Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 Motion Comic
- Street Date:
- January 4th, 2011
- Reviewed by:
- Joshua Zyber
- Review Date: 1
- February 2nd, 2011
- Movie Release Year:
- 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
- 224 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Release Country
- United States
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Some things shouldn't be brought back from the dead. This is a lesson we learned countless times on the 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' TV series. Perfectly nice, normal people would die and be resurrected as soulless monsters. Even well-meaning attempts to correct an unjust death would often result in terrible consequences. An entire season of the show was spent watching Buffy, who'd been killed in the previous year's finale, bemoaning the fact that her friends yanked her back from the peace of heaven. This was, in fact, one of the central themes of the show: Sometimes dead is better. And yet, here we are, after the series ran its course on television and was brought to a pretty satisfying conclusion, revisiting the property in an all-new "season" (of sorts) – all because the show's creators just couldn't leave well enough alone. They probably should have.
Unlike Joss Whedon's later series 'Firefly' (or arguably even 'Dollhouse'), 'Buffy' was not a show that was unfairly canceled before its time. It ran for seven seasons, and was ended not due to any ratings issues, but because Whedon and the other creative staff agreed that the story had reached its logical conclusion. The finale episode that aired in May of 2003 delivered closure both narratively and emotionally.
Then, four years later, Joss Whedon got antsy. A subset of fans had been clamoring for more 'Buffy'. Perhaps more importantly, so had some of the title's merchandisers and licensees. With the help of some of the original writing staff, Whedon created the 'Season 8' comic book that would pick up where the TV series ended and become part of the show's official canon. Whedon wrote the first five issues himself and returned periodically after that. Other issues were penned by the likes of Jane Espenson, Drew Goddard, and Steven S. DeKnight – all names that fans of the show should recognize. Whedon and publisher Dark Horse Comics also brought in real comic book writer Brian K. Vaughan, of 'Y: The Last Man'.
With a pedigree like that, the comic series should have been a home run. Admittedly, it has fans and has been pretty successful. I approached it with a lot of excitement at first, but came to realize pretty quickly that it was an unnecessary cash-in. Honestly, I barely made it through the first four Whedon-written issues.
'Season 8' picks up a few years after Sunnydale apocalypse. Buffy is now running a worldwide network of Slayers from a fortress headquarters in Scotland. Xander has stepped up as a Watcher, Willow is chief witch and mystical consultant, and Dawn is a giant for reasons too stupid to bother explaining here. The U.S. Army has declared Buffy a terrorist threat, and behind them is a vast conspiracy led by a mysterious new villain named Twilight. (Yes, I imagine that's an intentional dig against Stephanie Meyers' sparkly emo vampires.)
'Season 8' was originally intended to run about 23-25 issues, like the episodes of a normal TV season. But then it got to be popular enough that it just kept going after that point. It finally concluded with a season finale in the 40th issue, which was only just recently published. This "motion comic" adaptation only covers the first 19 issues of the season, and has been divided up into that same number segments, each approximately 12-13 minutes long, for a total running time close to four hours. I imagine that a "Part 2" with the rest of the season will be forthcoming eventually if this one sells well enough.
As I mentioned, I gave up on the comic book pretty early. From what I can tell, the motion comic is very faithful to those issues I read, almost panel-for-panel. Unfortunately, it suffers from just plain terrible voice acting. The actress voicing Buffy sounds nothing even remotely like Sarah Michelle Gellar. The actors playing Xander and Willow are awful, awful, awful. They do a dreadful job of capturing Whedon's humor. Almost all of the jokes fall painfully flat. The artwork is often crude. In many scenes, the faces are so indistinctly drawn that it's difficult to tell the characters apart. The storytelling in some of the issues feels very rushed, and a few of them are flat-out incoherent. I watched Issue 10 twice and still have no idea at all what happens in it. Whether that's a fault that stems back to the original comic (I didn't get that far), or is a problem with the motion comic being badly condensed, I can't say for certain. I suspect a little of both.
There are moments where the Joss Whedon wit shines through, but they're few and far between. The season has an overload of cameo appearances from fan-favorite characters and references that are bluntly shoehorned in. A number of these are actually characters who died in the TV show (like Warren), yet are revived with a: "Guess what? I was saved by mystical forces two seconds before my death and now I'm back! Ha ha!" And then they're just as quickly shuffled off. Even the series' very worst character ever (Dracula, depicted as a Eurotrash douchebag) is brought back inexplicably. He's not portrayed anything like he was on TV, and we're told that he's a good guy now and that Xander is his BFF – all totally without any explanation whatsoever.
Although some of the storylines are moderately entertaining, few of them serve any real point or purposes in extending the 'Buffy' mythos – other than to do it just for the sake of doing it. Many of the attempts at humor are groaningly awful. I'll admit that a bit where giant Dawn has to wrestle with a MechaDawn robot made me laugh for a second, until I started to question why anyone would want to make a giant Dawn robot. If they're going to make a giant robot, wouldn't it be something… useful? It's a one-note joke and is frankly just stupid. The season is permeated with bad writing like this.
I still cringe at the memory of one "Come again soon" joke, the set-up for which is obnoxiously juvenile. A subplot involving a surprising romantic partner for Buffy also feels really tacky and contrived. The less said about either of these, the better. The thought that middle-aged men wrote these issues is just kind of gross.
One highlight of the season is certainly the 'No Future for You' 4-parter (Issues 6-9), in which Faith is recruited by Giles to befriend and assassinate a rogue Slayer. The actress playing Faith is fairly decent, and the storyline (by Brian K. Vaughan) has moments of real depth and emotional resonance.
On the other hand, this motion comic wraps up with another 4-parter called 'Time of Your Life' (Issues 16-19, written by Whedon), which sees Buffy transported into the distant future as a tie-in with the 'Fray' spin-off graphic novel. 'Fray' wasn't all that good to start, and the concept plays out even cheesier and with much more annoying "futurespeak" dialogue here. 'Time of Your Life' also sees the return of Dark Willow, one of the TV show's weakest storylines that really didn't need to be dredged up again.
The end point of the motion comic offers no closure or conclusion, nor is the true identity of Twilight revealed. (You can Google spoilers for that, but I'll warn you that the answer is very dumb and flatly contradicts another officially-licensed Whedonverse comic whose writers were not informed of the plot twist.)
Overall, despite looking forward to spending some additional time with the 'Buffy' characters, this first half of 'Season 8' mostly left me depressed. It has a few worthy moments, but not enough to justify its existence. It only serves to dilute the power of the TV series finale. 'Buffy' ended on a good note on television. That should have been the last of it. To be blunt, I wish that I hadn't read any of the comic book or watched this motion comic adaptation.
The 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 Motion Comic' has been released by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment as a 2-disc Blu-ray + DVD set. At the time of this writing, no separate Blu-ray-only or DVD-only editions have been issued. You have to buy both or nothing.
Like most Fox releases, the Blu-ray is extremely slow to load due to the studio's obtrusive Java programming and copy protection encryption. You may need to clear your Blu-ray player's Persistent Storage and/or update the machine's firmware to get the disc to play at all. If you can get that far, there's one forced trailer before the main menu.
The motion comic is divided into 19 "issues" that run approximately 12-13 minutes each. All issues include full opening and closing credits, even if you choose the "Play All" option in the menu. If you elect to jump to a specific issue rather than Play All, the issue will also be followed by a forced copyright notice and a disclaimer about the content of the bonus features. If you need to pick up with a middle issue, I recommend choosing the Play All option and skipping forward to your desired chapter instead.
The discs are stored in a standard Blu-ray keepcase and packaged with a printed chapter guide and a mini-comic reprint of the first issue. Oddly, rather than a slipcover, the case also has an utterly useless cardboard reproduction of the cover art (slightly larger, so that it shows more of Buffy's midriff) stuck to the outside of the shrinkwrap. Once you remove the shrinkwrap, this cardboard piece is too large to fit inside the keepcase, and will essentially have to be thrown away. I see no purpose to this whatsoever, except that the cardboard image happens to be embossed, which I suppose allows lonely nerdboys to pretend that they can feel up Buffy's chest.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
The 'Buffy' motion comic has been drawn and animated at the 16:9 (1.78:1) HDTV aspect ratio. I assume that must annoy Joss Whedon, who famously declared that foreign DVD editions of his show (which were transferred at 16:9) were not a legitimate representation of his artistic wishes. The disc is encoded on the Blu-ray disc at 1080i resolution with the AVC MPEG-4 compression codec.
In general terms, the high-def picture is bright and colorful, and usually sharp. However, the animation regularly features electronic zoom-ins that expose the limited amount of detail drawn in the artwork and magnify it to the point of fuzziness. Jitter and aliasing in fine object details are also frequent problems, especially during movement. Most annoying of all, the image suffers from severe color banding artifacts throughout the program. Despite the simple nature of the imagery, the technical issues that plague this disc are a regular distraction.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is also less than impressive. Although encoded in a lossless format, the original master has fidelity about on par with an average Dolby Digital track on a standard DVD. Dialogue and music both sound rather thin. Attempts to integrate bass into the mix sound boomy and disconnected from the other audio elements.
The sound mix is very dialogue-focused, but has moments of zinging surround action. Nonetheless, little effort has been made to create an immersive three-dimensional soundscape. For the record, all swearing has been bleeped, but that's not a disc transfer issue.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
Two of the bonus features are shared in common on both the Blu-ray and DVD in the case. The rest are found only on the Blu-ray and will be detailed in the next section of this review. (The chapter guide insert incorrectly claims that the "Under Buffy's Spell" featurette can be found on the DVD, but it's really only on the Blu-ray disc.)
- Season 8 Motion Comic Test Pilot (SD, 6 min.) – This roughly-animated version of the first issue was created as a proof-of-concept test. It's largely similar to the finished episode, but has completely different opening theme music. Although encoded on disc in 1080i resolution, the video has clearly been upconverted from standard def.
- The Buffy Trivia Experience – When selected, pop-up trivia quizzes appear on screen during the episodes. The questions are sparsely distributed. No answers or results are provided unless you complete all 19 issues. If you get a high enough score (not specified), a "bonus gift" will be unveiled. I didn't make it all the way to the end to find out what that might be.
The disc packaging claims the presence of a DVD-ROM feature that can only be accessed from the DVD in the set.
- Create Your Own Buffy Comic – This is described on the packaging as "Create Your Own Buffy Comic with Tooncast Studio DVD-ROM." However, when I put the DVD in my computer, I can't find anything like this in the disc directory. I Googled a couple of other reviews of this set which claimed to have used the feature, so I'm left to assume that this is either an error with my copy or a compatibility problem with my computer.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
The following extras are exclusive to the Blu-ray in the set.
- Under Buffy's Spell (HD, 5 min.) – This insubstantial featurette was taped at the 2010 Comic-Con convention. 'Buffy' writer Jane Espenson, comic artists, and fans (including, oddly, documentarian Morgan Spurlock) are interviewed on the floor about how cool they think the 'Season 8' comic book is.
- Season 8 Comic Book Covers Gallery (HD, 4 min.) – As described by its title, this is a simple animated montage of the cover artwork from the comic book series.
Will Work in Any Blu-ray Player
- Covering Jo Chen (HD, 2 min.) – This is an expanded version of one interview from the previous "Under Buffy's Spell" featurette. The artist who designed many of the 'Buffy' comic book covers shows off her work.
BD-Live: Requires Profile 2.0
I can't guarantee how long the studio will continue to host the Jo Chen interview online. The disc also offers access to the standard Fox BD-Live portal, which features the standard assortment of trailers and promos for content that has nothing to do with 'Buffy'.
As mentioned earlier, completing all 19 issues of the Trivia Experience and earning a sufficiently high score will unlock some sort of "Bonus Gift." I didn't have the patience for this. I'll have to rely on our readers to fill me in on the details.
As a long-time 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' fan, I'm saddened to report that 'Season 8' is pretty much a bust, both as a comic book and especially in this badly-acted motion comic form. I prefer to consider the series over and done with the TV finale.
The motion comic's video, audio, and supplements are nothing special either. This one is for hardcore 'Buffy' fans only, and even then I'd probably advise limiting this to a rental. Reports that neither Joss Whedon nor any of the other writers were paid residuals for the repurposing of their work only serve to sour me on this whole project even further.
- 2-Disc Set
- Blu-ray + DVD
- BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc
- Region A
- 1080i AVC/MPEG-4
- English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround
- English SDH
- Spanish Subtitles
- French Subtitles
- Under Buffy's Spell featurette
- Buffy Season 8 Motion Comic Test Pilot
- The Buffy Trivia Experience
- Season 8 Comic Book Covers Gallery
- DVD-Rom: Create Your Own Buffy Comic
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