Tuesday, 26 October 2010
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: 1.1 'Welcome to the Hellmouth'
Writer: Joss Whedon
Director: Charles Martin Smith
What's the sitch?
After burning down the gym of her LA school and being subsequently expelled, Buffy Summers relocates with her mother to the town of Sunnydale where she wants nothing more than to go to school, make some new friends and live like a normal teenage girl. The last thing she wants is to deal with the forces of darkness and slay anymore vampires, no sir. Unfortunately for Buffy her new school's librarian, Mr Giles, ruins all of that on her very first day. As does the discovery of a dead body stuffed in to a student's locker. A body with puncture wounds in the neck and completely drained of all its blood. To make matters even worse Buffy's two new friends Xander and Willow accidentally discover that she's the Slayer and that vampires are real. Then when Willow and another friend called Jesse get kidnapped by a gang of vamps on a mission, Buffy heads out to rescue the pair...only to end up cornered in a crypt about to be savaged by one very big and very bad looking bloodsucker. To be continued.
What's the sitch beneath the sitch?
The metaphor is the main one that underlines the series: High School is hell. But this is primarily about introducing the main characters, the concept and the style of the show. And to keep people watching for part 2.
Who's giving us the wiggins this week?
Nasty vamp The Master (Mark Metcalf), nasty vamp Luke (Brian Thompson) and lovely/nasty vamp Darla (Julie Benz). Mmm, Darla.
Why it rocks
1. Simply, this is a great first half of the pilot. This is the set-up for the story as well as for the show as a whole. Whedon sets up everything and everyone with such economy and style that you feel like you've known these people and their world for ages. That's something Joss can do so well: effortlessly impart so much info in such a short space of time...and you hardly notice because you're having way too much fun.
2. These are wonderful, fully formed characters given life by great performances. We instantly love Xander and Willow. Nicholas Brendon and Alyson Hannigan make sure of that. And SMG as Buffy... Well, she simply owns the role from her very first scene. An icon in the making. Kudos too to Anthony Stewart Head for making Giles something more than the stuffy clichéd British academic he could so easily have been. Plus he likes Bovril. As do I. Way to go British man. A special mention goes to the delectable Julie Benz in her first appearance as vampire Darla. She's gorgeous and sexy as hell. Darla was originally supposed to die at the end of part two but was kept alive for six more episodes. She'd then go on to appear in a few historical flashbacks before being brought back to life proper a few years later in Buffy spin-off series Angel. And thank God for that. Watch Angel seasons 2 and 3 if you doubt me. She's an evil goddess. All praise The Benz.
3. The look of the show. I forgot how dark much of this season looked especially the pilot. Sometimes the lighting can be so dark you can hardly see what's going on, which is good as it uses deep blacks and dense shadows in real old fashioned horror movie fashion. There's also an additional night time colour pallet of sickly yellows and dark blues to help make things a tad unsettling. Interestingly season one was shot on 16mm film as opposed to the usual 35mm. This gives it a slightly grainy, slightly rough look and helps enhance the overall mood. Then there's the set designs. Though done on the cheap (as was the whole of season 1) they are great. The Master's lair, a ruined church buried by an earthquake, is Gothically sumptuous in a dilapidated way. And the set of nightclub The Bronze is perfect with its deep dark corners and industrial overhead walkways and blood red pool tables. It's an instantly cool place where you wanna go hang out.
4. Horror. This may be a fun comedy/action/drama but it's also a horror story. And horror is never too far away. Joss makes sure of that. There are two good jumps in the teaser alone - a sudden smashed window and the vampire reveal. Later on a dead body suddenly falls on to an unsuspecting girl, Buffy is thrown in to a tomb next to a rotting corpse and shortly afterwards a hungry vampire falls upon her from out of nowhere. I know this might seem tame now but back in the day I can imagine a few screams and leaps in seats.
Why it sucks
1. I gotta say that David Boreanaz first appearance as Angel, though a great scene with a great stunt, is hampered by his then rather limited acting ability. Thankfully we know he gets a lot better plus you can feel the red hot chemistry between him and SMG even this early on. Oh yeah, and his big collared Harry Hill shirt is hilarious. Not a good look.
2. The budget. This is modestly budgeted TV although Joss and co. certainly made the best of what they had. But it is glaringly obvious that the school consists of just one short corridor shot from different angles. And though the library set is great and kind of iconic now its a shame it didn't match Joss' original concept – much bigger, darker and scary with rows and rows of books to get lost in.
Buffy kicks some major vampire butt for the very first time while unleashing Spider-Man style quips.
Dialogue to die for
Buffy (describing how vampires are made): “They suck your blood. You suck their blood. It's a whole big sucking thing.”
And another thing
Ill fated Jesse (Eric Balfour) was originally going to be in the credits for episodes 1 & 2. But Joss ran out of money to re-cut the titles.
Jesse asking Cordelia to dance at The Bronze and being harshly rejected by her is taken word for word from a real experience of Joss' back in high school. Poor guy.
The whole season was shot and finished before it aired. This allowed Joss and co. to go back and tweak episodes. New material for 'Welcome to the Hellmouth' was shot and inserted in to it after they'd finished the final episode of the season 'Prophesy Girl'.
Alyson Hannigan was not the first actress to play Willow. Riff Regan was originally cast and appeared as Willow in the unaired presentation Joss shot to sell the show to the WB. All the other cast members stayed the same from presentation to series. The role of Willow was recast because Regan, though fine, lacked the shy vulnerability Joss was after.
It was actually Alyson Hannigan who suggested to Joss that cult LA band Nerf Herder, who she was a fan of, should provide the now classic Buffy theme. They did. And the rest is history.
How many stakes?
Almost a full house for Mr Pointy. 4 (out of 5)