Pike isn’t a name, it’s a fish…
Let’s be honest. If you’re here, reading a sci-fi blog run by two lady nerd bloggers, then deep down you know it is only a matter of time until you’re confronted with a post about one of the most influential television characters of all time. That’s right. We’re going to talk about Buffy Summers. Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Now. Before we get into the whole Angel/Spike debate or the larger television show mythology, I’m going to stop you, because in any conversation about Buffy, there’s really only one place that we can begin… and that’s in 1992, with the film Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, starring Kirsty Swanson as Buffy and the always delightful Luke Perry as Pike, her kind of love interest… and of course David Arquette as Benny. Oh, and Donald Sutherland as Merrick. Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner) and Paul Rubens (Pee Wee’s Big Top) also pop up, but if you’re a 90’s child you probably have no idea about who they are, so we won’t spend too much time on them…
Here’s the trailer, to refresh your memory:
It surprises me that a lot of modern Buffy fans have not seen this film (which is criminal really) and usually their reasoning is as follows: a) I didn’t know it existed or b) I don’t want it to interfere with the relationship that I have with the Buffy universe that came from the television show… and I’ve heard it’s crap anyway.
Let’s address each of these issues:
a)A large part of not knowing the film existed comes from the lack of attention it gets and from the perception that it is, dare I say it, crap when compared to the series. Listen up, you’ve been misinformed. Buffy is not crap, you’e just not looking at it in context. By the time Buffy the Vampire Slayer came to television screens across the globe, it had been 5 years since the film had been released and a lot had changed in so far as what was considered funny/cool/popular. Luke Perry had disappeared into the ether of ‘past television heart-throb celebrity’ (a status he gained thanks to the genius that was Dylan McKay in Beverley Hills 90210) and Kirsty Swanson never really ascended to the lofty heights of fame in the first place. In any case, the film had been a bit forgotten and when it was recalled, it was often referred to negatively. I blame this on the fact that it doesn’t neatly fit into any genre, I mean, you’ve got vampires (that aren’t really scary or funny) and you’ve got Ricki Lake popping up in a cameo; you’ve got people getting staked through the heart and then you’ve got a weird mixture of comic and dramatic actors… it’s a bit off putting. Certainly by 1997 there was little to attract a younger audience and many of the comedic aspects fell flat when faced by anyone that had missed the glory days of the typical Californian stereotype comedy (see Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Encino Man or anything with Pauly Shore in general). Joss Whedon going on record to say that the movie didn’t turn out as he would have liked, probably only added insult to injury and has no doubt influenced younger viewers/Whedon fans away from the film. Maybe Whedon didn’t get the creative freedom to recognise his full dream here and many of the darker elements that were present in the series were glossed over or ignored, but damn, it wasn’t all bad; which brings us to –
b) It is possible to watch this without ruining or tainting the Buffy series universe and here’s why: There are some glaringly obvious differences between the film adaptation of Buffy and the Buffy we all came to know and love through the television series. As a result, if you walk into this with eyes open, you can view it as a completely separate entity to the series, with its own cast of characters to know and love. Apart from Buffy, no one else made the transition to television land and so, the film stands alone. Had they approached the series in a slightly different way, one could almost has viewed Kirsty Swanson’s Buffy as the predecessor to the Sarah Michelle Gellar version. After all, I’m sure Buffy was not an uncommon name for pert blonde Californian girls in the mid-1990’s, so if one died, another one could easily have been called to be the next slayer.
Personally, I was devastated that Pike didn’t make it into the television franchise (no room for two love interests, I suppose) I guess we can kind of say that his role as the besotted comic relief was absorbed by Xander and yeah, one Xander was more than enough. Benny didn’t make it either, which is a shame, because… this:
On a serious note, the death of Merrick in the film version really hurt my heart, although it did clear the way for Giles I suppose, so it wasn’t all for naught. I notice that the concept of the watcher being reborn as the same person in every generation didn’t make the television mythology either. It is pretty difficult to explain I guess. Luckily, Buffy’s mother did make the series and also got a major makeover. That was for the best. It would have been really hard to like Joyce if she was still making the ‘kiss noise’.. we all would have been hoping that Darla took her out in episode 5 that’s for sure. Speaking of make-overs, the vampires also got something of a spruce up between movie/television, which is the most glaringly obvious difference.
Ultimately, what makes Buffy: The Vampire Slayer such a great story is the fact that its one of the first 90’s movies which gives power to the female lead. I think we need to celebrate it for that. Buffy is kick-ass, she stands up for herself, only she can stop the vampires and she’s damn well going to do it… plus how cool were her mustard Doc Martens? Exactly. The other great thing about movie Buffy is that she really faces her destiny without the support of anyone. Yes, she has Merrick, but ultimately she is responsible for his death, which in itself is a lesson on the importance of her mission. To a degree she also has Pike, but he doesn’t get involved until late in the piece and even then, his usefulness is debatable. I like that this Buffy didn’t have a scooby-gang to rely on in her darkest moments. I like that part of her journey was to fall out with all of her vacuous friends and to come to the realisation that there was more to life than shopping and being groped by your JV boyfriend. I liked that her parents were too busy faffing about playing tennis and contemplating the fact that their Rolex doesn’t keep good time to realise that she was going through some life changes. Movie Buffy had to confront some hard truths, it shouldn’t matter that she had to face them wearing head to toe lycra or a cheer leading outfit. Just because SMG had a better wardrobe (maybe) doesn’t make her a better Buffy.
I guess what I am driving at here is this: If you haven’t experienced the original Buffy, now might be the time. Cast aside all of the ideas you have about how she is inferior to television Buffy – she isn’t and really, if it hadn’t been for her, we never would have gotten to know SMG, the Scooby Gang, Angel, Giles or Spike, so you know, we owe her some respect.
Personally, I love this film because every time I watch it I am reminded of how much I too, wanted to graduate high school, go to Europe, marry Christian Slater and die… lucky that never came to fruition I guess, cause Christian Slater, what happened to you? I also always feel nostalgic for white scrunchie socks and matching white high top runners. If anyone else is interested in bringing that combo back, holler at me, we need to talk.