Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dear God No: Joss-less 'Buffy' Film in Works

Wrapping up Serenity and, on a larger scale, a multi-month retrospective of the work of my favorite T.V. auteur gave me a sense of bittersweet release. I will certainly watch it all again, much of it before the year is up, but working through his series takes an emotional toll on viewers. I actually spent my Sunday in a funk because I felt almost directionless after reaching my goal. And just as the gloominess finally lifted, I went on over to Whedonesque to make my daily check-and-see-if-I-can-register-finally look around, only to spot an article that chilled my blood more than ever before.

According to The Hollywood Reporter:

A new incarnation of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" could be coming to the big screen.

"Buffy" creator Joss Whedon isn't involved and it's not set up at a studio, but Roy Lee and Doug Davison of Vertigo Entertainment are working with original movie director Fran Rubel Kuzui and her husband, Kaz Kuzui, on what is being labeled a remake or relaunch, but not a sequel or prequel.

Just when I think I'm out, they pull me right back in.

You read that right: Fran and Kaz Kuzui, the people who brought Joss Whedon into the limelight only to jeopardize his career at the start with their neutered take on his vision with the 1992 original film of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, are planning a reboot. Without Joss' involvement. And here we all were thinking FOX was terrible.

I'll be perfectly honest, I'm still not sure this isn't just a good prank, despite quotes from Fran Kuzui that confirm the story. Ergo, I don't want to completely lapse into a fanboyish rage lest I look like a fool. Then again, I'd look like a fool if I did so regardless of the article's merit -- it's since been corroborated on several publications, notably EW -- so let me instead rationally iron out why this is, as objectively as I can process it, one of the worst ideas I've ever heard and why it should never be brought up again.

Right off the bat, the justification for such a move seems ludicrous. Several have pointed to recent, highly successful reboots of such disparate series as the Batman, Star Trek, and Battlestar Galactica franchises to suggest that this Buffy remake might not be as terrible as your brain -- and your heart -- might lead you to believe. The problem with this line of thinking is that the franchises cited all had strong followings, but the franchises themselves were deeply flawed. The original Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, for all their charm, were overly campy with low production values (BSG wasn't that bad, though), and they aged terribly. Even JJ Abrams' optimistic take on Star Trek introduced a darker tone than the one that underscored the original and even The Next Generation, while the post-9/11 take on BSG made what had originally been little more than a Star Wars knockoff into one of the most complex dramas on television.

Buffy doesn't have that problem. For one thing, it's barely over a decade old, and it's yet to age. Now, I'm not promising that the series will never seem dated, but I am confident that the subtlety of the acting and the quality of most of the scripts will give it a much longer shelf life than the old sci-fi series. The only thing that potentially could use a touch-up are some of the demon costumes (the same holds true for Angel). But effects will always date; the important thing is that the stories were as fresh for me when I watched the series for the first time last year as they must have been to fans back in 1997. Furthermore, the show itself was a reboot of the original movie: when Joss got the T.V. deal -- admittedly with the help of the Kuzuis -- he took the light, campy tone of the film and spun it into a dark, thematically rich series with enough character development to fill ten normal programs. At the end of the final season, the characters wouldn't even recognize the people we met in the first episode, having been through so many upheavals that only the core of their personality remained constant.

What, then, could a reboot bring to the table? Kuzui says she'd like to make a "darker, event-sied movie" to carve out new territory in the Buffyverse; I assume she means "darker" in comparison to other event movies, because how on Earth could she make Joss' series any more dire? Put them all in a concentration camp? This is the man who killed off characters with an almost casual coldness, yet never made any of them feel unnecessary nor like a ratings ploy. He ripped apart Buffy's world more times than most could bear to endure, to the point that she actually sacrificed herself to keep the last thing she had in this world alive. Willow suffered tragedy and went mad, and poor Xander was maimed. The idea that you could make a two-hour film that could contain all this and more borders on the insane.

Of course, they at least don't have to worry about upping the ante on our favorite characters, because none of them will be in it. Yes, supposedly the film "would have no connection to the TV series, nor would it use popular supporting characters like Angel, Willow, Xander or Spike." It would also not feature Sarah Michelle Gellar. No, the focus would be on either a recast Buffy or another slayer entirely, in a different place, in a different time. Why call it a Buffy remake then? Kevin Beaumont, the webmaster of Dollverse and a regular contributor to Whedonesque (under the name gossi) puts it succinctly: "$$$$$$$$$$$$." Buffy has name recognition, and tying it to the franchise avoids allegations of plagiarism as this is really nothing more than a Buffy knockoff.

However, Beaumont underestimates, in my opinion of course, fan reaction. He alleges that the average viewer will not understand what Joss' absence means as they do not recognize his name over Buffy's. While to some extent I believe he's right, I also think that the internet, which has yet to sustain hype, could conceivably get people to steer clear. If this project is not shut down -- and to be honest, Fox's lawyers will likely make mincemeat of Vertigo Entertainment -- Whedonesque and every other fan site on the web will organize "boycotts" and do their best to spread the word.

But fans won't be the only ones against this: Buffy the film was justifiably dismissed by most critics, but the T.V. series stands as a cultural landmark and one of the most praised series of the last 20 years. Only a few critics seem to outright hate the show, and many of those people for arbitrary reasons; the rest recognize it for its superb character growth and its examination of feminist themes. They're going to rail against this as well, and people will trust a professional critic more than us nerds and bloggers. They'll have their claws out months before this film could hypothetically make it all the way to a theater and, combined with what is sure to be a terrible word of mouth, they'll destroy this movie's box office potential.

Now, in fairness, I'm reacting quite strongly to something that hasn't even been written yet. Who's to say that it will be terrible? I mean, the furor over the BSG re-imagining was huge, but that didn't stop it from mopping the floor with the original. While I don't think anyone, even the haters, think that this could possibly beat out the series, surely it at least stands a chance to be interesting? Well, maybe, but the central problem with all of this does not come from Kuzui's comments, but the Reporter's own take on things. They rightly kept opinion out of the news piece, but they throw in a poll at the end of the article that sums up exactly what's motivating this and exactly why it will fail:

It's long been a misconception that Joss had a weak eye for casting, and that he really picks his actors based on how he gets along with them. With the exception of Fillion as Mal, the leads for all of his shows have been routinely criticized by people as flat without ever noticing how perfect for the part every major character was. SMG changed with Buffy, and if people don't like her in the later seasons it's because the character has become so different than the person they met in '97. When I watch Dollhouse, I can't understand why people insist on bringing up Faith when Dushku has yet to play any of her imprints as such, even the ass-kicking ones (in fairness, the previews for some episodes suggested this, though), nor did she play Faith on True Calling: while she may not always connect with her shifting personalities, she's played Echo differently than the other Dolls because Echo is different. I saw an article recently, one of the umpteen stories that inexplicably pits Whedon against JJ Abrams, and it said that Abrams had a gift for casting where Whedon fell short. Hogwash; Whedon can take a total unknown and make them live and breathe the part. Abrams, though not one to pick star names, focuses on making the characters iconic and memorable over letting the actors explore their characters (he's still got some fantastic characters, mind you, and I'm not at all turning this into a Whedon v. Abrams debate).

This poll shows that people really just want to put a "star" in the role. That's what it's all about: not a desire to explore a universe that is still being explored and fleshed out by its creator, it's an attempt to cash in on a beloved franchise. And of course Kristen Stewart brings up the inevitable truth that when Kuzui says "Everything has its moment. Every movie takes on a life at some point, and this seems like the moment to do this," what she really means is that vampires are hot right now because of Twilight, and there's a fat paycheck in it for them.

The Kuzuis have gotten rich off of Joss Whedon: they received executive producer status on every episode of both Buffy and Angel and they retain the rights to the core character (but not Xander, Willow, etc. which is why the film won't feature them). While they don't rule out Joss' involvement, it's a slap in the face that they would enter talks without consulting him. But all of this opens up a very strange, very interesting possibility: in the same year that Fox renewed Dollhouse (though they tampered mightily with it, of course) despite abysmal Nielsen ratings, opening up the possibility that time-shifted numbers might finally play a role in shows' fates, how wonderful would it be if they also killed this unholy beast before it ever came to fruition? It'd be like Spike getting a soul. Well, more like a chip that lets him still be an ass as often as he pleases. But now he doesn't kill the things we love, at least not outright, and that's a start.


  1. I think, I'm going, to cry...

    I honestly don't know what to think, say, do, anything.

    I think the mere fact that Kuzui is even contemplating this is, as you rightly said, such a kick in the teeth to Joss (the man who, let's not forget, gave the Kuzui's whatever level of presence they have in Hollywood), and it just reeks of $ signs to me. It's nothing to do with bringing the Buffyverse back to life at all.

    See, you've managed to stay fairly diplomatic about the whole thing, but me? Not so much.

    I will, if this ever happens, be seriously flying the Whedonite flag in making sure that this never makes them a dime, and I'm sure that 99% of Whedon fans will do the same.

    I could go on for ever about this, but I am, completely honestly, just sat here shrugging my shoulders in a 'what can I say that we aren't already thinking?' kind of way.

    What more can I say? Apart fom:


  2. I'm not too fussed about this. The Kuzuis are overestimating the value of the 'Buffy' brand. The series was never as massive as The X-Files or Star Trek (or Twilight for that matter). Regular people are not gonna flock to see a Buffy reboot. It will most likely lose money if it's made.

    The Kuzuis are also, as you say, underestimating the value of the 'Joss Whedon' brand. Buffy fans are hardcore. Without Whedon, they would only watch a Buffy film out of morbid curiosity. They already have the 'true' Buffy story continuing in comics anyway. If anything, a Buffy film (and the scandal it will cause) will only encourage more people to pick up Buffy Season 8. And they'll be in for a treat if they do.

  3. I will download a thousand copies and give them to people who actually want to see it. That way it will make no money :)