Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How Can They Be Rebooting "Buffy" Already?

Nothing should surprise me anymore when it comes to reboots, but the news that "Buffy: the Vampire Slayer" is getting a big screen revamp immediately caused me to recoil. How could they be rebooting this franchise already? I never saw the original 1992 movie, but the "Buffy" television series was one of the cornerstones of my teenage years. It's too soon, dammit! This isn't one of the half-remembered 80s properties of my childhood. I'm not ready to be nostalgic about the Slayer and the Scooby Gang! There are plenty of older franchises out there that the studios haven't gotten their grubby mitts on yet!

Probably the most distressing part of this news is that "Buffy" creator, Joss Whedon, will have no input on the film despite the fact that the series made him a bona fide geek demi-god in the late 90s. This immediately signals that the filmmakers have no interest in courting the original "Buffy" fanbase, the youngest of which would be in their mid-to late twenties by now. Instead, they're going after the new crop of teenagers who are currently making a lot of money for the people behind "Twilight," "The Vampire Diaries," and "True Blood," but have no familiarity with the "Buffy" universe. I can see the logic behind the decision, ridiculous as I think it is.

There is some comfort to be taken from the fact that the new Buffy will bear little resemblance to the incarnation portrayed by Sarah Michelle Gellar. According to the the LA Times, the writer in charge of scripting the reboot will be a 29-year-old actress named Whit Anderson with dubious credentials. She'll be starting over from scratch with Buffy Summers, and only Buffy Summers. As Geekosystem points out, Warner Brothers only acquired the license to the franchise name and the title character. Everyone else from the television series actually belongs to 20th Century Fox. This means there's a perfectly good opportunity here to do something original and exciting with a new take on the concept. Of course, they're going to waste it.

Warners wants to fast-track the project for a 2012 or even a 2011 release date, which means their only motive is to cash in on the current vampire craze before it evaporates. I would be absolutely stunned if the film turned out to be even remotely decent. The most likely scenario is that the new "Buffy" will be yet another "Twilight" clone, starring a few attractive teenagers angsting at each other with all they've got. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but you can see how this would stoke the ire of the existing "Buffy" fans that were hoping for more projects in the TV show's continuity. Putting aside my own animosity for the moment, there is the distinct possibility that we may be in for a really spectacular franchise wreck, and those are always fun if you aren't too invested in the properties. Unfortunately, I am invested, and a lot of other people are too.

I wonder if Warner Brothers really understands what they're getting into. "Buffy: the Vampire Slayer" and its spinoff "Angel" have pretty serious fandoms surrounding them, and their fans aren't the type sign on for a new project just because it's peripherally connected to their favorite show. An existing fanbase can be a great help to marketing and hype, but it can also be toxic if crossed. "Buffy" never got the best ratings - it was always second to the WB network's soapy, faith-based "Seventh Heaven" back in the day - but it remains extremely influential and well-loved. You can see its offspring all over the television landscape today, from the snarky, meta-tastic humor of "Community" to the monsters-of-the-week on "Doctor Who." "Buffy" was aimed at teenagers, but plenty of adults watched it because it was well-written, well-acted, and rarely pandered to the audience. It maintains a good reputation and boffo cultural cachet, which the new filmmakers now are trying to exploit in a very ham-handed fashion.

So it's no wonder people are upset. The news of the reboot has certainly touched a nerve with the fanbase. The LA Times article linked above has nearly 300 comments at the time of writing from furious fans making it clear that they want absolutely nothing to do with the new "Buffy." Many are rallying around Joss Whedon's response and posting diatribes all over the Internet. I happily toss in my own screed with the rest. This reboot is the wrong project with the wrong people at the wrong time. Why not reboot Anne Rice's "Vampire Chronicles" and do them faithfully this time? Why not give Anita Blake's blood-suckers a chance? Why not wait until Whedon is done with "The Avengers" and give him the chance to do a big screen version of "Buffy" his way? After the famous bungle of the 1992 film with Kristy Swanson, this feels like history repeating itself. Give Whedon the same budget as the new filmmakers, a little creative freedom, and the fanbase would bend over backwards to see the results. Or wait another decade until "Buffy" has truly become a cultural relic to talk about rebooting the franchise for a new generation.

Because, dammit, this generation isn't done with it yet!

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