Wednesday, May 27, 2009

There Is No Buffy Without Whedon

Today, I received a text from John (who has written his own post on the matter), saying:
It's been 24 hours since I heard about the Whedonless Buffy remake, and you haven't blogged about it yet? I'm shocked and appalled!
Sorry John (by the way, this would be a good time to mention that I'm open to post suggestions)!

I heard about the movie yesterday, like John and probably the rest of the world. My feelings on the matter? Meh. Yes, I answered EW's on-line poll question "How do you feel about a big-screen 'Buffy' that doesn't involve Joss Whedon?" with "When and where is the riot occurring?" But honestly, I don't care that much. I think it is one of the stupidest ideas - ever - but I really don't expect much more than this from the executive powers of Hollywood. Because they don't get it. They don't get what makes Whedon special, or why his fans flock to what Whedon does. They don't get that we've already had an essentially Whedonless Buffy the Vampire Slayer film, and that it was hardly commercially viable - or critically well-received. They don't recognize that Whedon's creations work best when Whedon is doing what he does best, micromanaging his works. I've seen the almost Whedonless movie (several times), and the seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Whedon macromanaged rather than micromanaged (more than several times). The seasons Whedon macromanaged are better than the movie, but those seasons without Whedon's direct involvement aren't anywhere nearly good, as profound, or as moving as the ones with it. The most important thing about a Whedon creation is Whedon. He's the guy. It is his philosophy that drives the message; his characters make the shows and movies and web musicals worth investing time in; his penchant for dialogue separates his creations from others.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn't Star Trek; the characters aren't merely archetypes, and the language used is in a category all its own. Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn't trademark catchphrases like "Damn it, Jim! I'm a doctor, not a ___", or "I'm giving her all she's got". Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn't a simple philosophy or story. It is feminist; it is existentialist; it is atheist; it is absurdist; it is high culture; it is low culture; it is about family; it is about the individual; it is about society; it is about us, and them, and what make us and them; it is about faith, and hope. It is about good and evil, and about how it exists in the world and in each of us. The show covered so much ground, and so creatively, a movie not made by Whedon stands barely a snowball's chance in the Congo of tackling any of this cogently, let alone well and in an entertaining fashion.

Graeme McMillan on iO9 wrote an article entitled, Why Joss and Buffy Don't Need Each Other, with one of the reasons being "Joss Whedon Has Had More Than Seven Years Of Buffy, Let Someone Else Have A Go". To which I answer a resounding "No". If Buffy isn't done by Joss Whedon, then it isn't Buffy. Buffy isn't a franchise that has had too many other hands in the pot. Buffy isn't some community product that should be passed around to different people for their chance to "have a go". Buffy, like its creator, is unique. The show is Whedon's vision, and he isn't done playing with it yet. I don't know if he ever will be. What I do know is that even the writers and producers I loved when they work with Whedon - Jane Espenson, David Greenwalt, Tim Minear, Rebecca Rand Kirshner - I don't trust alone with Buffy. And while I don't think Joss Whedon needs Buffy, Buffy does need Whedon. And I'm not just saying this because the comic books aren't quite as compelling when Whedon isn't the one writing them. I'm saying it because all of the things Whedon brings to Buffy is what makes it work.

However, Whedon isn't the only thing that does make Buffy work. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, without the cast, is barely a show. Buffy Summers is my favorite character of all time, but the show wouldn't have been as powerful, as moving, or as notable if it weren't for the rest of the cast. It isn't just Willow Rosenberg; it's Alyson Hannigan as Willow. It isn't just Xander Harris; it is Nicholas Brendon as Xander. It isn't just Buffy Summers; it is Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy. It is Anthony Stewart Head as Giles. These four characters are dependent not only on the exceptional writing, but also the people who brought them to life week after week. Without Willow or Xander or Giles, the movie? Not worth making - or watching.

The last thing is this: Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the air on May 20, 2003. That is just over six years ago. Nostalgia isn't yet strong enough to make a movie necessary, or desirable. It isn't a long enough time to make getting new actors for the characters palatable. Most of other examples McMillan cites had more than a few years in between projects. Batman? The last semi-decent film to come out was Batman Forever in 1995. The original Battlestar Galactica was bad - and made in 1978. And the other example, Swamp Thing, was taken over by Alan Moore when it was on the verge of cancellation. Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn't cancelled; its franchise is not - unlike Batman and Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who and Spiderman and X-Men and Star Trek - greater than its creator. Whedon is larger than Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a way many other creators are not. This, along with the fact that Whedon isn't dead, or in a Lucas state where it is better for all involved to keep him away from the source material.

All in all, I don't need a Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie. And I definitely don't want one if it doesn't have the original cast and Whedon at the helm. If the powers that be (not to be mistaken for Whedon's Powers That Be) decide to give me one, I ain't buying.


cleo said...

I have to say I absolutely 100% agree. I haven't read the news about the film, so I've only caught the headline but I'm just cringing and dreading something being created that lacks everything that made BtVS great.

John said...

That article you linked to raises some interesting (and HIGHLY arguable) points. While I do think that the Buffy comics penned by writers other than Joss Whedon are a definite step down in quality, they're only worth reading at all because they make use of everything in the Buffyverse that Joss worked so hard to build. (The article also made me remember how disappointing and mark-missing Runaways has been post-Vaughan, even when that Joss Whedon guy was writing it.) Comics analogies don't really work in this case, though, because comics are all about producing recognizable franchises that can be handed off from creator to creator and iteration to iteration as the Intellectual Property-holders see fit. Titular character aside, there is no bankable franchise in the Buffy movie script.
If you take away the Whedon Buffyverse, what are you really left with? You're left with a single joke: "What if Elle Woods from Legally Blonde decided to be the next Van Helsing instead of a lawyer or politician?" That's enough for a MadTV sketch, but not much else.