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Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 8: No Future For You, Part Three

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8

Written by Brian K. Vaughan; Illustrated by Georges Jeanty

I suspect this is a failing on the part of Season 7 rather than Season 8, but I really don’t get why Buffy and Faith are at loggerheads once again, after getting on pretty well during the final episodes of the television series. Don’t get me wrong, I was as baffled as anyone by the fact that Buffy and her friends so readily forgave Faith for trying to, y’know, murder them, but even so, given that the writers decided to go down that route, brushing all of Faith’s past indiscretions down the carpet, they should really have carried this through into the comic book realm instead of doing what strikes me as a massive retcon. Now, Buffy, who happily fought alongside Faith in Chosen, comes across her once again and immediately assumes that Faith plans on killing her.

To be fair, Faith is, at that present moment, in the company of one Lady Genevieve Savidge, who most certainly does plan on killing her, but even so, it seems like a bit of a leap in logic. Genevieve, by the way, has some absolutely delicious dialogue (most of it relating to her bored observation that most of her tutors have been “filthy paedos” - Vaughan has done a pretty effective job of capturing the lingo and obsessions of the inhabitants of the British Isles), but it wasn’t enough to distract me from the problematic nature of the Faith/Buffy relationship. I’m also growing increasingly weary of the use of generic fantasy archetypes in these comics: in The Chain we had fairies, whereas, in this episode, we have a little hobgoblin man assisting Giles.

Some nice artwork in this issue, though - quite a bit more dynamic than the previous couple of episodes. Oh, and the final frame immediately reminded me of Gargh Marenghi’s Darkplace. If you read the comic and have seen that particular show, you’ll probably know what I mean.

7/10.

 
Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2007 at 12:18 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 7: No Future For You, Part Two

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8

Written by Brian K. Vaughan; Illustrated by Georges Jeanty

It seems like it was ages ago that I wrote my last Buffy review - so much so that I’d almost forgotten what the ongoing story was, and had to reread the preview issue to remind myself of what was going on.

To tell the truth, these “episodes” are so short that it’s quite difficult to review them on an individual basis: generally speaking, not enough happens in each one for you to get much of an idea of the quality of the storytelling until you’ve read the entire multi-part story (discounting one-shots like The Chain, of course). This issue continues Faith’s mission to infiltrate rogue Slayer Genevieve’s party and assassinate her, as well as briefly hopping back to the issue of Dawn and her giantness. I’m enjoying the Faith plot, even if it seems that they’re retreading old ground at times; the Dawn stuff, less so. Generally speaking, if you’re going to tease a plot out over the course of several months (don’t forget that we’re only seeing one issue per month, if that), it had better be an interesting one. Dawn being huge because she had sex with a Thricewise (whatever that is) is not particularly interesting, and the idea of a sixty foot tall girl mooching around in a Scottish glen is a bit too farcical, even by Buffy standards, to hold up week after week. I sincerely hope they do something with this plot strand before too long.

Still, the Faith stuff occupies 90% of the comic, so my reaction to this episode was on the whole positive, and, because Faith has always struck me as a far more interesting character than Buffy herself, I didn’t object to the titular heroine’s non-appearance for the second time (the impersonator in The Chain doesn’t count). (Actually, a show based solely around Faith, Willow, Giles and Dawn, who are the only regulars to appear in this episode, wouldn’t strike me as a bad thing at all. Well, okay, maybe not Dawn, although it least in comic book form you don’t actually have to listen to her.) As I mentioned before, there’s a certain sense of déjà vu to what the writers are doing with Faith, although to be honest they made such a pig’s ear of her character development in Season 7 that it’s difficult to be too negative here.

Nice shock ending too. I had some idea of what was coming, but the way it was handled was pretty nifty.

7/10.

 
Posted: Friday, November 02, 2007 at 11:08 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reviews | TV
 

In sickness and in health…

Sometimes, it seems as if every horror fan apart from myself has seen Showtime’s Masters of Horror series in its entirety. Now with two seasons of thirteen episodes each to its name, it seems like everyone has an opinion on each and every one of them. Until recently, I’d only seen Dario Argento’s two offerings, Jenifer in Season 1 and Pelts in Season 2. My phenomenal disappointment at their lacklustre quality played no small part in my lack of interest in seeking out the rest of the series: after all, if my favourite director couldn’t manage to bring anything to the table, what hope was there for the rest of ‘em?

Recently, however, I picked up the first two volumes of Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray release of Season 1, containing episodes by John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon, William Malone, Argento, Lucky McKee and John Landis. Impressed by McKee’s theatrical debut, May, one of my favourite horror films of the last decade, I jumped straight to his tale, Sick Girl, not sure at all of what to expect.

Sick Girl

What’s strange is that, although McKee only has two feature films under his belt (one of which hadn’t been released when Sick Girl aired, and which I’ve yet to see), it’s still clear from the outset that his “style” is all over the production in a way that it just wasn’t for Dario Argento with Jenifer. If you’ve seen May, you’ll immediately recognise this as the work of the same director. All of his obsessions are present: we’ve got quirky outcasts, we’ve got lesbians, we’ve got Angela Bettis (playing a quirky outcast lesbian - how’s that for value for money?), we’ve got gloomy old buildings, we’ve got a slow, building sense of dread, we’ve got Jaye Barnes Luckett’s off-kilter score, we’ve got a scene in which two lovers watch a movie that can only be described as the creation of a deranged mind… Essentially, Sick Girl is treading much of the same ground as May, but McKee has got this formula down pat, and I for one didn’t object to a second outing.

The plot focuses on Ida Teeter (Bettis), a throaty-voiced scientist whose speciality is bugs. So fond of her beloved insects is she that her apartment is filled with them, much to the disgust of her frosty landlady, Mrs. Beasley (Marcia Bennett), and, when an unusually large and vicious, and seemingly unknown, specimen is mysteriously delivered to her door, she can’t keep the excitement out of her voice. Things get going when Ida, egged on by her lab partner, Max (Jesse Hlubik), plucks up the courage to approach Misty Falls (Erin Brown), a shy, reclusive girl who spends each day drawing pixies in the foyer of Ida’s workplace, and ask her out. Quicker than Max can say “ladies in lust”, Ida and Misty are having hot, rambunctious sex on the sofa, and Misty is moving into the apartment. It’s all sweetness and fairycakes… until, that is, Ida’s new bug takes a liking to Misty and… well, you can probably guess what happens next.

Sick Girl

Okay, not the most thrilling of plots, as I’m sure you’ll agree, but McKee handles it with applomb. Like May, it goes nowhere in a hurry, taking care to establish its characters and allow the audience to come to like them before the “horror” segment of this Masters of Horror episode gets going. And Ida and Misty are likeable. They’re both quirky and oddly charming, and McKee portrays them with affection rather than as grotesque parodies of social outcasts. Yes, they’re weird, but in an endearing and frequently amusing way.

Much of this is down to the performances of the two leads, with Angela Bettis, while not delivering to quite the same level as she did in May, handling the awkward and stone-faced Ida with considerable skill. Erin Brown, meanwhile, seems to be channeling Amber Benson, initially at least. Beyond the more obvious issue of her orientation, Misty is so similar to Tara in Buffy the Vampire Slayer in terms of shyness, clothes, hairstyle and mannerisms that it’s a wonder 20th Century Fox haven’t sued for plagiarism. She’s also very good in the role, though, and handles her character’s slow transformation effectively. I was surprised, to put it mildly, to discover that she is actually a porn actress, better known to her fans as Misty Mundae.

Sick Girl

Once the horror elements begin to fly, they do so with abundance. The climax is a deliciously twisted piece of filmmaking, with one of the most over the top but strangely convincing transformation I’ve seen in a while, all created with practical effects (no CGI muck here). I read a review which described this as the David Cronenberg film that David Cronenberg never made, and I can definitely see the similarities between this and the likes of Naked Lunch (and, presumably, The Fly, which I should be seeing for the first time soon), in its merging of humans and prosthetic insects. And hey, just in case this sounds like a bit of a downer, McKee even throws a happy ending at us out of left field, albeit one laced with a hefty dose of black humour.

One of my main criticisms of Jenifer and Pelts was that their scenarios were too thin and inconsequential to fill an hour’s running time. With Sick Girl, conversely, I felt exactly the opposite: I wanted the episode to last longer, and I suspect that, if it had, it would have avoided the third act seeming so rushed. It might also have allowed more depth to be given to the secondary characters, Max and Mrs. Beasley, who are merely one-note stereotypes (the sex-obsessed man and the “degenerate”-hating old woman). Still, for what it was, I enjoyed Sick Girl considerably more than I was expecting to. I’m not quite sure how McKee got to be labelled as a Master of Horror on the back of two films, but this episode confirmed my belief that he is a filmmaker worth watching out for.

 
Posted: Friday, October 26, 2007 at 10:26 AM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Dario Argento | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 6: No Future For You, Part One

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8

Written by Brian K. Vaughan; Illustrated by Georges Jeanty

This episode begins the Faith storyline, and I’m pleased to report that it looks as if it’s going to be a good one. Any fears that bringing in a new writer would disrupt the tone of the series can be put aside, because Brian K. Vaughan definitely captures the correct feel: in fact, I’d argue that this feels more like vintage Buffy than any other issue thus far, given that, for the most part, it eschews the large-scale, superhero-like fights scenes and improbable demons (c.f. the fairies in The Chain) in favour of more understated character scenes.

The main interaction in this episode takes place between Faith and Giles, holed up in Cleveland, guarding its “second-rate Hellmouth”. They were always two of the strongest characters, and the dialogue is the sort of witty-yet-meaningful material that went on when the show was at its best. It’s nice to see them not shying away from Faith’s dark past, especially given that one of the biggest problems with her return in Season 7 was that this aspect of her character was given short shrift. The hints that are being dropped about her childhood and home life make me hopeful that we’ll get a deeper exploration of her character as this arc progresses, while the mission on which Giles intends to send her - to pass herself off as an aristocrat and attends a fancy dress party (“They seriously call their fancy dress parties ‘fancy dress parties’?”) in order to assassinate a rogue Slayer/heiress - is just ridiculous enough to offset the darker elements with some much-needed comic relief. So, Faith heads off to England (you know she’s in England because David Tennant and Billie Piper are wandering past a red telephone box in the establishing shot) to learn etiquette and be fitted with a ball-gown - most amusing.

The episode also picks up on an issue raised, briefly, in Angel’s fifth season, and it’s a pertinent one: if you give two thousand girls throughout the world instant Slayer powers, how can you be sure they’ll use these powers for good? The answer is that you can’t, and Lady Genevieve Savidge (great name) is a particularly nasty piece of work, kidnapping various people (including other Slayers) and hunting them down on horseback on her estate. This continues the theme that began in The Long Way Home of the world becoming less defined in black and white terms and more in shades of grey. It’s no longer a case of “good Slayer fights bad demons” - the later seasons of the TV show suggested that demons had it in them to be good, and now we’re seeing that a Slayer can just as easily be bad, and that, by sharing her power with these two thousand girls, Buffy has in fact populated the world with two thousand dangerous killing machines, with the choice of going either way.

Overall, an impressive episode. After a slightly shaky start, this new season actually seems to be finding its footing.

8/10.

 
Posted: Thursday, September 20, 2007 at 8:57 AM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 5: The Chain

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8

Written by Joss Whedon; Illustrated by Paul Lee

This season of Buffy is full of surprises. Who would have thought that the best “episode” so far would turn out to be a one-shot stand-alone affair rather than one with something to do with the main arc? Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that it will prove to be relevant to the bigger picture in a thematic sense, but for the most part this is a self-contained story, and, to date, the only episode not to feature Buffy. Actually, the only regulars we see are Giles (briefly) and Andrew (even more briefly, thankfully, although he manages to be as infuriating as ever in his one-page appearance). The narrative, this time, focuses on one of two Slayers posing as Buffy in order to confuse her enemies, and it actually manages to be quite touching in the space of its 22-page duration. The theme seems to be the loss of identity: as the heroine puts it, “You don’t have to remember me. You don’t even know who I am.” This is a continuation of the “everything is connected” mantra of Season 7 that eventually led to Buffy sharing her power with all the potential Slayers, although it’s a lot less happy-sappy and touchy-feely than what we saw at the end of Chosen. The point is that, in a war, the grunts are expendable, and most of the time, no-one will even know the names of the ones who make a real difference. It’s not a pleasant message, but it’s a truthful one.

By the way, this episode was drawn by a different artist, Paul Lee. He tends to stage his action more coherently than Georges Jeanty, but his characters seem less “alive”, and his rendition of Giles is way off (his Andrew his considerably better, although, given how I feel about the character, I’m using “better” in the loosest possible sense of the word). Jeanty returns for the next episode, which will kick off the Faith arc written by Brian K. Vaughan. My hopes for this arc are actually somewhat higher than they would have been had Whedon been writing it - I’m looking forward to seeing whether new blood can put a fresh spin on things. And hey, it’s Faith. What’s not to like?

8/10.

 
Posted: Wednesday, August 08, 2007 at 8:07 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reviews | TV
 

Remember me?

Web

No updates in over a week! You thought I’d forgotten about you, didn’t you? Nothing could be further from the truth, as it happens. I did forewarn you that updates might be scarce until I’d got past my unusually busy work period, but I never for a moment thought that I wouldn’t post anything at all. As it happens, though, this ended up being the best solution, because it meant that I wasn’t forcing myself to make half-hearted posts in my state of perpetual weariness. I now have Thursday and Friday waiting ahead of my completely free, so you can expect a variety of posts on all sorts of exciting subjects, including the latest information on Starcraft II and Hellgate: London, a review of Episode 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s eighth season, news on some exciting upcoming DVD and HD releases, an overview of Casualty’s recently-finished twenty-first series, some of the rare gialli I’ve managed to get my hands on, and much more.

First things first, though, the employment front. I started my new job at the Gallery of Modern Art library on Wednesday August 1st, but I didn’t actually finish working with the NHS until yesterday. I thankfully managed to wrangle a few days of paid holiday, covering the days during which the two jobs would overlap (and Thursday and Friday this week, as it happens - yay!), but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had my plate full recently. I really am absolutely shattered, with the past three weeks having felt like a blur of early starts and late finishes, thanks to my parents leaving me and Lyris in charge of the dogs for a week when they went on holiday, seguing immediately into my moonlighting fiasco. Even last Sunday wasn’t much of a reprieve, as we went on a family outing to watch my cousin’s first child being forcibly inducted into a weird cult called Christianity, when I just wanted to crawl into bed and sleep. I got there in the end, though, and I got a nice send-off from the NHS, with two lunches out an impromptu party complete with carrot cake!

Anyway, I think I’m going to like working at the library. It’s surprisingly tiring work, since I’m basically on my feet all day, but time passes much more quickly at the NHS, the work is more varies, and, hey, it’s only two days a week! The breaks are also extremely generous, with 20 minutes in the morning, an hour for lunch, and a further 20 minutes in the afternoon. I suspect my “weekend” will end up being Sunday and Monday once I get started on my PhD, since I’m working Wednesdays and Saturdays, and intend to make myself adhere fairly strictly to a five-day week.

Anyway, it’s good to be back.

 
Posted: Wednesday, August 08, 2007 at 6:51 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Cinema | DVD | Games | General | Gialli | HD DVD | PhD | TV | Web
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 4: The Long Way Home, Part Four

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8

Written by Joss Whedon; Illustrated by Georges Jeanty

So the first “arc” of Buffy’s eighth season reaches its conclusion. Given the dramatically different nature of comics as a medium versus television, it’s difficult to say precisely how these issues would relate to an episode of the TV show, but, allowing for how much longer it takes for action to unfold in dramatic form versus on the page, I’d say that this four-part opening arc feels somewhat akin to a 90-minute two-parter like Bargaining (Season 6). By that I mean that a similar amount of ground has been covered: too much for these four issues to constitute a single episode, but not enough for each issue to operate as an episode in its own right.

In some respects, things have moved a lot faster than they ever did in the TV show. Already we’ve been introduced to three potential villains and a vast number of Slayerettes, seen Buffy sent into a deep sleep and then awakened by the kiss of true love Sleeping Beauty style, had Willow engage in a whiz-bang mid-air duel with Amy, be kidnapped and subjected to an array of horrific tortures (which for some reason leave her completely unscarred - thanks to her new post-Chosen powers, perhaps?), and a whole lot more besides. And yet, at the same time, I’m not all that convinced that a great deal has happened. We’ve had snatches of characterisation (I hesitate to call it character development at this stage), true, but it’s mostly been smoke and mirrors. With the change in medium, I get the impression that Whedon is intent in converting Buffy into more of an action superhero, devoting more time than ever before to the fight scenes. It doesn’t help that these fight scenes don’t always read very well on the page, with the staging at times making the action rather incomprehensible. Then again, I had exactly the same problems trying to follow the action in V for Vendetta, so perhaps it’s a problem with me rather than the artwork itself. Either way, I’m impressed by the way that Jeanty manages to capture the essence of Willow/Hannigan, Xander/Brendon and, some of the time, Buffy/Gellar in his artwork. Dawn, Amy and Andrew (who, mercifully, doesn’t appear in this issue) are a lot shakier, but it’s no mean feat to be able to take the likenesses of real people and translate them into fairly flat drawings while ensuring that they remain recognisable. That said, Jo Chen’s cover art is really on another level. (I wonder if the actors get royalties for the use of their images?)

Unfortunately, letting it all down for me is the fact that Whedon has, for some inexplicable reason, decided to bring back Warren, one of the worst villains in the history of the show - if not the worst. He’s not as annoying as Andrew, true, but his presence leaves a foul taste in the back of my throat, bringing back unpleasant memories of Seasons 6 and 7. At least, as a leering, skinless cadaver, he has become slightly more interesting, at least on a visual level.

Right now, I find myself at something of a crossroads. I can’t deny that I want to find out where this is all headed, but at the same time I have a sneaking suspicion that Whedon is making this up as he goes along (since the comics began production, the series has ballooned from a 22-episode season into a 50-plus issue epic), and, if this is true, I suspect that the end result will be as dramatically unsatisfying as the final two seasons of the TV show. I hope I’m proved wrong, but, at this stage in the game, I think that the fan-written continuation The Chosen has done a better job of capturing the tone of classic Buffy while taking the characters and their storylines in new and satisfying directions. Some will probably hold this opinion to be absolute heresy - after all, it’s Whedon’s baby and the comics are canon while The Chosen is not - but so sue me, Seasons 6 and 7 have severely diminished my opinion of the creator’s storytelling abilities, and Season 8, for far, has not done a great deal to allay this.

Oh yeah, and Ethan Rayne is dead. This being the Buffyverse, though, who wants to bet how long it will be before he gets resurrected as some sort of ghoulish otherworldly being?

5/10.

 
Posted: Monday, June 18, 2007 at 7:56 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 3: The Long Way Home, Part Three

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8

Written by Joss Whedon; Illustrated by Georges Jeanty

As I suspected as soon as I saw the cover, much of this episode is a pyrotechnics extravaganza, a showdown between Willow and Amy, whose sudden hatred of Buffy and co is something I sincerely hope is going to be explained before too long, because it seems to have come out of nowhere and makes no sense at all (like so many ideas that materialised during Season 7). The amount of power with which Whedon has infused Willow is also giving me cause for concern. Unless he can find a convincing way of curbing her obviously impressive magical prowess, people are going to start wondering why, if she can turn all the Potentials in the world into full-blown Slayers, she can’t, oh, say, end world hunger, go back in time and prevent World War 2, resurrect her dead girlfriend (or anyone else who happens to be dead, come to that)… I’m getting shades of vengeance demon Anya from early Season 7 all over again, where the writers suddenly realised that having a character who can teleport anywhere at will created a few plot problems.

Elsewhere, Buffy’s atmospheric dream continues, although personally I found its resolution slightly anticlimactic. Some definite issues to be worked out between herself and Xander, methinks - although romantic angst, in my opinion, certainly beats the manic-depressive angst of Season 6 (and, to some extent, Season 7). Some nice dialogue as well, and, shockingly, the best line of the episode goes to Dawn: “Fe fi fo fucking fum!”

6/10.

 
Posted: Monday, May 14, 2007 at 6:29 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 2: The Long Way Home, Part Two

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8

Written by Joss Whedon; Illustrated by Georges Jeanty

Well, this is better than the first episode - a lot better actually, in virtually every way imaginable, although the first few pages did give me cause for concern. The plot is, initially at least, rather disjointed, flicking between various locations and attempting to draw parallels between the lessons of three different “teachers” to the junior Slayers. The first of these is Giles, who makes a not unwelcome return, although he seems to be both written and drawn more like the Giles of Season 1 than the more rounded, developed character who emerged later during the show’s duration. The second of these is Buffy, who, for some reason, looks rather unlike Buffy in these panels (although she certainly talks like Buffy). The third, alas, is Andrew, who is annoying even in comic book form. Actually, I thought he was Jonathan reincarnated at first, given the manner in which he is drawn, but as soon as he opened his mouth I found myself convulsing in horror as memories of Seasons 6 and 7 came flooding back. Actually, while we’re on the subject, why is Andrew serving as a mentor to the Slayers? Why is he qualified to do this? Why isn’t he in jail yet?

Elsewhere, the army nonsense continues to give me worries that Season 8 is going to be another Season 4-style clumsy amalgamation of science and magic, although it consumes less than three pages in this particular episode. There are some amusing lines of dialogue, and a couple of panels in which Georges Jeanty’s artwork comes impressively close to capturing the essence of the characters as embodied by the actors in the TV series (the manner in which Buffy tucks her hair behind her ear on page 15 is very Gellar-like). There’s also a genuinely unsettling dream sequence which, if filmed, would have been highly effective. Oh, and there’s Giant Dawn taking a bath in a highland loch… although she looks considerably less emaciated than Michelle Trachtenberg.

I’m sufficiently interested in the story now to want to see how it develops. The final panel promises some interesting pyrotechnics in the next instalment (although I’m not quite sure why Willow is dressed as a ye olde medieval wench, Once More With Feeling style). Whedon even has the balls to mention Tara’s name in this episode (in comparison with Season 7, where it took until Episode 7 for that forbidden word to be uttered). There’s also a fan letter at the end of the comic where a young lady named Alissa warns the author, in no uncertain terms, that she will have his head on a pike if he doesn’t bring back her favourite witch. Given that they posted this letter, I have a feeling they’re going to go somewhere with this.

7/10.

 
Posted: Friday, April 13, 2007 at 6:53 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy’s comic capers continue

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8

Just a quick reminder that Episode 2 of Season 8 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is now on sale in comic book form. I hope to receive my copy at some point within the next couple of days, and I will of course provide a full review, just as I have for the previous 145 episodes.

By the way, the Dark Horse web site has a few goodies available related to the series, including a preview of the first pages of the new episode (I think that fellow with the glasses and cup of tea is supposed to be Giles), a recent interview with Joss Whedon (which contains actual information and blithe quipping in something approaching equal measure - as is usually the case with a Whedon interview, you have to do some work in order to sift through the crap and get to the substance), and a bunch of downloads including desktop wallpaper and other pieces of artwork of varying quality.

 
Posted: Monday, April 09, 2007 at 4:00 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 1: The Long Way Home, Part One

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8

Written by Joss Whedon; Illustrated by Georges Jeanty

It feels weird to be writing a new Buffy review, not least because of the rather drastic change of medium: from television to comic book. In a sense, it’s a good idea: realistically speaking, there’s no way the series can ever continue in televisual form, unless most (if not all) of the characters ended up being recast. At the same time, though, this means that it’s difficult to see the comic as anything more than a poor man’s substitute. That’s perhaps overstating the case a bit, and, to be fair, the graphic novel format does offer some benefits not available to a TV series - for one, the scale and ambition of the locations, monsters and battles is now limited to the author’s imagination and the artist’s ability rather than the budget. That said, it naturally lacks a great deal of what made the show enjoyable, not least the performances of the various regulars.

Not constrained by such bothers as actors’ contractual obligations, Joss Whedon does something a little different with this season premiere, choosing to showcase a limited number of his characters. Buffy, Xander and Dawn are the only three regulars to appear, along with a handful of new character who will presumably be relegated to supporting roles as the “season” develops. Unfortunately, these new characters are all either forgettable or annoying. We have an irritating, clichéd army general, Krull, and a whole gaggle of new Potentials (actually, I suppose they’re technically full-blown Slayers now), who somehow manage to be just as annoying as their live action counterparts. Worse, the extent to which technology is showcased in this season premiere (we are introduced to Buffy and various other Slayers parachuting out of a helicopter, brandishing firearms) is giving me flashbacks to Season 4’s more cringe-inducing moments. The artwork is also not as good as it could have been: it’s technically sound, but the characters don’t really look much like the actors who played them in the show, and the colour palette has a weird “gooey” pink and yellow style (a shame, because the cover art for this and the various upcoming episodes that have been previewed is excellent).

It’s also short. The story is a mere 24 pages, with several large full-page or half-page illustrations, and I read it in less than 10 minutes. Allowing for dramatic conventions and the naturally slower pace of filmed narrative, I suspect that, were this episode filmed, it would last for around 20 minutes at most. Perhaps my expectations were a little high, but the fact that this was marketed as a new “season” did make me think that each “episode” would be something close to the equivalent of a full episode (or at least half of one) of the show. I’m also not that much of a fan of Whedon’s decision to have Buffy and Xander “narrate” much of the episode through their inner thoughts, although I suppose it’s a necessary evil given that, unlike the show, he can’t rely on the performances of the actors to convey what their characters are feeling.

That said, the tone is still clearly Buffy. There are some funny lines, a couple of Buffy’s trademark mid-combat quips, and some nice scenes between Buffy and Xander, and Buffy and Dawn (who has undergone certain, er, transformations since our previous encounter with her, in more ways than one). The final frame also sets up a nice cliffhanger with the reintroduction of a previous character: a certain witch. That’s all I’m saying.

Ultimately, while reading the comic, I did my best to dramatise it in my head as a regular episode of Buffy, and it’s based on this interpretation that I’m going to review it. Had it aired on TV, I would probably have described it as an extremely ambitious and technically impressive but thematically jarring episode. The characters feel like the ones we know and love (or hate, as the case may be), but the situations in which they find themselves feel a bit like a betrayal of the world and rules established by Whedon and his writers in the show. As such, I award it a cautious…

5/10.

 
Posted: Monday, April 02, 2007 at 7:11 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Comic Book Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 1

Above: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 1

Back in September 2006, I mentioned that Joss Whedon was planning to continue the story of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, not with another television series, but rather with a “virtual” season in comic book form. News seemed to go pretty quiet on that front, with the only available information being that it would be comprised of six issues and be published by Dark Horse. Well, the first episode finally went on sale on March 14th, and I’m expecting to receive my copy soon. I’m a little sceptical of how successful this continuation of the saga will turn out, given that (a) Seasons 6 and 7 of the TV show were dreadful, and (b) I have it on good authority that previous Buffy comics are nothing to write home about either. Nonetheless, I’m willing to at least give the first couple of issues a shot before writing it off as a failure, and I’m expecting to receive my copy of Issue 1 soon.

Some more information has now emerged in the form of an article at Midtown Comics interviewing series editor Scott Allie, including the rather surprising revelation that there will now be at least 50 issues rather than the originally projected six. Whedon’s plans for the series seem to have grown more ambitious, and the news that the original print run of 100,000 flew of the shelves can’t have hurt either. At the moment, Whedon will apparently write Issues 1-5, 10 and 16-20, while Brian K. Vaughan will 6-9 and Drew Goddard, who was a writer on the show’s final season, will do 11-14.

Ah well, I can’t say I’m wildly optimistic about the whole affair, but we shall see.

 
Posted: Monday, March 26, 2007 at 6:17 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | TV
 

The Year in Review

2006 - the year of HD

Note: I’m not going to cover worldwide hot topics like the execution of Saddam Hussein or the continued botch-job that is the situation in Iraq. This is simply a set of personal musings about my own experiences this year.

HD DVD

On a technological front, by far the biggest development on the HMS Whimsy this year was the arrival of an HD DVD player - a late change from our original intention to pick up a Blu-ray player. Originally, I had expected to perhaps have half a dozen titles in high definition by the end of the year, but have in fact ended up with 21 (plus another two that Lyris bought). Certainly a number of these are films that I probably wouldn’t have bought had their been a better selection available, but still, if you’d told me that, a mere six months after its launch, the format would included crystal-clear copies of Casablanca and The Adventures of Robin Hood, not to mention more obscure cult titles like An American Werewolf in London and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I wouldn’t have believed you. All in all, HD DVD got off to a great start in 2006, with I only hope will continue to be bettered in 2007.

Including both standard definition and high definition, I bought or received for review a total of 107 DVDs. I wrote 66 reviews for DVD Times (two down from last year’s record of 68), and went to the cinema a whopping two times. I watched 216 films (including those watched more than once), 99 of which I had never seen before. These tended to be of the more obscure variety, although I did see a number of “major” (both in the sense of being “important” and of being blockbusters that just about everyone ended up seeing) titles that had, for one reason or another, passed me by until last year, including Trains, Planes & Automobiles, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, The Tragedy of Macbeth, Blade Runner, Tout Va Bien, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Collateral, Corpse Bride, The Piano Teacher, Theatre of Blood, A History of Violence, V for Vendetta, 5x2, Bitter Moon, Walkabout, Fritz the Cat, Vertigo, Exorcist II: The Heretic, The Descent, The Constant Gardener, Serenity, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, Duck Soup, Strictly Ballroom, The Fifth Element, Ghost World, Cars, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, Being John Malkovich, Black Sunday, The Omen (remake), Witchfinder General, Topaz, Torn Curtain, Casino Royale, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Miami Vice, Basic Instinct and The Adventures of Robin Hood. Quite clearly, this list features some real gems and some absolute garbage, including gems that I thought would be garbage and garbage that I thought would be gems.

DVD

In terms of television, meanwhile, I watched the first two seasons of Veronica Mars and the final season of Alias. I also went through the entire seven-season run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with its steadily diminishing returns post-Season 5 gradually driving me towards the brink of suicide (I exaggerate). The long-running medical drama Casualty also celebrated its 20th anniversary, with the launch of the first three series on DVD - it’s anyone’s guess how long they will continue this, given that each series becomes progressively longer, until they eventually run for more or less the entire year. Speaking of Casualty, that particular show shocked me in delivering perhaps the best two hours of television I’d seen all year, with the much-heralded return of former writer (and Waking the Dead creator) Barbara Machin for a one-off guest writing gig. Much to my delight, the magnificent Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was finally released on DVD, although the same team’s follow-up, the satirical chat-show Man to Man with Dean Learner, turned out to be a huge disappointment. The fifth season of Spooks also aired, and, while it was suitably engaging, it sacrificed some of the subtlety of previous years in favour of increasingly unbelievable conspiracies and hostile takeovers. Oh, and on the TV/film front, Channel 4’s dedicated film channel, FilmFour, became free in July, providing the UK with its first free-to-air channel dedicated to movies.

After over a year’s worth of procrastination, I finally recorded a new fan commentary, this time for Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso. Once again, feedback for this seems to have been largely positive, although it’s anyone’s guess what I’ll think of it myself when I finally brave listening to it again.

The Third Mother, the long-awaited conclusion to Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy (started with Suspiria and Inferno in 1977 and 1980 respectively), finally went into production, wrapping at some point in late November/early December, with a projected May 2007 release date. Argento also helmed another episode in the American Masters of Horror television series: Pelts turned out to be less shameful than 2005’s Jenifer, but a far cry from his home-grown exploits nonetheless. Meanwhile, the much-feared Hollywood remake of Suspiria was finally axed.

After much talk of the two companies going their separate ways, Disney bought Pixar and instated John Lasseter as the joint president of feature animation for both studios. Shortly before the end of the year, it was announced that, following the release of Meet the Robinsons, Disney would be abandoning CG animation entirely and returning to the hand-drawn realm in which it made its name.

DVD

Once more in the animated world, John Kricfalusi, the creator of The Ren & Stimpy Show and the industry’s last great hope, started up an excellent blog in February. July also saw the release on DVD of Ren & Stimpy: The Lost Episodes, containing six new installments featuring everyone’s favourite dog and cat duo, three of which had never even aired on TV. Sadly, there seems to be no indication that sales of the DVD have persuaded Paramount to order more episodes.

I got into computer games this year to a far greater extent than I had for some time, picking up Guild Wars: Factions, Guild Wars: Nightfall, The Movies: Stunts and Effects, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: Legend, as well as replaying Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, Icewind Dale II, Starcraft: Brood War and Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. Lyris also picked up the new Nintendo Wii console in November, resulting in much enjoyment as all on sundry made asses of themselves waving its newfangled controller about. Oh, and Blizzard Entertainment “postponed indefinitely” (read “cancelled”) its troubled console action game Starcraft: Ghost, much to the disappointment of the three or four people that still cared about it.

ASUS EN7600GT/HTDI/256M

I also bought rather more technological gadgets than is normal for me: I picked up a digital camera in February, and a swish new widescreen LCD monitor in June. I also replaced my Creative Zen Micro MP3 player with a Sony NW-HD5 in November, and made the mistake of buying an nVidia-based video card for my computer in December (the replacement ATI model will hopefully arrive soon after business returns to normal after the New Year holiday).

In September, I finally finished my MLitt, handed in my dissertation, and, much to my shock, was awared a Distinction. Unable to find a job, I went on unemployment benefit - what fun.

Oh, and on the web site front, September saw a new site design and a return to Movable Type as a publishing platform after slightly over a year with Blogger. In November, meanwhile, I finally got sick of my useless host, Fuitadnet, constantly screwing up and making life difficult, and moved to Donym, where the rent is cheaper and everything runs much more smoothly to boot.

 
Posted: Monday, January 01, 2007 at 3:22 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Games | General | Gialli | HD DVD | Music | Reviews | TV | Technology | Web
 

Lovers, Liars and Lunatics: suburban dystopia

If Amber Benson is one thing, it’s committed. During the production of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s fifth season, she juggled appearances on that show with work on her own independent project, an offbeat comedy called Chance, on which she served as lead actor, writer, producer and director. The film, shot on video with a budget of $25,000, was decidedly rough around the edges, but ultimately quite charming for all its eccentricities, and showed the multi-faceted Benson’s talent for writing quirky yet believable characters.

Lovers, Liars and Lunatics

Fast forward four years, and her second film, on which she returns as star, writer, producer and director, and also adds film editor to her roster of talents, has just been released on DVD, like Chance sold directly through her production company, Benson Entertainment. Exactly how much it cost to make is unclear, but it seems to have been funded, at least partially, through a series of fund-raisers, auctions of personal possessions and of a series of Willow and Tara action figures. From the first film, it’s clear that a lot has changed. The source material is now 35mm film, and the camera setups are considerably more ambitious than those of its predecessor. It’s not always successful - there are some instances of truly bizarre framing, a handful of shots in which the focus is on something other than the main point of attention, and some rather problematic moments that lack establishing shots, making it difficult to get a feeling for the geography and positions of the various characters - but by and large the film has a slicker, more professional feel than that of Chance. Jakobine Motz’s cinematography is functional rather than particularly impressive (the lighting is rather flat), but, with the move from video to film, Benson has abandoned the hand-held, quasi-documentarian format of the previous film in favour of something more controlled. On the aural front, the dialogue recording is sometimes a little ropey, but the orchestral score, which kicks in occasionally but effectively, helps paper over the cracks.

The plot, meanwhile, is enough to sustain the 87-minute running time, but isn’t hugely substantial. Essentially, two incompetent robbers break into a suburban household, but quickly find themselves caught up in the neurotic family’s own dysfunctional relationships. Benson, this time, although given title billing, takes more of a back seat as far as acting goes, given that this is, for all intents and purposes, an ensemble piece, with eight main roles and a handful of secondary parts. The black humour of Chance, meanwhile, is maintained throughout, although the actors are at times hamstrung by a script that is very talky - Benson’s other writing credits are primarily as a novelist, and it shows in what appears to be an intermittent reluctance to show things visually (characters will frequently mutters to themselves phrases like “Fucking bitch!” and “I hate him!”, which should be self-evident to even the least attentive viewer).

Lovers, Liars and Lunatics

The film also ends on something of a false note with a conclusion that seems intended partially to be blackly comedic and partially to be shocking: in a sense, the abrupt change of tone results in an ending that seems too dark to be successful given the film’s otherwise light-hearted tone.

Despite these problems, though, it’s hard not to admire the film for its bare-faced enthusiasm. Yes, it’s considerably slicker than Chance and, to some extent, more market-friendly (the narrative is more conventionally linear, there are no monologues to the camera, no guitar-strumming troubadours entering the scene to narrate the plot, and Benson has reigned in her use of the word “cunt”), but it’s still an odd and distinctive film with a decidedly hand-made feel to it. I’m not sure exactly how many people are going to end up seeing it, as the $30-33 (depending on whereabouts in the world you’re located) price tag, plus the fact that the DVD can only be ordered from the official web site, will put a lot of people off, but it deserves an audience. 7/10.

 
Posted: Saturday, December 02, 2006 at 11:55 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Cinema | DVD | Reviews
 

Veronica Mars, take two

DVD

Following on from my previous post, I ploughed through the remainder of Season 2 of Veronica Mars last night and this morning. And my opinions are largely unchanged: the same strengths and weaknesses that I outlined last night remained till the end. A more detailed explanation is in order, however.

The show is set in the (imaginary) small town of Neptune, home of dodgy millionaires and their snotty children, as well as the less well-off. The show looks at this “class divide” from the perspective of Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell), a teenager who used to be in with the popular crowd until a series of unfortunate happenings resulted in her being ostracised by her so-called friends. She and her parents ended up becoming virtual social pariahs after her sheriff father, Keith (Enrico Colantoni), put the blame for the murder of Veronica’s best friend, Lily (Amanda Seyfried), on her father… sorry, all these relationships are really complicated. Mrs. Mars ran off, Keith lost his job and ended up making a living as a private investigator, and Veronica, no longer on the in-crowd, helped him out.

That was Season 1. As Season 2 begins, the previous year’s various cases have been wrapped up. Lily’s killer (I’m not saying who, for those who haven’t seen Season 1) is behind bars, and Veronica has managed to regain much of her cred with the in-crowd. Tensions between the haves and the have-nots are at an all-time high, though, and Veronica finds herself stuck right in the middle. She soon has other problems to contend with, though, including a bus full of children from her school hurtling off a cliff for seemingly no reason… a bus that she should have been on. Did someone want her dead, and did it have anything to do with the events of the previous year?

I’ll give creator Rob Thomas and his writers credit for one thing: they know how to capture the audience’s interest. Whatever flaws the show might have, it has a very addictive quality. There are always unanswered questions, meaning that there’s always something to entice you to go straight to the next episode as soon as the current one finishes. Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, upon which this show was clearly quite heavily modelled, it follows a conventional structure of most episodes having their own self-contained cases, with a couple of larger mysteries being played out over the course of the season’s 22 episodes. The “cases of the week” vary in terms of quality, but most of them do a commendable job of trying to do something unexpected… although not always successfully. The main case, meanwhile, has a decent line-up of potential suspects, including both new and old characters. The complex relationships between the various characters, meanwhile, provide ample scope for secrets, lies and intrigue, even if the soap opera elements to tend to become a little unbelievable in their complexity.

What doesn’t work, though, is that I really struggle to relate to the characters, understand what they see in each other, or even like the majority of them in the slightest. Veronica begins the season in the arms of the obnoxious Logan (Jason Dohring), before promptly ditching him for her previous boyfriend, Logan’s best friend Duncan (Teddy Dunn). By the end of the season, she’s back with Logan again. (See what I meant about the ridiculousness of the soap elements?) Logan is the sort of creep that you’d actually cross the street to avoid, making Veronica’s attraction to him decidedly implausible, while Veronica spends most of her waking hours being so sarcastic to everyone she comes into contact with that it’s a wonder she has any friends at all. Of all the regular characters, the most likeable is Keith Mars, with Colantoni’s performance being by far the best on the show.

There are also some rather irritating continuity issues, with character developments and plot threads being introduced in one episode, only to promptly be forgotten for extended periods. Early in the season, for example, Veronica’s friend Wallace’s (Percy Daggs) estranged father shows up, and various events lead to father and son eloping together. Wallace is out of the picture for several episodes, before promptly returning, and the business with his father, and his disappearance, never being dealt with. In Buffy, or other US shows I enjoy like Alias, you generally get the sense that everything that happens to the characters is working towards some sort of master plan, or at least that they are adding to their life experience and allowing them to develop, even if only in minute ways. With Veronica Mars, that sort of long-term planning doesn’t seem to exist, at least not to the same extent.

Broadly speaking, though, I can understand why this show has so many ardent followers, and I certainly enjoyed watching both seasons (I’ll probably pick up Season 3 when it comes out on DVD, but it doesn’t appear to air in the UK and I’m not obsessive enough to be motivated to download the episodes as they air in the US). It features the same cheery, irreverent take on film noir that Buffy did with horror, and as such, I can see it appealing to the same crowd. The second season even features appearances by Alyson Hannigan and Joss Whedon himself, while Charisma Carpenter is featured on a more extended basis.

Update, December 19, 2006 05:57 PM: Fixed dead link.

 
Posted: Sunday, November 26, 2006 at 7:16 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

The Buffy ratings graph

The Buffy ratings graph

Click to enlarge.

 
Posted: Monday, October 09, 2006 at 6:59 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7 (2002-2003)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7

Season 7 reviews:

So what happened? I wish I knew, but one thing’s for sure, Season 7 takes away the grand prize as the worst season of Buffy ever. Actually, I’d be willing to extend that to the whole Buffyverse, since, while Angel was never as good as Buffy at its best, it never plunged to these depths. Season 7 walks away with an average rating of 4.68/10, which is lower even than Season 6’s 4.95. To tell the truth, I’m actually surprised by this, since, while Season 7 is in my mind definitely the weaker of the two overall, it never gets as bad as Hell’s Bells. I said it before, but it’s worth repeating: Season 6 has a trainwreck quality to it where it’s actually interesting to watch, provided you can detach yourself from the events enough to see how ridiculous it all is, whereas Season 7 is, for the most part, just plain tedious. Yes, the characterisation is inconsistent, the adherence to continuity non-existant and the direction often inept, but these issues could probably have been somewhat excused had the whole thing not been so flipping yawn-inducing. I’m serious, I’ve lost track of the number of times during the final few episodes I considered just hitting the fast-forward button and getting it over with.

So, to return to my original question, what went wrong? The most popular theory is that Joss Whedon stopped running the show on a day-to-day basis, and the other writers were lost without him. I think this idea has considerable merit, and the massive difference between Chosen and the 14 or so episodes preceding it certainly substantiates it somewhat, but I don’t think this solution is really getting to the depths of it. Whenever a show or a movie is successful (or not), there is a tendency to attribute this to a single visionary person - the auteur theory, if you like. I think people like the notion that there is a guiding hand behind it all, an all-powerful creative force who makes all the big decisions and knows exactly where everything is going. Why? Because they like to think that someone is in control. Take them out of the mix, and they become the fall guy for the subsequent downfall. As much as I’d like to subscribe to the Joss=God theory that so many of his bumlickers espouse, though, I find it overly simplistic.

My theory is this: the writers didn’t really know what to do after Season 5. They thought the show was finished, only to discover that they had another two years to fill. They didn’t have to stick around - they could easily have found new jobs, I’m sure - but they were kind of enjoying the whole cult status they’d been raised to by a small but extremely vocal fan community. Therefore, thinking that they could do no wrong and excited by the creative carte blanche UPN had given them, they decided to go all-out and take the show in a completely different direction. In Season 5, The Body had been a massive success, as had The Gift, despite it featuring the death of the show’s main character, so the writers thought the fans would lap up a whole season of doom and gloom. Problem is, they were mistaken. People didn’t like seeing their favourite characters degraded and crapped on. (As one person, whose name I’ve forgotten, so eloquently put it, no-one wants to watch Superman flipping burgers at McDonalds.) Undeterred, though, they continued on their merry way, beating the characters and their fans into submission in the naïve belief that more is more and that, if things got really dark, the fans would come around. The only problem is that all they did was succeed in driving more viewers away, and, with the death of Tara, suddenly found themselves faced with something they’d never experienced before: a coordinated hate campaign and mass boycott from a demographic that, at one point, had been comprised of their strongest supporters.

Along comes Season 7, and apathy sets in. The odds are stacked against them. No-one is really running the show, or cares to. They know people didn’t like their grand scheme of doom and darkness from Season 6. They know there are now people who actively hate their guts and have stated that they will boycott any shows with which they are involved. They know that a number of their actors aren’t happy with the direction in which they’ve gone. They don’t know whether or not Sarah Michelle Gellar wants to be involved with another season, and they know they can’t continue without her. However, they can’t reconcile the fans’ demands for more lighthearted Season 1-3 style fun with the fact that they need to go out with a big finish. So, they head off down an awkward path without any real firm grasp of direction. Along the way, the viewing figures dwindle. Amber Benson, who put up with a hell of a lot of crap, including a death she had strong misgivings about and a paycheck dwarfed by that of her co-stars, refuses to appear on the show on their terms, and starts becoming a martyr figure for the demographic that is boycotting the show. And so on and so forth. These are hardly ideal conditions under which to produce a show, so it’s ultimately hardly surprising that the final season sucks as bad as it does. If Season 6 failed because its writers thought they were untouchable, then Season 7 failed even more drastically because they realised, the hard way, that they were only too human. And yet the arrogance continued: one of the most stomach-churning things I ever read was a post by Jane Espenson in a thread where people were arguing about Tara’s death, where she bluntly told hurt fans that, because she held an English Literature degree, she was right and they were wrong.

In the end, I can only repeat what I’ve already said: Buffy should have ended with Season 5. The story was told. There was no point in flogging a dead horse. And yet they continued to do it anyway. As a result, they turned what could have been one of the few shows to generally go out on an all-time high into something that plodded on for another two years before dying with a whimper, which is a really sad legacy.

Update, December 19, 2006 05:52 PM: Fixed a bunch of dead links.

 
Posted: Monday, October 09, 2006 at 6:44 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 22: Chosen

DVD

Written and Directed by Joss Whedon

Eventually, all good things must come to an end - or, as the final two seasons of Buffy prove, all bad things too. The series finale is a commendable attempt to go out with a bang, but given everything that’s come before it, it all seems a bit hollow. Compared with masterful season finales like Restless, or even the show’s true (in my opinion) series finale, The Gift, Chosen is nothing special. The only thing that distinguishes it from any other showdown is the scale of the battle and the amount of destruction left in its wake - so it’s basically quantity over quality.

Still, this feels more like an episode of Buffy than the chain of 14 or so mediocre-to-crap episodes that have preceded it. The characters actually seem to be, well, in character, and the actors look a little more engaged than they have been for some time (I guess they all just couldn’t wait to get it over with). Unfortunately, those hoping for some serious character moments between Buffy, Willow, Giles and Xander will be supremely disappointed. All we get is a false-sounding and painfully staged little conversation full of blithe quips and laughing in the face of danger that tries but fails to recapture the mood of the early seasons. Plus, the inside of the Hellmouth is kind of disappointing - it’s basically just a big cave.

And it doesn’t help that Buffy’s genius scheme to finish off the First once and for all is anything but. Giles says it’s “bloody brilliant” - but it’s not, it’s just as stupid as every other plan she’s had this season. Wander into the jaws of doom and hope she can beat the bad guys? She also tells the Potentials “So here’s where you make a choice” - only she isn’t giving them a choice. She’s turning every Potential in the world into a full-blooded Slayer, whether they want it or not. The title of the episode is Chosen, after all, as in “chosen by Buffy”, not “choose for yourself”. For a show that’s meant to be about girly power and free will, that’s a hell of a lot of girls forced to do something they probably don’t want. And precisely why does she suddenly decide that Willow can use the Scythe to do this anyway? This really is a season where you’re expected to just shut up and accept everything you’re told.

Other niggles. How come the Ubervamps, one of which took Buffy two whole episodes to defeat, can now be sliced down in droves by everyone, including Dawn? How come Sunnydale, which has been shown to have docks and a beach, is now in the middle of the desert? And is the First even actually defeated? Sure, the Hellmouth collapses into itself, disposing of all the evil festering inside it, but, if there’s another one in Cleveland, and LA is such a disaster zone, then one must presume that they’re two-a-penny. Also, Anya’s death was pointless and crummy. I get that Joss Whedon was pissed at Emma Caulfield for saying she would quit even if the show got renewed, but there was no call for that “blink and you’ll miss it” exit, or for the complete lack of compassion anyone feels for her demise. For Christ’s sake, Xander and Andrew (why is he still alive?) are the only people who even notice she’s not there, and Xander barely seems concerned at all. And that shot of the little girl in the baseball court becoming “empowered” is probably the single most cringe-inducing moment in the entire series.

Complaints aside, though, I can’t deny that I got a sense of excitement during the final battle. It’s all basically smoke and mirrors (i.e. a whole lot of explosions and stunts, but no real substance), but it’s considerably less boring than, say, Touched, and less offensive than Grave last year. Yes, Willow’s still hooked up with her rebound girl so Joss Whedon can show that he doesn’t hate lesbians after all (personally, I’ll bet she ditches her immediately after the final fade to black), but her whiz-bang display of white power (eep, that sounded a lot more racist than I was intending) does suggest that she’s managed to overcome the darkness inside her. Spike saves the world and goes out in a fantastic display of fireworks and burning flesh - I have a feeling Giles will have some humble pie to eat for trying to have him killed! (Only, of course, Spike shows up on Angel next season, making his death as meaningless as pretty much every other one on the show.) And I’ve decided that I like Vi - she’s the least annoying Potential.

I’ll give them credit: they went out with a bang. No, it doesn’t make up for the horrors inflicted upon us over the past two years, but all things considered, it could have been a hundred times worse.

Overall rating: 7/10.

Next time: this is no next time! Hooray! I’m free!

 
Posted: Monday, October 09, 2006 at 5:45 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 21: End of Days

DVD

Written by Jane Espenson and Douglas Petrie; Directed by Marita Grabiak

In this episode, Buffy finds a magic scythe that will help her defeat the undefeatable Caleb. (And Willow actually utters the line “So it’s true, scythe matters”. This, I suppose, is what passes for comedy in a show that was at one point quite funny.) Also, the First suddenly decides it wants to become corporeal (why???) and merges itself with Caleb to create a super-Caleb… whom Buffy still seems to find easier to defeat than the normal one. And Angel shows up with yet another surprise magical artefact that has never been mentioned before but will apparently aid Buffy in the final fight. Convenient.

Overall rating: 3/10.

Next time: Chosen. Thank god, finally!

 
Posted: Monday, October 09, 2006 at 4:26 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 20: Touched

DVD

Written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner; Directed by David Solomon

Oh, look, see how chaotic and disastrous everything is without Buffy around to be a leader? Great. Then why did you spend the last few episodes making her look like such a crap leader? It’s pretty obvious no-one knew what was going on at this stage, and the writers were each off doing their own thing without paying any attention to continuity.

Again, not much happening. Chaos, chaos, chaos in the Summers residence. The First appears to Faith in the guise of the Mayor and it looks like it might get interesting, but then nothing comes of it, apart from her suddenly deciding to shag Wood. Actually, everyone’s getting it on in this episode: Wood and Faith, Willow and Kennedy (in the most awkward sex scene of the century), Xander and Anya (in yet another round of post-break-up sex)… except Buffy, who spends the night in the house of some guy she tossed out, sharing a cuddle with Spike on the anniversary of his attempted rape of her.

Overall rating: 3/10.

Next time: End of Days.

 
Posted: Monday, October 09, 2006 at 4:02 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 
 

 
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