Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Movie

Rating:

Buffy Movie Lacks Slayer Spark

Main Cast: Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Luke Perry, Paul Ruebens
Also Notable: Ben Affleck, Hilary Swank, Rutger Hauer
Director: Fran Rubel Kuzui

Joss Whedon was a screenwriter with a mission. His challenge was to blend teen camp with horror and create a heroine who was feminine, tough and somewhat supernatural. Whedon had already earned his comic chops writing for television (Roseanne) and script-doctoring movies (Parenthood and Toy Story), but Buffy was his baby.

Whedon frequently expresses relief and thanks that network executives and production teams allowed him to shape his vision. Other accounts have studio executives demanding multiple rewrites to lighten up Whedon’s reportedly darker offering. One need only view acclaimed Buffy television episodes such as Hush to see that Whedon wanted to write dark, suspenseful material that was regularly lightened by comedy.

Buffy, With Hilary Swank and Ben Affleck?

Led by Donald Sutherland, Buffy the Vampire Slayer features a well-known cast that includes a very young Luke Perry, Paul Reubens (of Pee-Wee Herman fame), Rutger Hauer and Kristy Swanson in the title role.

Both Swank and Affleck are there too.  Ben Affleck is an high school basketball player who is instantly recognizable. Swank, only 18 years old and in her first role, is in Buffy’s pack of friends. Both have Oscars now, but the Buffy movie has no Oscar-worthy work.

Delivering her lines with the catty teenage girl cutting edge that Sarah Michelle Gellar popularized on television, Kristy Swanson never converted her Buffy experience into more successful roles. Since the 1992 release, Swanson has regularly appeared on television and in movies, but her biggest movie may have been the silly Dude, Where’s My Car?

Director Fran Rubel Kuzui, in only her second stint behind the cameras, plays the cast for camp instead of gore or mythology. Indeed, when Sutherland, Perry or Swanson stake a vampire, there is no gore and only a brief glimpse of violence. Kuzui later rode the Buffy train hard, becoming a producer on the television show and its Angel spinoff.

Buffy’s Convoluted Plot

Buffy the TV series had more than 125 hours of character and mythology development. Buffy the movie has 86 minutes, and part of that time is setting up Swanson and her castmates in a bad teen movie. By the time Sutherland’s Merrick too easily convinces Buffy that she is “the chosen one”, the movie is almost a third done.

A training montage straight out of Rocky shows the athletic Swanson preparing to battle master vampire Lothos (Hauer). The setting is horror, but hardly scary. Instead, this is the story of a teenage girl neglected by her parents now in a supernatural world, a movie premise as old as Dorothy going to Oz.

And that may be the biggest problem with this film. Little convinces the viewer that the vampires are real, and Paul Reubens’ camera mugging doesn’t help. Buffy the movie is more violent and has even more focus on the love story than the television show, but the violence and the romance are underdeveloped.. This is plastic love, like Andrew McCarthy in Mannequin and cartoon violence of the Star Trek variety, where a few well placed kicks and some phaser blasts obliterate aliens.  The slayer mythology backstory creates some nice moments, but little of the “In every generation” mysticism.

The comedy is still there. One only need to listen to Swanson sneering, “Does the word “duh” mean anything to you?” to realize that the film is meant to be horror-wrapped  comedy, but there simply are not enough of any of the elements – mythology, horror, romance or comedy – to make this an enjoyable film except for fans of the television series or those who enjoy overdone camp.

The Bottom Line, Popcorn Kernels and All

This is not Gellar’s television Buffy. The film version lacks the sweeping scale of the television show, making the movie a lackluster prequel to the television series.

Five Things To Remember From The Buffy Review

1. Donald Sutherland turns in the best performance as Buffy’s trainer.
2. A well-known cast includes Hillary Swank and Ben Affleck before they were stars.
3. Buffy the teenager morphs into Buffy the heroine with almost no conflict. See Tobey Maguire’s confusion over his role in Spider-Man for lessons on how this should be done.
4. The love story is bland.
5. Buffy is a solo act without the “Scoobies” roles developed in the television series.

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