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review added: 6/13/02



Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
The Complete Second Season

1997/98 (2002) - 20th Century Fox

review by Jeff Kleist of The Digital Bits

Editor's Note: click here for a review of the special Emmy screener DVD
of the Buffy musical episode Once More with Feeling.


Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Second Season

Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/A

Specs and Features

1,060 mins (22 episodes at 48 mins each), NR, full frame (1.33:1), 6 single-sided, dual-layered discs (no layer switch), Digipack foldout packaging with slipcover, audio commentary by David Greenwalt on Reptile Boy, audio commentary by Marti Noxon on What's My Line? Parts 1 & 2, audio commentary by Joss Whedon on Innocence, video interviews with Joss Whedon on Surprise, Innocence, Passion, I Only Have Eyes for You and Becoming, Parts 1 & 2, episode scripts for Reptile Boy, What's My Line? Parts 1 & 2 and Innocence, 3 featurettes (Designing Buffy, A Buffy Bestiary and Beauty and Beasts), 6 US TV spots, 2 UK TV spots, Season Two DVD set trailer, UK Angel: Season One and Buffy: Season Two video release trailers, cast bios, still galleries, animated program-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (15 chapters per episode), languages: English and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned

"Hello, lover. I wasn't sure you'd come."

"After your immolation-o-gram? Come on, I had to show. Shouldn't you be out destroying the world right now, pulling the sword out of Al Franken or whatever his name is?"

The second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is what turned most people like myself from casual viewers into the rabid fans we are today. All of the groundwork that was laid in the self-contained first season is put to good use, extending those events into a sweeping epic of star-crossed love, hate, sacrifice and, of course, dusting a whole ton of vamps. It's tough to discuss why this particular season is as good as it is without spoiling the story, so suffice it to say that all of you who have seen it already know the greatness I'm talking about. And those of you who will hopefully buy this set, will be right next to us bowing before the genius of Joss Whedon by the end of Becoming, Part 2, which is quite possibly one of the best season finales of all time. On the surface, many people see Buffy as a show about a hot blonde who kicks really high and spouts clever one-liners, but there's a reason why every critic's organization in the country (except the Emmys of course) consistently puts the show on their top honor rolls.

Buffy: Season Two is presented across 6 discs with 4 episodes each (with the exception of Disc Six, which holds the 2-part season finale and most of the extras). Before discussing the video quality, one must remember that, like Season One before it, Season Two of Buffy was shot on a very low budget on 16mm film. The result: a slightly soft and grainy picture. In addition, the show was finished on video, so it's very hard to strike a new master. Still, what you get is a very accurate representation of the masters for this show, with deep strong blacks and good shadow definition. What really pops out here is the lighting design of Buffy - with the blacks and the increased resolution these DVDs offer, the mood and deliberate pools of light in these locations is really well defined.

On the audio side, the English Dolby Digital 2.0 track is crisp and clear. The surrounds are not as active here as they will be in later seasons, but with these DVDs you definitely get an improved separation into the rears and overall ambience with Pro-Logic decoding than you'd get with a standard broadcast. And the real winners here are the fans of Christophe Beck's superb scoring of the show. Buffy and Angel's theme will bring a tear to the eye, with it's simple, innocent and yet powerful melody, that strikes at something deep down in any person's heart.

The extras you get on this set are the same as on the UK DVD release about a year ago. But just because they're old doesn't mean they aren't superb. First up is Designing Buffy, where the production designers take you through their thought process and how they connect with Joss' insane psyche. They follow this up with a tour of the sets for Buffy's house (upstairs and down) and Giles' apartment. During the tour of the house, we hear a lot from Buffy's mom, Kristine Sutherland, who probably has spent the most time in that location and knows it pretty intimately. She brings up fascinating little details that most of us never would have picked up on television. Unfortunately, I believe these were done either late Season Four or early Season Five, after the characters had left high school and that sets had been struck. It's amazing to see these locations and to see that warehouse ceiling right over all of it. We also get a good look at the infamous Buffy graveyard, which is just built on a small bit of grass near the entrance to the industrial park where the show is filmed. It's amazing how they manage to make it seem so much bigger than it really is on the show - hats off to the cinematographers and set dressers.

Next is A Buffy Bestiary, which discusses the villains from Seasons One and Two (making up for the anemic extras on the Season One DVD). Surprisingly, you hear from many one-shot guest stars here, among them Brian Thompson (a.k.a. the Alien Bounty Hunter from The X-Files), who's the only person to have played 2 major guest starring roles on Buffy (Luke in the televised pilot and The Judge in Season Two). You also hear from a host of other "monsters of the week", including John Ritter, who talks extensively about his episode, Ted.

The final featurette, Beauty and Beasts, talks to the winners of Buffy's ONLY Emmy: the makeup crew. They go through the process and philosophies the show follows when designing and applying makeup. Probably the most fun is that we get to see someone made up as a vamp from start to finish. John Ritter again rears his bearded head here.

As the icing on the cake, no less than 4 audio commentaries are included on this set, for the episodes Reptile Boy (David Greenwalt), What's My Line? Parts 1 & 2 (Marti Noxon) and Innocence (Joss Whedon). Rounding out the extras are 2 UK TV spots, 6 US spots, UK video trailers for Buffy: Season Two and Angel: Season One (which are not marked as such - wonder if this means we're getting Angel sooner rather than much, much later?), a still gallery containing monster designs and TONS of blueprints for Buffy's house, the warehouse, the mansion, Giles' apartment and the school hallway. Finally, we have the cast bios (as always incomplete and shallow) and scripts for Reptile Boy, What's My Line? Parts 1 & 2 and Innocence.

Season Two of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was, and has been, for many fans a jumping off point. Now, Fox has given everyone a chance to own one of the best seasons of television produced in the 1990s on DVD. I would give this set a recommendation on the show's quality alone, but the solid extras package that accompanies these episodes really give the set the gold star. Well done Fox - can't wait for the Season Three DVD set, which is supposedly coming faster than normal, sometime shortly around Christmas (note that the insert cards say Winter 2003, which probably means January). Get this set and get addicted to Buffy immediately. Warning: Buffy the Vampire Slayer may be habit forming. The staff of The Digital Bits is not responsible for symptoms that may include an inability to do anything else between 8 and 9 PM Tuesdays and walking around muttering strange words like "Buffytastic". Thank you.

Jeff Kleist
jeffkleist@thedigitalbits.com





Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
Once More with Feeling

Emmy Screener - 2001 (2002) - Mutant Enemy/UPN

review by Jeff Kleist of The Digital Bits

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More with Feeling

Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/F

Specs and Features

51 mins, TV-14, letterboxed widescreen (1.78:1), single-sided, single-layered, Vinyl folder with paper slips, program-themed menu screens, scene access (10 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), Closed Captioned

On November 2nd, UPN aired probably the most daring piece of television this year: Buffy: The Musical. The sheer concept is enough to get my heart beating. The combination of two of my most favorite things, and the time and care that the Buffy crew were putting into getting this episode right, was mind-boggling. Not only did Joss Whedon write and direct the episode, he composed the music with help from former Buffy score-meister Christophe Beck, whose wonderful scores have been sorely missed these last few years on the show. Here in Philadelphia, instead of the 51 minutes of perfection I was expecting, we were treated to an Emergency Hockey Game (TM), which was obviously more important. But thanks to a kind member of the HTF, I had a copy of the musical in my hands the next day. And like so many Buffy fans, I've since worn out the tape. That's a bad thing, considering that the "director's cut" presented here was only shown once. Running almost 8 minutes over the usual running time of an episode, Once More with Feeling is not a complete musical with the edits made for syndication and subsequent airings. A few things missing are the overture, Dawn's ballet and entire verses of songs.

In the last week of May 2002, selected Variety subscribers got a surprise: a copy of the Buffy: The Musical on DVD (which is reviewed here). Buffy's history of Emmy denial is virtually legendary, with the only one going to the makeup crew for Season Two. Not once have the actors or the writers/directors ever been recognized, despite national critical acclaim. As far as we can tell, the Emmys refuse to take a show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer seriously, and this was an effort to change all that.

Of course, we mere mortals are not supposed to have these discs, but for those of you planning on picking this up on Ebay at $2-400 a pop, I wanted you all to know what you're getting into. Once More with Feeling is presented on a DVD obviously encoded from the NTSC broadcast master (the ID card is still in place) in non-anamorphic widescreen. The video quality is generally solid, slightly besting the direct from satellite copy I had before, and the only real flaw I found was some nasty moire on Xander's newspaper ("...Monsters certainly not involved say police") during his number with Anya. No compression artifacts are evident, and given that they have an entire DVD-5 to hold a 51-minute show with one audio track, it has plenty of room to stretch its legs. What might be slightly annoying to some is that a "Property of Fox" message pops up roughly every 20 minutes.

Speaking of audio, everything sounds solid, crisp and clear. This is a great Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Unfortunately, the audio was mixed very dialogue heavy for the musical to make sure people understood the lyrics (this episode is a cornerstone of Season Six's storyline), and to a trained ear it sounds kind-of unbalanced. As with my VHS tape, I'm drooling the eventual 5.1 track on Fox's future Season Six DVD set.

As for extras... well, what extras? This is an Emmy screener, so it's as bare bones as you get. All that's on the menu is a "Play" button.

Suffice it to say, this is a solid presentation of Buffy's greatest episode. Should you pay top dollar for it? No. For $200 you could buy a cheap region free PAL to NTSC converting player and a copy of the R2 box set that will be out next year and have tons of extras, ALONG with the rest of Season Six. But if you HAVE to have it, don't pay more than $50 for this disc, even as a collector's item. And if any of you Emmy voters are reading this, PLEASE watch this disc, and vote for Buffy in all of the appropriate categories. Mutant Enemy has worked so hard for six years putting the best show on television out there consistently, and I think that the innovation and excellence presented serves as a monument to their toil. Give Buffy an Emmy!

Jeff Kleist
jeffkleist@thedigitalbits.com


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