Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Buffy the Vampire Slayer (unaired pilot)

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (unaired pilot)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Eventually, I will cover the whole series; for now I am posting brief overviews of the film and the unaired pilot as prologues. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (created in 1996/written & directed by Joss Whedon): On a typically blue-sky Californian day in the mid-nineties, and this is very mid-nineties (or earlier, given the House of Pain needle-drop), Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) shows up for her first day at a new high school. And what a school, designed more like the Disneyland version of a Renaissance palazzo than your more usual boxy public building. All is cheery, sunny, and colorful - or at least it probably would be if this episode wasn't just available in washed-out bootleg quality online. The show, however, begins before this bright introduction, as one night a couple breaks into the school, trespassing in the auditorium before the young woman morphs into a vampire and kills Buffy's first victim. When the corpse falls out of a locker with two fang marks in his neck, Buffy realizes she can't escape her destiny: she's a slayer, as immediately recognized by the school librarian Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), clearly sent there in anticipation of her move, to be her handler. Buffy is more interested in being a typical teenager, but that's not in the cards - after rescuing her new friend Willow (Riff Regan) from a vampire encounter, she accepts that she's a slayer whether she wants to be or not.

My Response: 
This both is and isn't a popular episode of Buffy. It isn't, because it's really not very good - more of a promo pitch for the network, it seems, than an in-earnest production. Joss Whedon himself is extremely embarrassed by its existence and has refused to sanction an official release. But that's why it is popular - the item quickly became a curio for the hardcore Buffy cult, passed around for years as a bootleg and now easily available on YouTube. The whole thing is pretty awkward, with a bit of a student-film feel about it, but it still achieves its basic purpose; Gellar is charming and the premise is intriguing. The dialogue is a bit eyeroll-inducing at times with its hyper-quippy style, but that's something I'll probably have to get used to in the series itself - a feature, not a bug. Speaking of features, how does its thrust compare to the only piece of Buffy we've reviewed so far, the 1992 movie? Interestingly, it tries to remain roughly consistent with that work...instead of re-telling its story, it picks up where the film left off. Buffy already knows she's a slayer, so there's no origin story in play; we're jumping in in medias res. That can be discussed more in-depth when we reach the real pilot (which apparently does re-tell this story, if not the film's) but for now it seemed worthwhile to address this novelty, if for no other reason than offering another comparison point - almost certainly for better - when the series really kicks off.

Next: (season 1) "Welcome to the Hellmouth" • Previous: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992 feature film)

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