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Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Season 6 Volume 1

Tuesday 6 May 2003, by Webmaster

It’s Buffy time again - yay! Do a Snoopy dance!

Although dancing may not necessarily be the order of the day - yet - for the last season left things all quite a bit doldrummy. If you’re not up to speed, be warned, by virtue of necessity you’ll probably find what follows to be reasonably spoilerific - so you may wish to go away and do some catching up stuff.

Right, now that we’re rid of the casual observers…

As most will know, the fifth season saw quite a darker shade of darkness descend upon Sunnydale and all who sail in her, culminating in a rather confuddling "what do they do now?" ending involving the Buffster. That permeatey darkness vibe continues in season six, most notably with everybody growing up and having to deal with real world, adult stuff like never before (things actually get quite risqué at times), although those Buffyistic necessities we all love such as the unique humour and the sheer castration of that English languagey type thingy are all here in plentiful enough quantities.

Icky, corn-fed fathead Riley is so far mercilessly nowhere to be seen, while games are being played in allusions to just who may be the Big Bad for this series - if indeed there is one at all. Willowy things get quite non-Willowy, Buffy and Spike get quite non-Spikey and Buffyish (or "Buffy-y" if you must), Giles becomes but a guest star and lots more besides. Which anybody who’s seen it will know, so I’m possibly risking broken nails here for nought...

Easily the highlight is that which very much lives up to the hype, the seventh episode in Once More With Feeling - a full-on musical! (OK, everybody can dance now) One of the greatest television moments ever (at least for those who get Buffy), rather than being a simple, escapist lump of visual fluff, it is possibly the most plot-advancing episode ever to have graced our screens - and is in fact a pivotal point in this entire series. Dashingly clever, it’s a mega-high pointy point in a show which has often redrawn the boundary lines for brilliant scripting. I know, gushy-gushy-gush-gush - I’ll shut up now. So, here’s what to expect episode-by-episode. Well, kinda…

Bargaining Parts 1 & 2 With the Buffster kind of not around the Scoobs are doing the patrol thing - oh there’s Buffy, bot… The bads mustn’t know of a certain absence, so the toaster oven’s descendant needs to step up for the dangerous challenges - like parent/teacher day. With Giles off to England something needs to be done, Mercury’s in retrograde so it’s time for Willow (we now know who killed Bambi) to lead some deep stuff - but hello, biker demons - time for some destructorama. Would anybody like a sandwich?

After Life Honestly, having been plucked from a hell dimension, you’d think Ms Buffy would be a bit happier. But when you mess about with magic there are always consequences - like blobby floor demons just for starters...

Flooded The Summers household is all wet - with bills piling up Buffy goes for a loan, but for some reason property values in Sunnydale aren’t exactly peachy. Xander is Captain Fear, while Giles returns. With a mercenary demon in town it looks like something’s afoot - what triumvirate of super-villains is out to get Buffy? And was that a broody call?

Life Serial Life. Plans. Big. Scary. Buffy tries her hand at a number of careers - student, construction worker, selling stuff person, alcoholic - while dealing with time speedy-uppy stuff, her own personal groundhog day and big red wussy demons - so just who is testing her? Ni!

All the Way Phew, it’s Halloween - rest day for the supernatural. Well, except for those more rebellious types. Dawn does the trick or treat thing - or should that be ick or eat? Tara’s all concerny about Willow’s witchiness, Xander’s all eepy about he and Anya’s big announcement and THAT’s why Giles is always cleaning his glasses!

Once More With Feeling Sunnydale’s bursting with singing and dancing What’s gotta be wrong with that? Like a big cheesy musical the Scoobs are all prancing Thanks to the red lord of dance (who ain’t got no hat) Emotions they are running ever so high With breakaway pop hits to make us all sigh Those secrets concealed are now all revealed But the natural order of things is always important and… oh, bugger this!

Tabula Rosa Buffy and Spike have to talk, while guilt hits the Scoobys. Our slayer is running low on cope - and then Giles says he’s off again. Ah, forget it, with a bit of balderdash and chicanery the spell is broken between Willow and Tara, but perhaps Randy and Joan will save the day from a fish-headed kitten shark?

Smashed Eek! A rat! Oh, it’s just Amy back from the rodent - hey, she’ll be a good magic buddy for Willow, right? Well… Meanwhile Spike discovers he’s not the only "thing" in town. The rules may have changed, but somebody’s still quite the little Spike tease…

Wrecked Buffy discovers there’s got to be a morning after, while Willow tries a spot of raising hell while living on the ceiling after going into the black with a guy named Rack. And strawberries?!

Gone Willow goes cold witchy, while Social Services are getting all hassly with she who uses Mr Pointy. Buffy gets to clear her head - and more - after a certain threesome’s ray which rhymes with "blinvisibility" goes astray, but can the Scoobys Mulder things out before the Buffster goes all puddingy?

Video Contract

As usually seems to be the case with the Buffy DVD releases, there’s news of the good variety, but also news of the bad - you could say it’s a bit of a Spike-like transfer (but let’s face it, most probably wouldn’t). Starting off with a bit of positivity, it’s all once again served up in a 16:9-enhanced 1.78:1 package, and all episodes exhibit fabulous colour and, for the most part, impeccable detail from the sunniest moments to the darkest. Speaking of darkness, with so much of the show set in less glowy places, shadow detail is of great import. Once again it’s very good without being brilliant, but few should have any reason to be all complainy about it.

What is worth getting whiny about, however, is the treatment given to what is inarguably this season’s showpiece - Once More With Feeling. Watching on a standard 4:3 television - as indeed I think it’s safe to say the majority of people purchasing this will - substantial parts of the left and right of the picture are chopped off, to the point where the show was written and directed by one Joss Whedo… Putting on my rather attractive little Scully hat, the explanation seems to be that while the episode was made in a ratio of 1.78:1, it was REALLY made in a ratio of 1.78:1 - utilising the entire frame rather than keeping in mind safe areas. The US still get Buffy aired in 4:3, so when it came to presenting this episode in widescreen (for the full musical effect) the image was shrunk slightly and black bars were inserted on the left and right to allow for that thing TVs do called overscan (examples of the image presented in this fashion can be seen in the ’making of’ doco). When it’s come to creating this DVD transfer, however, it seems nobody even thought about this whole overscan thing, so we get a significant proportion of the image chopped off. Good news at least is if you’re watching on a computer with a DVD-ROM drive, projector, plasma screen or the like is that you’ll get the entire image - while the rest of us are just left to be all upsetty and annoyed as we watch Buffy’n’pals all dancing about claustrophobically - depending, of course, upon the extent of this overscanning thingy your TV does.

As well as this somewhat sizeable annoyance, there are a few other oogly booglys. Odd speckles pop up here and there, the slightest of slight examples of aliasing slip by and the occasional example of graininess struts its stuff, but really these occurrences are all of little consequence. The only other odd issues occur in the fourth episode, Flooded, where for a few seconds starting around 34:44 some crawly white dotty/dashy lines pop up along the top of the image and in Life Serial where there’s some weird fluttering at the top of the frame for a few seconds around 12:35. Both of these oddities are quite distracting, the first appears to be something that occurred at the time of shooting as only shots from the one camera are affected, as for the second, well, who knows what the frilly heck is going on?

Audio Contract

Yes, it’s another series of Buffy, and once again it comes complete with a surround-encoded Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack. As we’ve come to expect it all strikes a lovely balance between dialogue, effects and music, with no synch issues (unless you’re a REALLY hard-marker as they’re all miming in Once More With Feeling). Surround usage isn’t exactly going to set your feet on fire, although if your receiver can get down to the Dolby Prologic sound you’ll find quite a bit more happening, and the subwoofwoof waking up, having a good stretch and then getting down to its business quite regularly.

He who took over scoring duties last season, Thomas Wanker, is back on board doing a fairly natty job, with the exception of Once More With Feeling. For this Christophe Beck comes back to the Buffyverse to musically interpret Joss Whedon’s songs, with a little help from Mr Angie Hart, Jesse Tobias, in the arranging department. The Bronze also serves as a good forum once again to give us a bit of music from the odd obscure band.

Extras Contract

Funky cauldronesque menus are the order of the day this time around, thankfully without transitions that take days on end to, erm, transition. Possibly the only minor whinge is that they just lob the episode titles at the screen without giving much indication of their order - generally they go left, right, left right in a somewhat coordinated, non-trippy-overry fashion, but then the third disc throws that system out with the basement water as they’re all presented clockwise.

Unlike previous instalments no scripts are present - sob, sob, sob - not! However, with the addition of almost a movie length’s worth of interesting bonus footage and three commentaries, there’s nothing at all to be glummy about…

Audio commentary - Bargaining Parts 1 & 2 (writers Marti Noxon and David Fury): A double length commentary (as it’s a double length episode - duh!), rather than each writer speaking about their own efforts in a solo stylee, the two combine, but not always to the greatest effect. Despite some interesting morsels of info that are dropped, there are quite a few gaps at times, and as usual Marti manages to let loose some pretty big spoilers willy-nilly, so if you haven’t experienced the entire sixth season you may wish to hold off giving this a listen until you have.

Audio commentary - Once More With Feeling (writer/director Joss Whedon): What we all want, a Joss commentary - and once more (with feeling) the man delivers. A delightfully garrulous affair (as usual), Buffy’s creator kicks it old school style as he lets us in on how he’s always wanted to make a musical, and all the many factors involved in making it a reality. He’s obviously a fan of the genre as he often turns into Mr Reeling-off-Musical-References Guy, but almost every element of the production you could possibly have a question about is answered - from tailoring the script to the actors, selling the whole idea to the audience and heaps more besides.

Audio commentary - Smashed (writer Drew Z. Greenberg): Poor Drew - how do you follow Joss? Still, the Buffy newbie has a fun time discussing his first script for the show in quite an excitable fashion, and it’s well worth a listen.

Featurette - David Fury’s Behind the Scenes of Once More With Feeling (28:17): A wonderful example of the genre, this features on-set interviews with Mr Whedon, Spike, Tara and the odd behind the scenes person, mixed up with rehearsals, recording the songs and quite a bit of welcome silliness. Possibly most interesting is the way some behind the scenes footage has been edited in with finished stuff, giving a bit of an alternate take on things. In full frame, with scenes from the finished show letterboxed accordingly, visual quality isn’t always fab, but then most of it was recorded on a Handycam or similar, so we just have to be stiff upper lippy and accept it.

This is My Verse, Hello - Buffy Karaoke: You guessed it - it’s singalongaBuffy time! Being in full frame with a letterboxed image at least this gives those of us with normal, affordable tellies a chance to see the whole picture for three songs - I’ve Got a Theory/Bunnies/We’re Together, I’ll Never Tell and Walk Through the Fire - with the image pushed up the screen to allow the big friendly song wordy things down the bottom to do their stuff.

Featurette - American Television Arts & Sciences Panel Discussion (59:30): This is a fabulous inclusion, despite its rather abominable visual "quality". Spike, Dawn, Xander and Willow, along with Joss Whedon, D.o.P. Raymond Stella, production designer Carey Meyer and executive producer (and victim of a parking officer) Marti Noxon, all plop themselves down on stage to face questions on all things Buffytastic. Much time is spent discussing Once More With Feeling, whilst elsewhere there are spoilers for the rest of season six as well as the odd allusion to what may be going on in the seventh series. Enter at your own risk!

Trailers: Wanna check out trailers for the Buffy DVDs from seasons two through five? How about the theatrical ad for the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer Movie? OK, so you want more - like the DVD trailers for Angel seasons one through three? Well, they’re all here in lengths varying from 39 seconds through to 1:43. Go nuts!

Overall Contract

To simple things up, despite a few oopy things in the video department, they are minor - well, except perhaps for those of us with good old fashioned 4:3 tellies. Still, when you’re talking one of the most engrossing seasons of Buffy yet, who’s gonna complain too loudly?

And now I’ll bid thee all an extreme see you later - well, until my part two review pops its head up soon and sings "Grr! Argh!" at you all in lovely operatic tones…