Buffy the Vampire Slayer Blu-ray offers solid video and audio, but overall it's a mediocre Blu-ray release
A fully accessorized L.A. high school cheerleader is informed by a mysterious stranger that she is destined to battle vampires. Soon she's wreaking havoc on a local chapter of bloodsuckers. But when the top vampire vows revenge, it totally fouls up her social schedule. The prelude to Buffytasticness.
For more about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Blu-ray release, see Buffy the Vampire Slayer Blu-ray Review published by Michael Reuben on September 16, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
It's interesting to speculate whether the 1992 film Buffy the Vampire Slayer would hold any
interest today if its writer, Joss Whedon, hadn't been so thoroughly revolted by the final product
that he reinvented it as one of the most successful cult TV shows of all time. Certainly the film's
meager box office didn't portend long life, and the triumph of Whedon's series, which began its
seven-year prime-time run in 1997 and continues to this day in motion comics, conclusively
demonstrated what a hash producer Kaz Kuzui and director Fran Rubel Kuzui made of Whedon's
original concept. (In a truly vicious irony, contractual obligations allowed the the Kuzuis and
their company, Kuzui Enterprises, to keep their name on every episode of the Buffy TV series.)
I first saw the film before the TV series started, and the only element that left an impression was
Paul Reubens' campy turn as the number 2 vampire, Amilyn, because Reubens had the good
sense to play his role in quotation marks. It was the only sensible choice, given the Kuzuis'
decision to turn Whedon's script into a frothy romp, free of all the dark elements that made it
distinctive and that would ultimately make the Buffy series a hit. Today, I can't watch the film
without ticking off the elements that were kept and those that are missing (or were mangled), and
marveling at how chintzy and unconvincing the whole enterprise seems, because no one takes it
seriously. It's hard for me to imagine how someone unfamiliar with the real Buffy-verse would
experience the film -- or why anyone would want to bother (with the possible exception of Hilary
Swank completists, since this was her first film).
Buffy (Kristy Swanson) is a senior at Hemery High. (In this version, she has only a first name,
like Madonna, Cher and Rihanna.) She's a cheerleader, dates a popular basketball player named
Jeffrey (Randall Batinkoff), has the most laissez-faire of parents (Candy Clark plays her mother)
and is proud to be the chief airhead in a quartet that includes Kimberly, Jennifer and Nicki
(Swank, Michele Abrams and Paris Vaughan). It's a minor inconvenience that uncool guys who
don't come from rich families -- geeks like Pike and his friend Benny (Luke Perry and David
Arquette) -- think that Buffy and her friends are self-absorbed and obnoxious.
The only thing that ruffles Buffy's perfect world is her dreams. In them she's someone else, a
figure in history. Not real history, mind you, but history as it might have been staged by Roger
Corman, if someone had dared him to be cheaper and less convincing than at any time in his
entire career as a filmmaker. Buffy's dreams are always violent and routinely feature a figure
who seems familiar and looks more or less like Rutger Hauer (but much more dissipated than
when he played Roy Batty in Blade Runner).
One day a mysterious man appears who behaves like a stalker and ultimately identifies himself as
Merrick (Donald Sutherland). He tells Buffy that he's been searching for her for years, that she's
the Chosen One, and that it's her destiny to protect the human race from vampires. Buffy is
unimpressed until Merrick describes to her the very dreams that she's never confided to anyone.
They are, in fact, collective memories of past slayers that Merrick has trained in former lives (the
mythology gets a bit fuzzy here, but those familiar with the TV series can fill it in). After some
additional convincing, Buffy allows Merrick to begin training her.
And not a minute too soon. Local news reports are abuzz with reports of people gone missing,
bodies found mauled and funerals being held. Amilyn (Reubens) is building a new army of
vampires to serve his master, Lothos (Hauer), in a quest for . . . well, that's never entirely clear.
Since they're vampires, the goal is clearly nefarious, and it seems to have something to do with
identifying the Chosen One. But even after Buffy has been lured to an encounter with Lothos -- at
a storage lot for parade floats -- where it seems utterly obvious to everyone who and what she is,
there seems to be some question about her identity, leaving it for geek Benny (who's since been
turned) to discover and reveal to the master who the Chosen One is -- and just in time for the
school dance! A major vampire attack ensues, leading to the final showdown between Lothos and
Buffy. Also, now that Buffy has found something serious in her life, she and Jeffrey no longer
mesh, but she finds someone to understand her new calling in Pike, who joined the fight against
vampirism after seeing what it did to his friend Benny.
As a director, Fran Kuzui is barely competent. It's not surprising that she's never made another
film. She's unable to maintain a consistent tone, which is disastrous when you're trying to
bridge genres, as Whedon's script attempted to do. The actors can't be faulted, because they're
doing the best they can with what they've been given. (Reubens may have been the only one who
sensed the magnitude of the disaster and simply decided just to make an impression by being his
anarchical self.) As the film veers wildly from irony to camp to slapstick to outright farce, the
one thing missing is the critical element that would electrify audiences five years later when
Whedon stubbornly reclaimed his property and redid it: the visceral terror high school evokes in
almost everyone who experiences it, which Whedon managed to channel into traditional horror
tropes. It was a brilliant and original idea, which is precisely the kind of thing that can't be
entrusted to amateurs.
The cinematographer for Buffy the Vampire Slayer was James Hayman, who, shortly after
completing this project, gave up cinematography to become a successful television producer.
Maybe Hayman's career trajectory has something to do with the erratic quality of the film's
photography, which is reflected in the Blu-ray's 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer. Scenes in
brightly lit interiors or daylight outdoors are generally colorful, detailed, have good black levels
and show a grain pattern that is natural, controlled and unobtrusive. Problems emerge as soon as
we get into dark interiors, night scenes or "period" flashbacks. Blacks begin to crush toward
grey, shadow detail washes out, and the film's grain becomes heavy and noticeable. (The good
news, of course, is that the grain hasn't been filtered away, which means that the image detail has
been left intact.)
I suspect that some of this was done intentionally, either to create "atmosphere" or to disguise
budgetary limitations in the production design. Either way, the Blu-ray image appears to replicate
the source faithfully, in that the problematic images are specific to individual scenes and betray
none of the tell-tale signs of having been introduced by the transfer process (e.g., "hanging" or
clumping grain, smearing, motion or compression artifacts). This is a film-like image, if not
always a beautiful film-like image. Anyone curious to see the variation in the film's imagery
should click on the "Screenshots" tab, where I have tried to include a selection that runs the gamut.
The film's soundtrack was stereo, and the DVD's soundtrack was DD 4.0. It's surprising, then, to
find a 7.1 soundtrack, encoded in DTS lossless, on the Blu-ray. The track is clean and has good
fidelity, with voices clearly rendered, good bass extension and surprisingly effective musicality
for Carter Burwell's score and the rather dated song selections (notably, the Divinyls' cover of "I
Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore"). But the surround ambiance isn't notably immersive,
and rear-channel effects are modest. I continue to wonder why soundtracks from the pre-discrete
era get remixed for 5.1, let alone 7.1, when the sound design wasn't created for these formats.
The results are rarely satisfying, and I'm beginning to suspect it's primarily a matter of
Like almost every film every made, Buffy the Vampire Slayer has its fans, and for them this Blu-ray
is an accurate and effective representation of the film, albeit one lacking in meaningful extras.
The lack is hardly surprising, since the film has never carried its own weight. It owes its
continued viability to the ride it hitched on a series that doesn't even want to acknowledge its
existence. If you're already a fan of the film, the disc is recommended. If you're a fan of the
series, well, see above.
Blu-ray bundles with Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1 bundle)
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Fox Home Video will release the original 1992 horror comedy film, Buffy the Vampire Slayer on September 13th. The Joss Whedon (Firefly) creation stars Kristy Swanson, Luke Perry, Donald Sutherland, Paul Reubens, David Arquette and Rutger Hauer.
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