“Someone had made up these badges ‘Buffy 2: Just Say No’. Everyone was wearing them” – James Hayman, DOP.
It’s proof that the original isn’t always the best. While Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the television series, changed the landscape of popular culture with its clever mix of comedy, drama, action and horror, the same cannot be said of the original film version. Premiering in 1992, and starring a young Kristy Swanson as the bubble-headed bombshell-turned-action-hero Buffy, and Luke Perry as her boyfriend Pike, the film failed to make the same waves the TV series did. Why not? Well, let’s start with an underprepared and inexperienced director, Fran Rubel-Kuzui, whose misinterpretation of the script alienated screenwriter Joss Whedon, and whose ‘hands-off’ approach to directing meant the all-star cast more or less ran wild. It seems ludicrous that a $US9 million studio picture could be created with such a loose grip of the reigns, but hey – it’s showbiz. Anything goes.
The film was attempting to do something that was altogether unpopular in Hollywood at the times – a wild mix of genres. On one hand a sharp valley-girl satire – “Does the word ‘duh’ mean anything to you?” – and the other, a dark and gory horror. The success would lie in a clever balance of the two. The fact that Rubel-Kuzui took the project on because it sounded “so stupid” is as telling a sign as any as to how the production would pan out. Add a few loose cannons such as Paul “Pee-Wee Herman” Reubins to the mix, fresh from a brush with the law after exposing himself in an adult theatre, and the stage is set for as much mayhem offstage as on.
When viewed side by side, the film and television series couldn’t be more different. Indeed, the film serves an fascinating insight into the power a director has in interpreting material: How To Not Make A Film 101!
But as fate would have it, the misadventures of Buffy served to motivate screenwriter Joss Whedon into creating his own television series of the same name to articulate his vision, with Rubel-Kuzui as executive producer this time. Hitting US small screens in 1997, the darker, less shlocky and altogether smarter interpretation of the post-modern vampire comedy was a hit with audiences who recognised a series that was fun, smart and accessible – the thinking fan’s pop culture fix. Consequently, Buffy the Vampire Slayer paved the way for its more powerful predecessor, making you realise that from something seemingly dead, new life can rise, and walk amongst us!