I remember seeing the movie on TV a few years before I started watching the show, and finding it a mildly funny but average, not very good and mostly ordinary teen comedy that tried to poke fun at vampire movies. I was always struck by how different the show is to the movie. Rewatching it now, after a long time, my impressions are the same, only more negative, because I can now see how much potential it wasted. This becomes especially obvious when you compare it Joss Whedon’s original script, which is available online, and which I read last week for the first time. A much better movie could have been made from this, and one that would have been a lot more in the spirit with the TV show. On the other hand, if the movie had matched Joss’ intentions, maybe he wouldn’t have felt compelled to take his idea to the small screen... So maybe it’s better it worked out this way.
The movie was declared not canon by Joss, so nothing from it actually has any bearing on the show and the comics continuity, but Joss has never filmed another version of Buffy’s origin story.
I will also revisit the only canon version of Buffy’s origins is the 1999 Dark Horse comic The Origin, which gives a more faithful adaptation of Joss’ original script, much closer to the spirit of the show, and attempts to reconcile the story with the TV show continuity (including scenes based on the flashbacks from the show), since there are quite a few discontinuities between Joss’s script and the movie on one side, and the show on the other. Joss has said this about this comic:
I’ve noticed that Joss recycled some of his original ideas for Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest: the way Buffy kills Amilyn, Lothos' main henchman, in the script (but not in the movie nor in The Origin), is very similar to the trick she plays on Luke in The Harvest. As far as the things that did make it to the movie go: there are also similarities such as Pike/Xander having to kill his best friend who's become a vampire; some of the original arguments between Buffy and Giles are a bit like those between Buffy and Merrick; Gary Murray the school counselor is a proto-Flutie; and Lothos is a bit like a mix between the Master and a non-ironic version of Dracula, with a bit of Luke's early rhetoric. We have vampires attacking the school on a big night again in School Hard.
I can’t remember, did anyone on the show ever use a pencil to stake a vampire? This is how Buffy finally manages to surprise and kill Lothos in the script version of their confrontation, after he’s cornered her in the school corridor; script direction says that there’s almost something like respect in his eyes as he’s turning to dust (and Lothos, up to that point, has been very contemptuous and dismissive of Buffy and other Slayers).
Differences between the movie and Joss’ original script
Joss Whedon wrote the original version of the script for Buffy when he was 25. According to this old article (linked today on Whedonesque – thanks, Whedonesque!), „The project began gathering steam last fall, when producer Rosenman "flipped over this weirdly funny script by a 25-year-old with red hair flowing down to his ass.“ “ (See evidence of the latter.)
The same article describes the Buffy movie as a mix between Wayne’s World, Heathers and Beverly Hills 90210. Well, that’s true - but only if you take out Heathers...
The script is well worth reading – it’s really not cheesy and campy the way the movie is, and it’s not a comedy: it’s much darker and it’s a horror/action teen drama with some humor in it. In other words, similar to the show. However, the people who made the movie obviously didn’t take the story seriously at all and figured it had to be a broad cheesy teenage comedy. You can see it as soon as the open narration about the Slayers starts – similar to the one in first 2 seasons of the show – delivered in a mocking, campy voice, while we see a brief scene of Kristy Swanson with a silly expression, in what is supposed to be one of her dreams about past Slayers. There are a lot of changes between this version of the script and what finally got filmed. But even when there were no changes in the dialogue – and in the majority of the scenes, they kept the original dialogue– the directorial choices, acting, music, choreography, even hairstyling and costumes, made all the difference.
Kristy Swanson isn't bad until you compare her to Sarah Michelle Gellar, she has no spunk and charisma and badassery that SMG so easily instills into the character. Swanson is physically much bigger, but tiny SMG is a much bigger presence in every other way. Luke Perry (Pike) is just being Luke Perry, i.e. has the same dull expression throughout. The worst of all is Donald Sutherland (Buffy’s first Watcher, Merrick), who looks bored throughout the movie, probably waiting to finish shooting the dumb teen movie and collect his paycheck – he even looks bored in his death scene!
The music is dreadful – the songs are all very mainstream, in a bad way (unlike the much more interesting choices on the show); the score is more 80s than 90s, and occasionally sounds like elevator music - especially in above mentioned Merrick’s death scene.
The movie removed almost everything that was even a little bit darker and more serious. Gone are the opening scenes from the script, showing some of the Slayers from the previous centuries, including the scenes of Lothos killing Slayers. Instead of being really scary, the vampires in the movie are just ridiculous. Lothos’ henchmen Amilyn, in particular, is quite scary in the script, but a complete joke and an OTT comedy character in the movie – he even gets a comedy protracted death that goes on and on. Script!Lothos is a truly intimidating figure (and a vampire who’s supposed to have killed several Slayers has to be!), but in the movie, despite being played by Rutger Hauer, a guy who knows how to be scary, even he is made into a bit of a joke. In one of the many eyeroll-worthy cheesy moments that the director/script doctors/whoever thought was a good idea to add, Lothos plays a violin to hypnotize Buffy (?!) and in another, he dies saying „Oops“.
But the worst of all is Buffy’s fight with the vampires outside the gym, which could have been great (and is in the comic), and which is described like this in the script:
Buffy is defending herself in an astounding blur of gymnasti
odd stake, she manages to scatter them enough to make a run for it.
...and in the movie, it looks like this: Kristy Swanson goes out of the gym, makes several somersaults for no reason at all and comes up against one of the vampires, and all the vampires stand in a circle and attack her one by one, waiting until she’s finished with the previous ones, like in the awful old martial arts movies. She also starts her fight with Lothos by making a few somersaults for absolutely no reason.
Ummm, our Father, Who art in Heaven,
duhmm... hallowed be Thy name.
Uhh, kingdom come, daily break, I
don't know. I don't even know if
you're religious. You probably
are. But you're dead, you know.
You're just totally dead. and...
She sits heavily on his grave.
... and I don't know what to do.
You were the one who... I don't
know if the training was over. I
don't even know if I passed. You're
so stupid! How could you be so
stupid? What am I supposed to do
without you? You son of a bitch!
She stops, looks down for a moment.
- Merrick’s death: in the movie, Lothos kills him because Buffy was too much in „thrall“ to react, and then dies in her arms. In the script, Buffy wasn’t even there until the end (and she never seems in much of a danger of being hypnotized by Lothos), as she was busy killing vampires in another place, and Merrick kills himself with a gun to prevent Lothos from turning him and using him against Buffy. (Although maybe this isn’t explained as much as it is in the comic.)
- The movie removes the dark moment when a bunch of students, including Buffy’s (ex) friend Kimberly, decide to practically throw Buffy to the vampires to save their own skin: since the vampires (many of them formerly students who were turned) were outside yelling „We want Buffy“, the students yell in panic that she should go out so the vampires could have her and leave them alone. What they didn’t realize is that the vampires are going to attack the gym anyway, breaking the windows. In the script, after the fight is over, Buffy silently walks away from the students who wanted to sacrifice her (with the exception of Pike, who was fiercely on her side, and a few others.)
- The script ends with: a news report about the attack (described as an attack of a gang of „crack-crazed gunmen“) that had a death toll of 12; followed by a scene showing Buffy’s ex-friends and ex-boyfriend gossiping about her and how „crazy“ she’s become; and a scene with Buffy and Pike going to an old castle – presumably to look for some old vampire to slay. The movie, on the other hand, ends with a protracted news report – which completely lacks the mention of any casualties, are we supposed to think that no students died? – followed by a bunch of stupid jokes (and then some more of Amilyn’s protracted death scene).
In their thorough mainstreaming of the script, they also removed pretty much everything that could have been consider somewhat edgy:
- Every single reference to teen sex (including a scene in which Buffy, while looking for vampires, finds her ex-boyfriend Jeffrey, who’s just dumped her, and his new date Jennifer, Buffy’s ex-friend, clumsily having sex in his ca);
- A few instances of bad language (but OK, that was to be expected);
- Coach’s speech before the game that happens to contain a casual reference to homosexuality („So I don't care about your minds. Maybe you're tired. Maybe you're worried about your grades. Maybe you dog just died or you've suddenly found that you're attracted to other men. I don't care!”
- Pike’s off-hand mention/joke that his guidance counselor mentioned prison as the possible future for him
- Pike and his friend Benny’s punk style looks. In the script, Pike is described as having spiked hair, a taste for long coats and black, and wearing Doc Martens, while his friend Benny has a shaved head, suspenders and also Doc Martens. In the movie, they are... Luke Perry and David Arquette looking like Luke Perry and David Arquette usually do, and not really visibly different than Buffy's boyfriend Jeffrey and the other jock guys. (Joss seems to like introducing punk-ish looking characters from time to time: Spike, Satsu and Simone in the comics.)
One of the small changes that particularly pissed me off is how they filmed the scene near the beginning of the movie which we first see Buffy kissing her boyfriend Jeffrey, and his friend Andy acts like a complete sexist ass and asks „Jeffrey, dude, can I borrow her?“ In the script – and the comic – she just normally comes up to Jeffrey and they kiss, while Andy and Jeffrey’s other friends and Buffy’s friends are standing near by. In the movie, she runs and leans into Jeffrey’s car to kiss him – he’s in the driving seat – not bothered that her butt is practically lying in Andy’s lap (since he’s in the front seat). I guess they just couldn’t show a high school boy being blatantly sexist without giving the audience the opportunity to say „Heh, it’s the bimbo’s fault for hanging her ass in front of his nose“?!
So, as we’ve established, the movie sucks big time. Nothing I haven’t known for years. The only difference is that, having read the script, I can vouch it really wasn’t Joss’ fault.
Now we’re going to take a look at the differences between the script/the movie on one hand, and the show on the other. While the huge difference in tone is all due to the execution and script changes, there are a few things that don’t match with the show because Joss later changed his mind. Of course, the discontinuity doesn’t matter, since neither the movie nor the script are canon.
Discontinuity between the movie/the script and canon
- Vampires don’t dust when staked – except, for some reason, Lothos (maybe because he’s 800 to 900 years old). This is something that Joss decided for the TV show, in order not to have Buffy leaving a bunch of dead bodies around.
- Vampires can float.
- Vampires don’t show in photos.
- Buffy doesn’t burn down the gym during the big showdown with the vampires.
- A lot is made of Buffy’s need to preserve her secret identity – Merrick insists that vampires mustn’t know who she is, or they would he hunting her rather than the other way round. Which, come to think of it, makes sense – but was completely different on the show, where every vampire and demon knew who she is and, with rare exceptions (like Spike or Mr. Trick and the participants of his Slayer Fest ’99), it only made most of them want to stay away from her. That’s actually one change that I’m not sure the show ever properly justified. It’s almost unbelievable that no vampire or demon ever targeted Buffy’s family and friends in order to get to her, except briefly Angelus (who nevertheless didn’t do much on that front). There is a reason why Bruce Wayne thinks he needs to wear the mask to protect those he loves. See my comments on The Origin.
- Buffy’s parents are portrayed as neglectful and almost always absent; her mom pays so little attention to her that she mis-remembers her boyfriend’s name. (This is more like the family background Willow has on the show – except that her parents are also stricter. Willow’s mother Sheila seems to constantly ignore her, and can’t properly remember the name of her best friend Buffy.
- (More in the script than in the movie) Buffy’s family also seems richer, more in Cordelia’s league (at least this is my impression – for instance, at one point she mentions a trust fund from her grandfather that she spent on shoes) than on the show, where they’re firmly middle-class types.
- (Script element; not mentioned in the movie, IIRC) Merrick says that the Watchers are all from one coven in a small English village. This is very different from the powerful (but really incompetent and stuck up their own arse) organization we first see in season 3.
- (Script element; not mentioned in the movie) Slayers have superpowers even before they are called: Buffy is mentioned to have had amazing gymnastic skills as a younger girl.
- (Script element; ignored or changed for movie) Script!Buffy is not a virgin. Her boyfriend Jeffrey is spending the night with her – he’s by her side when she wakes up from a nightmare; and during a school football game, one of the students starts talking to Merrick (and annoying the hell out of him) and gossiping about Buffy, saying that people are talking that „She’s had sex“. This was probably a part of Whedon’s idea to subvert the cliche of the blonde who dies in the alley – in movies, teenagers who have sex usually die. But this didn’t make it to the movie (Buffy is waking from her nightmare alone), I assume as a part of the overall removal of any reference to teen sex; and of course, it also isn’t in The Origin (where Buffy also wakes in her bed alone), for a different reason – because it would clash with canon, since canon!Buffy only lost her virginity in season 2.
- Merrick first approaches Buffy in the football field (script) or in the school gym (movie). In the flashback in Becoming I, he approaches her right in front of the school.
- Buffy is dating a school jock called Jeffrey, until he dumps her because she’s been busy with other things and he’s „got needs“in his own words (but she has other things to worry about, and has been falling for Pike anyway, so it’s no tragedy). But, in the flashback in Becoming I, Buffy is talking to her friends about a boy called Tyler and saying he’d have to beg her on his hands and knees to go with him to the dance... which he’s supposed to do after practice, so she’ll wait. (See my comments about The Origin below.)
Although it’s not discontinuity, I wonder why the show and later canon comics never mentioned Buffy dreaming about the lives of the previous Slayers. The only Slayers who seem to pop up in her dreams are the First Slayer and Faith. A lot more was made of the Slayer dream connection to the previous Slayers in Dana’s story in AtS Damage, in the Tales of the Slayers, in Fray, and in season 8 issue The Chain, but none of those are about Buffy. How interesting would it be if Buffy ever had Slayer dreams of being Nikki Wood, for instance?
And now let’s look at how this is resolved in The Origin.
This 3-part comic, written by Christopher Golden and Brereton based on Whedon’s script for the movie, restores most of Whedon’s original script, attempts (for the most part, successfully, though there are a few problematic spots) to reconcile it with the show canon, and – unlike the movie, is very close to the tone and spirit of the TV show.
I reviewed The Origin comic before, at the very beginning of my Buffy rewatch. A few words in addition to this:
The only big problem I have with the comic is with the artist drawing green, pointy-eared vampires. That aside, the art by Joe Bennett is very good. They obviously wanted to make a complete break with the movie, so none of the characters look like their movie counterparts. Of course, Buffy looks like Sarah Michelle Gellar rather than Kristy Swanson, Joyce and Hank look like they do on the show (in the movie, Buffy’s parents both have dark hair and look ridiculously tanned and a bit trashy) while Merrick looks like Richard Riehle, who played him in the show flashback. But the other characters, who never appeared on the show, are all given a new look: Pike has white hair and a goatee and doesn’t look like Luke Perry (in later, non-canon Dark Horse comics, he looked different and had brownish hair, but didn’t look like Perry either); Lothos has long red hair and looks nothing like Rutger Hauer; Jeffrey is blond, while movie Jeffrey was dark-haired, each one of Buffy’s friends has different hair color and hairstyle than their movie counterparts, etc.
I really like the way they portrayed Merrick in the comic – he is passionate, stern and determined, a very strong figure – completely different from Donald Sutherland’s bland, sleepwalking through the role version. Pike is also a lot more animated and likeable. The vampires are scary and the fights are well drawn.
The comic restores most of Joss’ best lines and moments from the script, and adds some new ones (Buffy: „Don’t think of me as late – think of me as time-impaired!“) though, unfortunately, they also added a really dumb joke (when Amilyn has his arm ripped off, he seems more concerned about his jacket – „This was real leather“). There’s also one screw-up: the inscription on the newly sired vampire reads „1972-1990“, even though it should be taking place in 1996. But this is nitpicking now.
Let’s see what the writers of the comic did about the continuity issues:
- Buffy burns the gym down. She does it because it’s the only way to kill a bunch of vampires that have attacked the school: she tricks them into the gym, locks the door with a bike chain and sets the gym on fire.
- Most of the aspects of the script that don’t fit with canon are left out.
- Merrick warning Buffy about her secret identity is still a part of the story, but Buffy basically says „Ah, screw that“ (not in those words) after Merrick’s death.
- A brief scene with Buffy’s parents is included here as well – and Buffy seems to be unsatisfied and to think that they aren’t spending enough time with her (which we only see in her bitter comment to herself that they’re „real quality timers“), but there are no moments of Joyce being clueless, and we don’t know if Buffy’s parents are really neglectful, or if Buffy is seeing her parents as more neglectful than they really are. On the show, it was established that the problem with her parents was that they didn’t get along and argued a lot for years – but never that they ignored Buffy.
- The scenes from the Becoming I flashback are included: Merrick approaching Buffy in front of the school, and their conversation is word for word taken from the show.
- The Tyler/Jeffrey issue: they tried to solve this, and I’m not sure if it works. To reconcile it, they changed the dialogue for a part of Buffy’s conversation with her friends. She says she got over Tyler long time ago, and one of the girls adds that nobody would pick Tyler over Jeffrey anyway, and it’s Jeffrey that Buffy says she is waiting for after the practice, not Tyler. But this creates a bit of discontinuity with the show, what about that? There is a way to fanwank it:
- The entire comic is framed as Buffy’s narration – so one could say that her memory may not be entirely accurate. (Maybe she and Jeffrey were over before she met Merrick, but she conflated two different timelines and thought he was still her boyfriend and that it was the night of the vampire attack that they broke up.) Buffy is telling Xander and Willow about her days in Hemery High and how she became a Slayer.
- The last LA scenes we see are taken from the script, but with some changes: Buffy’s gossiping ex-friends mention that she was expelled from school. We also see Buffy and Pike going to the castle. However, it’s actually a castle in Las Vegas – a change I don’t like, since it’s just Dark Horse’s blatant attempt to set up one of their later (non-canon) comics, Viva Las Buffy, which is about the adventures of Buffy and Pike in Las Vegas.
The comic doesn’t explain what happened to Pike and why he and Buffy went separate ways; when Xander asks Buffy about it (he even says that Pike seemed like a good match, which is really unlike season 2 Xander! Though I guess he might have said it just because he’d prefer anyone to Angel - and Pike does seem like a guy Xander might like),
she just says it’s a story for another time.
Pike was clearly created as something of a Whedonian perfect guy – he’s the only teenage boy in the movie/script/comic who isn’t sexist (Pike’s friend Benny is just as bad in that regard as the jocks Andy and a rather good fighter for someone with no superpowers, he has no problem accepting Buffy’s strength and leadership – in fact, he accepts it and likes it much more readily than Buffy herself, which is a source of strife for a while. (Canon says nothing about the reasons why he and Buffy split, but in the comic Viva Las Buffy, he leaves because he realizes he’s just a liability for Buffy. In another non-canon comic, Note from the Underground, he finds Buffy in Sunnydale a few years later, he helps her but is confused with all the things that have happened to Buffy since, and ends up telling her friends stories about Buffy’s LA past.)
In my earlier review, I gave the comic 3-, which might have been too harsh – I now think it’s closer to 3.5. One thing I really like about this early Buffy story is that the Slayer was still clearly portrayed as the underdog.The feelings that the Slayers were up against the odds was much stronger in the script and The Origin, when the vampires were not established as being weaker than Slayers. This kind of got lost as the show increasingly started making the Slayers look like almost invincible, unbeatable superwomen (culminating in the utterly ridiculous „Troll Hammer“ moment in season 5) that almost all vampires (except for trill seekers) run from, which doesn’t fit with the idea that they all die very young. And, it also takes something away from Buffy’s heroism and the gravity of her story, IMO, if her task is portrayed as not being incredibly difficult and dangerous.