stunt doubling and overly elaborate movement for simple results, but the tone makes it seem like an old action movie rather than a big joke, which is what it is here. There's hardly any real fighting at all - Buffy does some flips and hand springs and a limited bag of tricks, but any time there's actual physical scuffling it's just incompetent. Reubens' character was probably supposed to be intimidating, but it doesn't work because he's god damn Pee Wee Herman, and the best we get out of him is a weird piece of anti-comedy where he is apparently killed by repeatedly fails to actually die. Hauer's character's evilness is also told more than it's really shown, and the role is a major waste of his innate menace as an actor. And the changes made to Merrick and what the Watchers are for the movie add up to a whole lot of nothing.

I watched it because I wanted to see the background of what causes Buffy to move to Sunnydale and let the series begin, but some cuts to the script remove a couple pivotal events anyway, and the few people besides Buffy who are mentioned in the series that appear aren't really the same characters, so it doesn't serve that purpose well. It was pretty much just a waste of my time, even if the movie was shorter than a two-part episode of the show. There are no real likable characters, it's not funny, it's not scary, it's not exciting. And it's not capable of building an ironic cult following because something that was actually good grew out of it. All it can be now is a curio for fans of the series. Without Fran Rubel Kuzui the Buffy franchise probably wouldn't exist, and she deserves some credit for that. But the film she actually made was poor.

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