Tuesday, December 2, 2008

BtVS vs. Buffy Season 8 - Does the Budget Matter?

The presence or lack of a budget very much determines the tone and character of BUFFY. The Season 8 story is being told differently because it lacks the limits of the TV series and these limits would have made a televised Season 8 a different beast altogether. Is the quality of the story better in Season 8 than previous seasons on TV? Some fans say yes and that it ranks as high as Season 2, 3 or 5. Some fans say absolutely-are-you-kidding-me-no. While many others refuse to even acknowledge Season 8's canon existence. 

Buffy the TV series was very much the little show that could. People discounted it, judged it and underestimated it. It fought uphill to make an impact. It ran the gamut of censoring and opposition to become this finished product of brilliant humor, drama, action and fantasy. It ran the trial by fire and I believe it was better for it. Like a gem polished over time by the powerful forces of nature...
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These limits and the challenge of having to overcome them demanded creativity and I believe it heightened the value of the finished product.

Anyone ever seen the original film (based on the play) Twelve Angry Men with Henry Fonda where the entire story is set in the jury's deliberation room? I'm always amazed by stories set in one room that can remain riveting. BtVS was like that to me - one girl (Henry Fonda) in all the world set against incredible odds (11 angry men) who must fight (win the argument) the forces of evil (ignorance and prejudice) in her small hometown (jury room). The setting was limited and set; yet once the formula was laid out it opened up a whole new creative world to be explored.

Buffy was the fantasy series that didn't have enough money to do overblown special effects (Smallville has better effects, would anyone dare say it was a better show...) nor have exotic locales to visit. So here was the caveat - how can we use the limited space and special effects available to us to tell a story about a girl and her friends who fight the forces of evil?

They took these limitations and made an amazing show by focusing on the characters' journeys. It was amazing for how creatively they worked around the limitations and even used them to their advantage. It was not a perfect show and we Buffy experts are very aware of the issues in continuity and other mistakes we catch on screen. But each flaw made it better than any overblown perfect fantasy story. The flaws and limitations are embedded into the character of BtVS. Without them, the heart can't help but be changed.

Season 8 is different from Buffy the Vampire Slayer the TV series because it doesn't have the creative limitations of a budget. Is it better for this? There lies the debate. Does one find more value in a creative work that grows in adversity or a work that knows no limits? No TV budget means that Dawn transformed into a giant, that Buffy and her gang live in a castle and travel around the world to Tokyo and NYC on their private planes and helicopters. The battles are limited only by what the writer decides to lay on the artist's shoulder. An army of zombies? Sure! Why not? A battle between Giant Dawn and her Mecha counterpart? Why, yes thank you. These things would not have been possible on the TV show. (Some fans wish they hadn't happened, but let's not focus on that...)

We must also recognize that Season 8 brings with it a whole new creative environment - the comic. The truth is that Buffy Season 8 possesses brand new limits imposed by this new medium - trying to make that bottom right corner a page turner, keeping the dialogue tight while giving a visually stimulating action for the character in each panel, telling a riveting story in only 22 pages of art and dialogue boxes. It's a brand new world and it's very bright thanks to Michelle Madsen's coloring.

Avid comic readers have advised me that it takes on average 10 to 15 minutes to read a comic issue. If you're reading a Buffy Season 8 issue *that* fast, whoa buddy! Slow down. Buffy Season 8 reads deeper than most comics out there. Take your time, absorb the panel of art, re-create the characters dialogue in your imagination by using SMG's voice or imagine how Hannigan would have made a cute pout after delivering that one-liner. Admit it, you've watched the DVD's so many times that you can act out a scene using the correct body language and dialogue of your favorite characters. It's okay, you're not the only one. Now after you've brought the story to life in your imagination and had a satisfying read, go back and look for all the themes and symbolism Joss so kindly laid out for us. That deeper reading just got a whole lot, well, deeper.

Those who know me know I love Season 8 and am very much enjoying the continuation of the story. Yet even I cannot escape the fact that it's different from BtVS and I catch myself imagining what could have been. But Season 8 is what I have *now* and it's pretty damn great. Season 8 is the next generation of BUFFY. It's different and I'm embracing it. I won't stop comparing it to the show (I'm physically and mentally incapable of stopping) and it won't always be as good as that most beloved TV series, but I'll still treasure it because in this regard it could not more closely resemble BtVS - it is flawed and it is entertaining.


Jayunderscorezero said...

I think you've pretty much hit the nail on the head here. BtVS was not a big budget, high-octane, fantasy action show and it's difficult to decide whether the new medium is being irreverent to the style of the original show or is instead being "liberated" from its restrictions. I know where I stand on this one (highly skeptical, but still interested enough to keep an eye on it), but it does seem a pretty divisive issue.

Personally, I think that the problem with the new, "high budget" comic will be if it forgets what is important: the characters at the heart of all of this. As long as the existence of giant Dawn means something and affects how Dawn and the others around her act, then that's ok. Mecha Dawn, on the other hand, reeks of "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if..." It's when things like that show up that I think that maybe necessity breeds invention; i.e. that one may need restrictions in storytelling to prevent one from really going off the rails.

Emmie said...

I feel that Dawn's transformation is definitely leading somewhere, so her Giant to Centaur to Who-Knows-What has finally settled for me. Agreed on Mecha Dawn - that was a sad overstep in an otherwise freeing world of creative fun. Some say the Lorelahn tree warriors was also...well...

I have confidence in Season 8 following a plan, I can see the road being laid out before me. So I'll read on. I love the characters and as long as they're still kicking (and kicking ass too), I'll be buyin'.

Anonymous said...

I'm hopelessly in love with Season 8, and I think Joss, Brian and Drew have done an excellent job so far with the character interactions, "big budget" notwithstanding.

I myself read the comic in 10-15 minutes... and then re-read it, over and over. BtVS8 rewards re-reading more than probably any other comic I've read. For example, the implications of Willow's actions in "Time of Your Life" acquire more and deeper levels each time I revisit the story.

Just a brilliant job of continuing the series. In a way it makes me fear a possible reunion movie, as Joss has threatened to possibly de-canonize season 8 if it conflicts with such a project. Nothing would make me sadder.

Emmie said...

BtVS8 rewards re-reading more than probably any other comic I've read. For example, the implications of Willow's actions in "Time of Your Life" acquire more and deeper levels each time I revisit the story.

So very true. I myself re-read all of Season 8 during the long wait for Issue 19 and found a whole new level to appreciate it on. And you're absolutely right, ToYL and Willow's actions "acquire more and deeper levels" upon a closer look. So many layers the inquiring mind may peel back and examine. It's really delightful to be so engaged with a monthly comic.

Tara said...

Yeah, I think this article really makes you think about what your personal taste is. I happen to leans toward what JayUnderscore said,"...maybe necessity breeds invention; i.e. that one may need restrictions in storytelling to prevent one from really going off the rails." I personally think that Joss and co *might* need the SFX limitation for quality of the plot. A big exception would be Willow's story but I'm still waiting to see if that unfolds a little more before I can see how deep it really is.

I don't find this to be the case with the Angel comic at all, though. There haven't been many cases, if any, where I doubt their decision to do something over the top. So while Buffy Season 8 is fine overall, I've definitely felt it a few times (Mecha Dawn being the most obvious.)

So it really depends on the reader/fan. In my case, no the budget does not matter. I'm in it for the story whether that's on screen, in a comic, or written on scrap paper with an eyeliner. On the other hand, I can totally understand how others would love the current format, though. The "big budget blockbuster" version of the Buffyverse, so far anyway.

Emmie said...

Yes, this essay of mine sprung up from a fan discussion about Buffy Season 8. Joss and (I believe) Scott Allie have repeatedly said that they're able to do so many things that weren't possible on TV because of no budget limitations for the story development in the comic world.

I've discovered that it's more about the different natures of the comic medium and also that comics require the audience to way more active a reader than on television. That's a great way of putting it, Tee - the "big budget blockbuster" version of the Buffyverse.

Michelle said...

While I'm interested in the story of Season 8, I do find some of the high budget stuff to be "mostly filler".

For instance, Dawn and Xander's storyline in the last arc seemed useless to me. I would much rather have had more Fray/Buffy/Willow interaction or something to do with Harth since his part in the story made no sense to me.

The Angel comic beats Buffy in the sense that each issue seems tight and the elements necessary. I acknowledge that this could be due to the fact that Buffy is 40 issues and Angel is only 17, still doesn't change the fact that Buffy still can chose quality over "blockbuster" in the comics. That's always been the Buffy way, hasn't it?