Tag Archives: Film & TV Reviews

TV Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Seasons 1-3)

By now, I’ve seen most of the hit SFF TV shows of the 1990s and 2000s: The X-Files, Doctor Who, all of Star Trek, etc. I’m disappointed it took me this long to get to Buffy.

Debuting as a mid-season replacement in 1997, Buffy The Vampire Slayer has everything that I look for in television. Serialized storytelling. Comedy that doesn’t undercut the drama. Complex yet morally upright characters.

Mild spoilers to follow (nothing too specific though)

What’s it About?

16-year-old Buffy Summers moves to Sunnydale, a small town, after accidentally burning down her old high school. Also, she’s the Slayer – a Chosen One who stands alone “against the vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness.” 

Instructed by her Guardian, Rupert Giles, and aided by her friends, Willow Rosenberg and Xander Harris, Buffy encounters all manner of unlikely and grotesque enemies – and even a few allies along the way.

“I May Be Dead, But I’m Still Pretty.”

What Did I Think?

Buffy stares at camera, young man (Angel) gazes at her in the background

High school. Vampires! Overbearing parents. Evil mummies! Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a lot of things: comedy, mystery, horror, coming-of-age drama, monster-of-the-week extravaganza. Amidst all this – and while upending some tired tropes – the show develops a unique tone that is remarkably consistent.

From the beginning, Buffy’s zany monster-of-the-week formula gives it a lot of freedom in storytelling – often using supernatural elements to explore teen issues like bullying, identity crises, or the pressure to succeed. So, while week to week we might see an insectile substitute or murderous ventriloquist puppet, main conflicts usually center on character growth for Buffy or another of the young leads.

To be sure, the worldbuilding makes no sense. None. Why would anyone go to a school where dances are synonymous with monster attacks? How come no one with more experience – such as the Watcher’s Council – ever helps Buffy prevent the end of the world?

Who cares? Over time, Buffy increasingly pokes fun at its own premises – one character even voices my above questions – reaffirming its inconsistent worldbuilding doesn’t matter when the characters are true-to-life. Significant and traumatic events always have emotional follow-through, and all the characters change realistically from episode to episode. There’s a whole episode named “Consequences” all about the ramifications of certain characters’ choices.

“The Big Moments Are Going To Come. You Can’t Help That. It’s What You Do Afterwards That Counts.”

Relatedly, I love how the show’s serial elements develop. Though I’ve avoided too much googling because of spoilers, I know that Buffy is considered a precursor to television’s Golden Age – an obvious fact while watching each season’s arc play out. As much as I love shows like Breaking Bad or Stranger Things, watching Buffy has made me nostalgic for seasons with 22+ episodes. Here, big events happen often, but they have a lot more breathing room in between. A character’s shocking betrayal might be followed by a few standalone episodes where the big events factor into character behaviour without consuming everything.

Young man (Xander Harris) smirks while leaning on a locker
Oh Xander, how I despise you.

Unlike modern shows, Buffy has time for low-stakes storylines, where viewers can simply enjoy the characters and the show’s eclectic vibe. One of the best aspects of this is how much screen time the villains receive. I love all of them – from irascible vampire Spike to family-values necromancer Mayor Wilkins. Special shout out to Principal Snyder, played by Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s Armin Shimmerman, for being such a wonderfully unpleasant goblin of a character.

I don’t love everything though. For one, Xander Harris is far more whiny, unlikeable, and douchey than the writers seem to think he is – and a few key storylines are ill-considered at best. There’s also occasional homophobia and some culturally insensitive storylines made worse by the lack of non-White characters. I’m hoping that’s something the writers recognized and improved as the series continued.

Unlike its unfortunately scummy creator, Buffy is a show with a lot of heart – elevated by the passion and on-screen camaraderie of the leads. Starting with Season Four, I’ll be watching both Buffy and its spinoff series, Angel, in release order. I’m betting one or both will end up on in my top ten. Or top five.

★ ★★ ★

Film Review: Reign of Fire (2002)

Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey fight dragons – what could go wrong? Unfortunately, everything. 

What’s It About?

The year is 2020, and dragons reign in England. It all began decades early when London miners uncovered a buried dragon – the first in a species-wide reawakening. No matter how many were killed, the tide could not be stopped. Futilely, governments deployed nuclear weapons, which only devasted population centres as the dragons soared freely above.

In the present, the remaining inhabitants of Northumberland, England live together in a fortified castle, led by Christian Bale’s Quinn, the son of one of the London miners. Life is hard and getting harder, causing many to give up. One day, a corps of Americans arrives, led by Matthew McConaughey’s Denton Van Zan, stirring up both hope and trepidation.

What Did I Think?

On paper, this film has a few things going for it. I like both Bale and McConaughey, and the ridiculous premise suggests just the kind of wacky fantasy I enjoy. On paper.

On the screen . . . it ain’t good. 

At 81 minutes, Reign of Fire is short for a fantasy epic, but somehow even makes that runtime feel too long.

My most general complaint has to do with how inefficiently paced the film was. The overlong opening flashback sequence and subsequent narration from Bale are redundant, and neither offer much more substantial description than I did to begin this review.

Off to kill some dragons!

The opening flashback – following Bale’s traumatic childhood experience in London – does set up his (weak) character arc, but the same could have just as easily been done in a much shorter sequence. For example, as a nightmare he has or replacing the other story he tells the children in his care.

Because of all this, the inciting incident – McConaughey’s arrival – doesn’t happen until thirty minutes in – well past the first third of the film. After that, the film trudges on through its simplistic plot, with a climax enabled by one of the stupidest movie reveals I’ve seen.

“Only one thing worse than a Dragon. Americans.”

As a fan of sci-fi and fantasy, I don’t mind wacky premises – I love them. However, once that premise is established, I expect movies to have some logic and realism within the established framework. Not so for this movie.

To make matters worse, the film suffers from largely boring characters.

This is made worse by the lost potential of starring a bunch of Hollywood leading men before their careers took off.

Bale’s central conflict between hope and despair is both uninteresting and underexplored. Gerald Butler – Bale’s sidekick in the film – was supposed to bring some levity to the film but was too underutilized and at odds with the bleak atmosphere to do much good. The film’s only female character has no defining traits. The only spot of colour in this dark and dreary film was McConaughey. On set, he apparently refused to go by anything other than “Van Zan,” and his over-commitment pays off in his unhinged and campy performance.

The film also suffers in the worldbuilding department. 

There are one or two cool images – such as the tank-like fire trucks Bale’s people use, but overall, the setting is boring, and altogether far too contained (the mere $60 million budget was surely a factor).

It’d be remiss not mention the few positives though. Though we don’t see them very often, the CG dragons hold up reasonably well, and there are a few striking combat scenes. Additionally, there is one scene I genuinely love – where Bale and Butler reenact the conclusion of The Empire Strikes Back as a legendary tale of knights and heroes for the children under their care.

I first became interested in Reign of Fire when it was mentioned on the Intentionally Blank podcast, but unfortunately their brief discussion of it is more interesting than the film itself. I wish the movie had leaned into the crazy premise and zany side of McConaughey’s character, that might have made a more fun film.

I knew it was a bad movie going in, but I was hoping for more of a “Haha, this is so bad” bad movie rather than a “Oh, this is just bad” bad movie. I was disappointed.

★ ★