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Buy from Amazon

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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Complete First Season (1997)

"She is The Slayer."
- Opening narration

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: January 09, 2002

Stars: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Other Stars: David Boreanaz, Alyson Hannigan, Charisma Carpenter, Anthony Stewart Head, Kristine Sutherland, Nicholas Brendon, Armin Shimerman, Mark Metcalf, Robia La Morte
Director: various

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild horror violence and tense situations)
Run Time: 540m
Release Date: January 15, 2002
UPC: 024543008286
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-BB B-

DVD Review

In 1992 Kristy Swanson starred in the role of Buffy in the tepid feature film version of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and I imagine creator Joss Whedon had no idea that a few short years later his beloved character would be starring in one of the most simultaneously acclaimed and smirked at television series of the 1990s. Buffy The Vampire Slayer, or BtVS, is the story of a sexy Valley Girl who learns she is the latest in a long line of Slayers, selected to rid the world of the vampire menace. Her job, plain and simple, is to kill vampires, whether she wants to or not. Whedon created an interesting storyline, but the film, directed by Fran Kuzui, veered all over the road, and aside from a pair of fun performances by Swanson and Paul "Pee Wee Herman" Reubens as vampire Amilyn, it was basically a mixed-up bag of tricks that never amounted to all that much, critically.

Flash forward to 1997, and a mid-season replacement on the WB network finds Whedon controlling a genre-busting new series based on Buffy, and the vampire world would just never be the same again. With obvious parallels between high school and Hell, the unevenness of the film version was ironed out by Whedon, and in the years since BtVS series debuted, he has continually blended a clever mix of witty, natural dialogue with over-the-top storylines that could easily make the most jaded viewer roll their eyes into their heads were it not for the excellent, tongue-in-cheek writing, while at the same time peppering the Buffyverse (the Buffy universe, duh!) with a cool hodgepodge of vampires, demons and assorted monsters.

The setting is Sunnydale, and it's located on the Hellmouth, which is a sort of gateway of mystical convergence that allows in a steady stream of nasty beasties to constantly threaten the world. It's cartoon-ish and sexy and spooky and probably one of the best written shows on television, next to such other stellar series as Twin Peaks and The Simpsons. On a superficial level, BtVS is silly and outlandish. Valid point, sure. But Whedon's steady hand retains the often glossed over humor that makes this such tight and refreshing series. He gets the joke. So do we. This ain't Shakespeare. It's silly. But we like it.

BtVS features a colorful, well-defined cast, led by Sarah Michelle Gellar as, of course, Buffy. Gorgeous. Strong. Lonely. Funny. Misunderstood. Like the opening narration says, she IS the Slayer, and there are few things more enjoyable than seeing her fire a crossbow or wield a stake. She keeps the character tightly wound, and plays it rather low key and deadpan. Gellar gives Buffy more of a dramatic edge than did Swanson, and though I have trouble accepting her as a 16-year-old(!), she is incredibly easy on the eyes. Even with her penchant for eyeball-popping short skirts, Gellar's Buffy carries the show well.

Her faithful friends nerdy cutie Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and smart-alecky Xander (Nicholas Brendon) provide more depth than that of being just simple sidekicks. They get a lot of the truly comic lines, but they are delivered in such a subdued manner to make them natural. In later seasons, Willow's witch powers, not to mention her alternate lifestyle, come to dominate a lot of the action, and Buffy herself almost becomes a secondary character at times. Cordelia "Cordy" Chase (Charisma Carpenter) is the super bitchy knockout snob who eventually becomes part of Buffy's group, and on this 3-disc set from Season One her character shines with a steady barrage of snotty digs and smarmy put-downs that make me wish she hadn't jumped ship to the Angel series.

Buffy's Watcher, the person assigned to oversee her slayer duties, is Sunnydale High librarian Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), and his refined Brit is one of the anchors here. Giles is the guy with the mountain of dusty, ancient books, and is constantly exasperated by the carefree freneticism of Buffy and her compatriots as they struggle to destroy the latest threat to Sunnydale. His role is key to the dynamic of the group, and his departure from the show during the 2001 season will surely test how well the show will hold up without him.

Now with the 1997season spread across a 3-DVD set from Fox, let's see how things look in Sunnydale:

DISC 1

Welcome to the Hellmouth (43m:24s)
Original Air Date: March 10, 1997
Directed by: Charles Martin Smith

"This is Sunnydale. How bad an evil could it be?" -Buffy

The debut episode stands as sort of a segue from the Kristy Swanson-era movie slayer, with teenage Buffy Summers and her mom (Kristine Sutherland) moving from L.A. to Sunnydale, after the events of the original film . Buffy's role as the slayer is already established (to her, at least), and she awkwardly works to settle into her new life and new high school. We are introduced to all of the first season principals, including Cordelia, Willow, Xander, Angel, and Giles, as well as sexy vamp nemesis Darla (Julie Benz). Angel, for the first few episodes, appears as nothing more than a mysterious hunk that give Buffy a serious case of weak knees.

Whedon's script shines with plenty of the trademark wit that would make the series so endearingly unusual. Cordelia, or Cordy, gets some terrifically comic bitchy barbs ("What is your childhood trauma?") and there is never a shortage of smartly-written comebacks that play very naturally.

This episode also highlights the first appearance of season one's primary villain, in the form of The Master (Animal House's Mark Metcalf), a creepy super vampire trapped in the Hellmouth portal who is working feverishly to free himself and bring about the end of the world. The Master is planning The Harvest, which is guaranteed to turn Sunnydale into a morgue, and his story arc appears sporadically across the remainder of the first season.

This episode rates 4.5 stakes out of five:




The Harvest (44m:53s)
Original Air Date: March 10, 1997
Directed by: John Kretchmer

"I don't like vampires. I'm gonna take a stand and say they aren't good." -Xander

This episode serves as Part II of the Welcome To The Hellmouth debut, and originally aired as part of a two-hour double feature. It's here that Xander and Willow learn of Buffy's slayerness, and the Scooby Gang begins to develop as an actual fighting unit against evil. The character of Angel comes across a little less of the brooding loner that he would later become in season 2.

There are a fair amount of elaborate fight sequences (for television, that is) and Buffy barely breaks a sweat as she struggles to prevent The Master from completing The Harvest.

This episode too rates 4.5 out of 5 stakes:




The Witch (44m:52s)
Original Air Date: March 17, 1997
Directed by: Stephen Cragg

"You have a sacred birthright, Buffy. You were chosen to destroy vampires, not wave pom-poms at people." -Giles

The mere mention of Buffy dressed as a cheerleader is enough to make this episode legendary. Yet it also introduces the character of Amy (who will eventually spend a few seasons of BtVS as a rat), a potentially nasty witch trying to please her hard-driving former cheerleader mom by doing whatever it takes to make the Sunnydale Razorbacks cheerleading squad. The further development of Xander and Willow as Buffy's sidekicks is played out here. At one point Willow suggests calling themselves the "Slayerettes."

A noteworthy episode for the inclusion of Giles first attempt at spell-casting and a comically dark climax, which rates 4 out of 5 stakes:




Teacher's Pet (44m:46s)
Original Air Date: March 25, 1997
Directed by: Bruce Seth Green

"I'm an undead monster that can shave with my hand. How many things am I afraid of?" -Buffy

This is BtVS's first giant bug storyline, and it concerns a sexy new science teacher who is actually a hungry praying mantis seeking a mate. It's Xander who falls under her tight-sweatered spell, and it's up to Buffy to save him before he loses his head. Giles consults yet more ancient books, and Angel pops in and out a few times (hey, get your mind out of the gutter). The story moves along predictably, with plenty of glaring foreshadowing. Not the best from season one, but still a good time.

Trivia buffs will appreciate one of the only mentions of Xander's middle name: Lavelle in this 2-staker:




DISC 2

Never Kill a Boy on the First Date (44m:47s)
Original Air Date: March 31, 1997
Directed by: David Semel

"Five will die, and from their ashes The Anointed One shall rise." -The Master

More key Master story development here. This time it's the mysterious Order Of Aurelius serving to deliver The Anointed One, some type of super warrior, who will help free The Master from his imprisonment in the Hellmouth portal. Meanwhile Buffy is trying to enter the dating world by competing with Cordelia for the attention of brooding hunk Owen. There is some typically caustic comic banter from Cordy, and of course plenty of vamp fighting.

Never Kill A Boy On The First Date stands as one of the more pivotal of The Master episodes, and is perfectly grim and dark, with a nice blend of a swooning slayer. Highlights include an exceptionally short skirt worn by Buffy. Is that a skirt or a belt? Hubba.

This one merits 5 out of 5 stakes:




The Pack (44m:50s)
Original Air Date: April 07, 1997
Directed by: Bruce Seth Green

"He's not picking on you. He's sniffing you. A lot." -Willow

No vamps here, for a change. Just some quarantined hyenas. Yep, it's some sort of transpossession that imbues a group of Sunnydale toughs with the spirit of a rabid pack of hyenas after a mischievous school field trip to the zoo. To make matters worse, Xander is also possessed, and becomes surly, dark and evil. I like dark Xander, and he spouts a nasty rip on sweet little Willow that gives this episode a real evil feel. Giles consults another mountain of tomes to learn the secret of "reverse transpossession" before the pack eats everyone in Sunnydale.

Another landmark episode that dares to kill off a secondary character in a completely startling and unexpected manner. One of the charms of BtVS is the way Joss Whedon allows the Buffyverse to not fall along totally predicable television plot lines, and in doing so, gives the viewer the message that anyone might die at any time. Sunnydale is on the Hellmouth after all.

A 5 staker:




Angel (44m:34s)
Original Air Date: April 14, 1997
Directed by: Scott Brazil

"Hi honey. You're in grave danger. See you next month." -Buffy

Angel is revealed to an appropriately shocked Buffy. Whedon would take full advantage of his secret a season or two later when Angel becomes quite bad, but here he lurks mysteriously in the shadows giving Buffy that warm tingly feeling via their first kiss. The whole Buffy/Angel relationship eventually became a bit of drag as a plot device, but here it is still fresh, new and relatively dangerous.

As for vamps of the deadly variety, The Three have come to Sunnydale, summoned by The Master. Buffy dubs them "The Fang Gang" and gets her short-skirted butt severely kicked before being rescued by Angel. The Master is still working on getting released from his portal prison beneath Sunnydale, and hubba-hubba vamp Darla sheds some light on Angel's origins.

Another secondary character death takes place here, though Whedon managed to tweak history a bit by re-introducing that individual at a later date. Ah, the convenience of weekly television. More Buffy-trivia: her address is 1630 Revello Drive.

This episode is nearly an angel at 4 stakes:




I Robot You Jane (44m:42s)
Original Air Date: April 28, 1997
Directed by: Stephen Posey

"Boys don't chase me around all the time." -Willow

Probably the weakest of the season one episodes, this is notable only for the introduction of smart and sultry Jenny Calendar (Robia La Morte). Calendar is a new computer science teacher at Sunnydale High, and butts heads with Giles over the Internet vs. books. She's technology, he's not. Are those sparks I see flying?

Meanwhile, another ancient evil is loosed in Sunnydale, this time buried deep within the Internet after being scanned in by Willow. Moloch The Corruptor, a nasty-looking horned demon, wreaks havoc digitally as he controls a number of minions. This is one of the many "Willow in peril" type episodes that popped up before she developed her powerful witch skills in later seasons.

Laughable for it's particularly bad implementation of computer technology, this episode is a little on the goofy side, even for the Buffyverse.

A mere 3 stakes out of 5:




DISC 3

The Puppet Show (44m:40s)
Original Air Date: May 05, 1997
Directed by: Ellen Pressman

"Kids! I don't like them." -Principal Snyder

Nothing creepier than a ventriloquist, especially a ventriloquist in Sunnydale. As the high school talent show, under the reluctant guidance of Giles, is days from it's debut, a brutal murder occurs; a ballet dancer has her heart removed. As Buffy and the gang investigate, evidence points to quiet brainiac Morgan and his spooky, apparently possessed dummy Sid as the culprits.

Taking a cue from Magic, the spirited dummy provides a solid dose of overall creepiness throughout the episode. There is a spooky moment when Sid creeps into Buffy's room, late at night, and gives the slayer a properly frightful wake-up call. Lucky dummy.

The Puppet Show is one of the best of the stand-alone season episodes, with a hip mix of plot twists and humor.

This is a complete 5 staker:




Nightmares (44m:41s)
Original Air Date: May 12, 1997
Directed by: Bruce Seth Green

Buffy: "Could I be seeing Billy's asteroid body?"
Giles: "Astral"

What happens in Sunnydale when your worst nightmares become realities? Well, that's exactly what takes place here when 12-year-old Billy, in a coma, summons The Ugly Man from the deepest recesses of his subconscious and forces all of the key players to experience their secret fears become real. This plays with an excellent balance of surrealism and spookiness, and features a comical fight between Xander and a demented clown.

Nightmares ends a bit abruptly, but the overall story is full of enough standard BtVS-isms to make it a treat. Trivia alert: One of the only appearances by Buffy's divorced dad Hank (Dean Butler) takes place here, and he delivers a nasty, mean-spirited rant that makes my little Buffy cry.

This bad daddy rates 4.5 out of 5 stakes:




Out of Mind, Out of Sight (44m:36s)
Original Air Date: May 19, 1997
Directed by: Reza Badiyi

"There are no dead students here. This week." -Principal Snyder

Another vamp-less episode, instead focusing on some kind of invisible spirit (or is it?) that proceeds to get vengeance on those that spurned her. A series of mysterious clues and violent attacks threaten Cordy being crowned May Queen, and Buffy eventually uncovers a bittersweet twist that resounds with Whedon's ongoing comparison of high school as the equivalent of the Hellmouth. A nifty X-Files-ish conclusion wraps things up nicely.

Cordy becomes a little more cordial to Buffy and the gang, and almost becomes part of the group. Her bitchiness gets toned down a bit, as reality gives her a harsh slap in the face.

The May Queen brings 4 stakes out of 5L




Prophecy Girl (44m:37s)
Original Air Date: June 02, 1997
Directed by: Joss Whedon

"It's the computer age. Nerds are in. Nerds are in, right?" -Willow

Whedon wrote and directed the season one finale, which features the inevitable confrontation between Buffy and The Master. Giles and Angel learn of a dark prophecy that could mean the death of the slayer, and Buffy has to come to terms with her own mortality. Xander is forced to face romantic rejection from Buffy that culminates in the closest he will ever come to being with the slayer. The Master stomps around dramatically, and opens the Hellmouth real wide, while Giles and Jenny Calendar compare notes on the Apocalypse. Also, it's here that Cordy unofficially becomes the newest member of the Scooby Gang.

This is a fitting wrap to the end of the first season, and Whedon layers on the drama and danger with a noticeably more dramatic tone than is present in other episodes. Life and death on the Hellmouth. Cool stuff.

Hell has a full 5-stake fury:






Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The episodes are presented in their original TV 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio. BtVS, like the X-Files, likes to play things dark, and here it's quite evident in the rich blacks and extensive use of deep shadow and subtle lighting. There is a large amount of grain in these early episodes, and the transfers, while greatly improved over my iffy cable signal, don't always look as great as I had hoped. Colors, during daylight scenes, look well-saturated and natural, with a dominant golden hue during the non-night scenes. Flesh tones come across a bit red at times, but overall the presentation is fairly consistent.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: Sure, a 5.1 mix would have been nirvana, but that just wasn't in the cards. Instead, Fox has issued these discs with a mediocre 2.0 surround track that only sporadically makes use of any significant rear channel cues. With that said, the sound field doesn't provide much in the way of too many landmark audio moments. That's not to say these discs sound bad, though. Overall, however, the dialogue is crystal clear, and the score sounds noticeably improved over what I heard when I watched these episodes during their original run. Front channel directional imaging is strong, most notably during The Prophecy Girl finale.

A French 2-channel surround mix is also provided.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 180 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 TV Spots/Teasers
Screenplay
4 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Joss Whedon
Packaging: Tri-Fold Amaray with slipcase
Picture Disc
3 Discs
3-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
  2. Original Pilot Script
Extras Review: The supplementals fall a little short of the mark, with only two episode commentaries from Joss Whedon, and four quickie interview segments. No cast comments, no additional production info other than the original pilot script. I had really hoped for more substantial extras, and the enjoyable Whedon commentaries only hint at how truly great this set could have been.

On the plus side, each episode is divided with a healthy 15 chapters, and feature English and Spanish subtitles.

DISC 1:

Commentary
Slayer fans can rejoice that Joss Whedon provides scene-specific commentary tracks for the first two episodes (Welcome To The Hellmouth and The Harvest). It's a shame that of the twelve episodes collected here, that only two receive the commentary treatment, because Whedon is able to deliver some genuinely interesting background info. He speaks of how he wanted to "subvert the obvious" with BtVS, and how the restraints of time and budget forced some elements of the show to become less elaborate than originally intended. I liked his open admission of making Willow a super-hacker who is able to use the computer to retrieve any necessary information that the group needs as a convenient "element of cheese."

The two commentary tracks are plagued by some uncomfortably long silent gaps, however.

Interview With Joss Whedon (3m:23s)
This is the first of a set of quickie comments from Whedon that are included on each of the three discs, set in the Sunnydale High Library. Whedon reinforces the parallels between the Hellmouth and high school, and interjects the interesting tidbit that Sarah Michelle Gellar was originally going to be cast as Cordelia. He also provides direct, though extremely short, comments on the Welcome To The Hellmouth and The Harvest episodes.

Interview With Joss Whedon and David Boreanz (04m:13s)
A lot of the same info from Whedon is repeated here from the previous clip, though the bulk of this segment features Boreanz tossing off a series of fairly dull platitudes against footage from the show.

Also on disc 1 are the original pilot script and series trailer.

DISC 2:

Interview With Joss Whedon (3m:13s)
Whedon focuses on The Witch and Never Kill A Boy On The First Date for a quick set of fairly unenlightening comments. These short interview segments don't offer much leeway for him to expound on his creations, and I would really have preferred a couple of more commentary tracks, despite their flaws.

Photo Gallery
A set of 27 still photos from the series. Considering the rich source material, this is achingly dull.

DISC 3:

Interview With Joss Whedon (03m:03s)
Another set of short comments, primarily touching on Angel and The Puppet Show. Highlights feature Whedon's revelation of the origin of the Mutant Enemy production company logo, and how Gellar and Boreanz tried to each make their breath exceptionally bad for their first screen kiss to give it that proper edge of awkwardness.

Disc 3 also features bios on all of the cast principals.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

The Buffy The Vampire Slayer series is one of the best shows on television, and this collection of all 12 Season One episodes is a must own for all Buffyphiles. The lack of an abundance of extras is a drag, but the two Joss Whedon commentaries give this set a hint of how much better it could have been.

Yet even without an array of extras, the episodes themselves stand on their own. It's a great show.

 


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