Continuing from last week’s discussion on adaptations surpassing their originals. it’s time to look at a specific example, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The original Buffy hit theatres in the summer of 1992. Kristy Swanson played the titular character, with Donald Sutherland playing her Watcher, Merrick. The film was marketed as an action/comedy/horror movie, taking the elements of the typical slasher flick and flipping them around. Thus, the blonde cheerleader who would normally be one of the first victims of the slasher becomes the heroine, with her love interest, Oliver Pike as played by Luke Perry, becoming the dude in distress.
Los Angeles is in danger from a cabal of vampires led by Lothos, played by Rutger Hauer. One girl can save the city. Too bad she doesn’t know she’s LA’s only hope. Buffy Summers is a high school senior and a cheerleader, looking forward to her hobbies of shopping and her boyfriend, Jeffrey. Naturally, at Buffy’s school, there’s a schism between the popular and the outcasts, where Oliver and Benny (David Arquette) fall. Fortunately for LA, Merrick is searching for the new Slayer. The Chosen One, Buffy, isn’t as impressed, but her new abilities start manifesting. In addition, Merrick describes a dream that Buffy keeps having. She begins training under Merrick’s tutelage.
Oliver and Benny are the first of the school to run into the vampires. Merrick arrives too late to prevent Benny being turned into a vampire, but does rescue Oliver. Another of Buffy’s classmates, a girl named Cassandra, played by an uncredited Ricki Lake, is kidnapped by Amilyn, played by Paul Reubans, and sacrificed to the vampire’s master, Lothos, played by Rutget Hauer. Lothos has killed a number of Slayers in the past and has set his sights on Buffy. An encounter in the woods has Amilyn and his gang of vampires fight Buffy, Merrick, and Oliver, leading to Amilyn losing an arm and Buffy and Oliver getting closer.
Later, at a school basketball game, Oliver recognizes a classmate who has become a vampire. Buffy chases the the vampire and runs into Lothos himself. Lothos hypnotizes Buffy, but Merrick arrives in time to prevent anything further. Merrick is staked himself by Lothos, and dies. The Watcher gives Buffy one last bit of advice, to do things her way, not the old ways.
Shaken, Buffy tries to return to her old life. At school, though, her friends have turned on her, making her an outcast. Buffy realizes that her priorities have changed while her old friends are still fixated on shopping and the upcoming senior dance. Even her boyfriend, Jeffrey, has found a new girlfriend. Oliver, though, stays by her, understanding what Buffy is going through.
The senior dance is for seniors only. As per tradition, vampires cannot enter a building unless invited. The vampire army built by Lothos and Amilyn, though, consist of high school seniors, and each of them received a formal invitation to the dance. Buffy arrives in time to fight the vampires inside and outside. Oliver takes on his old friend, Benny, while Buffy first stabs Amilyn then goes after Lothos. Once again, Lothos tries to hypnotize her, but Buffy is ready with a cross and a can of hairspray. By using her keen fashion sense, Buffy defeats Lothos.
As mentioned, one aspect of the film was comedy. The movie was light entertainment, a summer popcorn movie that was common before the Blockbuster Era we currently have. Buffy was moderately popular but not a major hit. Joss Whedon wrote the screenplay for the movie, though there may have been some meddling by executives to get popcorn fare.
Five years later, Joss Whedon returns to the character with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. The pilot for the series was once meant for a potential sequel to the original film, but as the show continued, the link between the movie and TV series became nebulous. Ideas from the film appeared, but reworked to fit the new show.
The TV Buffy, with Sarah Michelle Gellar taking over the lead role, kept the horror and the comedy, but became far more darker and tense. The show first aired on the WB, owned by Warner Bros, and was a breakout hit for the fledgling network. In 2001, Buffy moved over to UPN, a Paramount owned network. Despite being on smaller networks, the show gained a following.
In the pilot, Buffy Anne Summers and her mother move to Sunnydale after an incident that resulted in the burning down of the gym at Buffy’s previous school. Buffy is hoping to be a normal girl, despite being the Slayer. All those hopes are dashed when Rupert Giles, played by Anthony Stewart Head, appears as her new Watcher. Sunnydale High sits on top of a Hellmouth and Buffy’s abilities are needed to prevent Hell from boiling out. Being the newcomer, Buffy starts out as an outcast in the school. She meets Xander Harris, played by Nicholas Brendan, and Willow Rosenberg, played by Alison Hannigan, who befriend her through common experience of being outsiders. Cordelia Chase, one of the popular crowd and a cheerleader to boot, represents what Buffy could have been. Cordelia eventually joins in with Buffy and her friends in fighting the evil lurking in Sunnydale.
Through the series, the cast grows, emotionally and numerically. Seth Green, who had an uncredited role as a vampire in the original Buffy, joins the cast as Oz, Willow’s boyfriend. David Boreanaz joins as Angel, a vampire who becomes romantically linked with Buffy. After Buffy is clinically dead but revived, a new Slayer, Kendra, played by Bianca Lawson, arrives. Unlike Buffy, Kendra was raised by the Watchers, and the difference between the two Slayers is evident. Kendra lacks Buffy’s ability to improvise, leading to her death and the activation of Faith, played by Eliza Dushku. Again, the difference between Buffy and Faith is evident. Faith didn’t have the support system Buffy did with her friends.
Each season carried a theme. The first season, set mainly in and around Sunnydale High, showed that high school was hell. By the time Buffy graduates in season three, she had prevented several apocalypses, saved the student body more times than they could count, and befriended many others. Season two shows how Buffy’s approach, while not always successful, had advantages over a strict teaching. The season also had Buffy fall in love with the wrong man, Angel. Angel was under a Gypsy curse; if he ever achieved happiness, the Angelus personality within would be released, causing untold tragedy. Season three shows the difference between the relationship Buffy has with Giles, the relationship the Council of Watchers would impose on Slayers, and the relationship Faith had with the Mayor, who was using the girl for his nefarious purposes. Season four was about change, with Buffy and Willow heading to university, Xander getting a job, Oz leaving because he’s a danger as a werewolf, and Cordelia leaving for LA with Angel for a spin-off series*.
The series became known for its writing, taking chances that wouldn’t normally be seen on the regular networks. “Hush”, a fourth season episode, took a show known for its snappy dialogue and made everyone mute, unable to speak, and was successful. “Once More, with Feeling”, from season six, was an all-musical episode, making /Buffy/ the second show to try that, the first being Xena, Warrior Princess.
How does the TV series stack against the original? The series built on top of ideas presented in the movie and gives them more time to develop. The implications of the Buffy-verse is shown to viewers. The result is a TV series that has more than its fair share of academic papers written about it, with over two hundred produced about various aspects of the show, from dialogue to characterizations to the metaphors of humanity used as the base of many episodes. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series has had comics, including Seasons 8 through 10, and games, including Eden Studio’s role-playing game of the same name. The TV series has far surpassed its original.
Next week, continuing the history of adaptations with the early years of the film industry.
* Angel, naturally enough. Set in LA, Angel was the head of a small private invesitgation company, specializing in the unusual.
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