If you came here looking for a discussion of the television series starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, you've come to the wrong place. This will be an analysis of the movie that preceded the series. Buffy, the Vampire Slayer was written by Joss Whedon back before anyone knew who he was, and was released to theaters in 1992. I was 12-years-old when the movie was released and it had everything a 12-year-old boy could want in a movie. It was funny, the star was an extremely pretty girl, it had vampires and the pretty girl kicked the crap out of the vampires on the regular throughout the movie. Needless to say, 12-year-old me fell in love with this movie, so much so that when the television series came out I was excited and watched the first episode with anticipation of recapturing the feelings I got when I first saw the movie.
17-year-old me was much less impressed with the show than 12-year-old me was with the film. In fact, I hated it, and I continue to hate it even though I have tried a few times to give it a chance. In every case, I have failed to get through the entire first episode. It just isn't the same animal as the film. Aside from the name and basic premise, that of a teenage cheerleader fighting vampires, the two properties are completely different. If you're a fan of the show, odds are you probably hate the movie, and that's okay, unless you're one of those pompous types that thinks only your opinion matters and that everyone who likes the movie is just wrong, then I'm going to have a problem with you. Unfortunately, those types seem to rule the fandom, so while I am in no way ashamed of enjoying this movie or of the nostalgic feelings of my childhood it engenders, I tend to never bring up that I like the movie around fans of the show. It just won't end well for me, so it remains something of a guilty pleasure that I never discuss with anyone.
Buffy had a fairly all-star cast for the time in which it was made. Kristy Swanson had already starred as the Enchanted Peasant Girl in Mannequin 2: On the Move and had appearances in Hot Shots and Ferris Beuller's Day Off. Luke Perry was starring in Beverly Hills, 90210, which was the most popular show on television at the time and he was the resident teen heartthrob. Donald Sutherland was someone who I didn't know at the time, but to adults he was well known, mostly as Hawkeye in the original film adaptation of the novel M*A*S*H, which had also been turned into a wildly popular television series in the 1970s through the '80s (ironically, a television series about the Korean War lasted longer than the war itself, by a lot), and there was a very surprising (and somewhat disguised) performance by the actor was then was only identified by his most popular character, Pee-wee Herman. Also, if you have a really sharp eye, you can even spot a very early cameo by future Batman, Ben Affleck. I promise, he's there. He's a high school basketball player. In fact, for those without eagle vision, here's a screenshot:
When we meet Buffy Summers, she is a self-absorbed, snobby little brat. She obviously comes from money, and it shows. Her friends are mostly the same, all speaking in a Californian "Valley Girl" accent and using a vernacular that would make Bill and Ted wish that Urban Dictionary had already been invented.
Likewise, Pike is a stereotypical punk teenage metal head, sneaking into movies and making fun of Buffy and her friends with his buddy Benny, who admittedly can't stand Buffy but would give a piece of his anatomy to be able to have sex with her (so, yeah, he's an average teenage boy). Pike, to his credit, finds that kind of deplorable, and it is hinted at that he may genuinely have a legitimate crush on Buffy, and not just be attracted to her body the way that Benny is.
Buffy is soon met by Merrick, a Trainer of Slayers and an immortal of sorts. Like Buffy, Merrick is the reincarnated form of the Trainers who had come before him, but unlike Buffy, he is born with the knowledge of his mission, whereas the Slayers have to be sought out and told of their destiny.
While Buffy dismisses Merrick at first, attributing his ramblings to mental illness and asking him if he talks to Elvis, Merrick eventually convinces her by taking her to the cemetery and having her sit on a fresh grave belonging to a vampire victim. The vampire in the grave awakens and Buffy fights for her life to get away from the reanimated corpse. Turns out there are two vampires awaking that night, and with an assist from Merrick, Buffy slays them both. She begins training with Merrick, and starts to build a friendship with Pike after saving his life while he was trying to leave town. Pike is already aware of the vampires, having seen his friend Benny turned while they were both drunk resulting in him almost passing out on the freeway. Eventually, Pike becomes sort of like Buffy's sidekick, and eventually her love interest.
This was by no means Joss Whedon's first professional work, but it was his first produced feature film, and I thought he turned in a stellar script. Whedon is the only writer credited in the film, so I don't know if there was an uncredited rewrite or not, and Whedon, while he has criticized the film - criticized it for its execution, not the script so the film probably wasn't rewritten that much, if at all. And it wasn't really criticism either, he just basically said it wasn't what he would have necessarily done with it if he were the director. No screenwriter's vision is ever translated perfectly on the screen, just because there are a lot of people who have a hand in seeing a film come to fruition, and they all have a vision themselves. A film is a collaborative work of art.
The director, Fran Rubel Kuzui, did a wonderful job setting the tone of the film. It is funny where it needs to be, suspenseful where it needs to be, and scary when it needs to be. Making a good horror comedy is a hard thing to pull off, but she managed it. As I said before, all of the actors turned in wonderful performances... even if their hearts weren't really in it (I'm looking at you, Donald Sutherland).
The only real criticism I have of the film is that the vampires were very two dimensional. Buffy, Pike and Merrick all have wonderful character arcs. Buffy learns the meaning of responsibility and grows up a little bit, Pike goes from a kid in search of meaning to finding it, and Merrick goes from being a stodgy old man to actually having some personality and telling jokes. The vampires, however, don't really have much of anything going for them. Lothos, who is the leader of the vampires, is very much a standard Bela Lugosi Dracula type, very proper and aristocratic. Amilyn (played by Paul Reubens) is very over-the-top in spots, not the least of which is his death (although, the first time you see that scene it is hilarious, but it loses its charm after the first time because it isn't unexpected anymore). Those are the only two vampires we really get to spend any time with. All the others are just sort of mindless zombies, running around on instinct and biting people, except for Benny who seems to actually really enjoy being a vampire. But mostly, there isn't very much to the vampires in the film other than standard vampirey (yes, I made that up).
All in all, Buffy isn't anywhere near a deep or thought provoking movie-going experience, nor is it trying to be. It is, however, an extremely fun and entertaining teenage comedy and that is all it was ever intended to be in the first place.
Fans of the television series hate this movie, probably for the same reasons that I am not a fan of the show. They are just too different to be compatible. However, on its own merits, the Buffy movie is a great way to spend two hours if you don't have anything more important to do!