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Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Complete Third Season Print E-mail
Tuesday, 07 January 2003

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Complete Third Season

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: NR
starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon, Charisma Carpenter, David Boreanaz, Anthony Stewart Head, Seth Green, Eliza Dushku, Alexis Denisof, Harry Groener
release year: 1999
film rating: Four-and-a-Half Stars
sound rating: Three-and-a-Half Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

The third season of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is now available in a six-disc, 22-episode set, with agreeable if not lavish extras. Content-wise, it’s arguably a slight improvement over the previous season – no mean feat, as for all of its seven seasons, “Buffy” has been one of the best shows on TV. Season Three, however, is viewed by many as the series as its absolute peak, with the zingy dialogue, shrewd yet humane observations about real life and wild dripping monsters being sewn into a gripping, unpredictable plot arc that lasts for the whole season, with individual episodes that virtually all stand up powerfully on repeat viewing. Season Two was great stuff, no mistake, but Season Three blows you away. The episodes are like the old line about potato chips – once you get started, it’s hard to put the discs away after just one.

The big news here is the video quality, which is virtually a night-and-day contrast with the first two seasons. Gone are the grainy, almost infra-red-looking shots of night and shadow (which, unsurprisingly in a horror show, are plentiful). Instead, colors are vibrant, lighting is handsome and images are clean and smooth, allowing us to appreciate the artistry of the filmmakers (along with the extreme attractiveness of the cast and the grossness of the monsters) per the original intention.

Each episode is divided into 15 chapters. As with Season Two, the opening credits get their own chapter (Chapter 2 on every episode), so that it’s possible to easily skip them, if desired.

Disc One starts with the episode “Anne,” written and directed by series creator Joss Whedon. While it’s entertaining, this season opener is perhaps the weakest of the bunch, mainly because much of “Buffy’s” power derives from its group dynamic. With super-powered high school senior Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) in self-imposed exile in Los Angeles and her friends struggling along without her in Sunnydale as they search for her, we tend to view Buffy’s (literally) hellish adventure as a diverting detour on the way to the main storyline. The sharp color delineations are very appealing and will immediately lift the hearts of “Buffy” fans who were worried that Season Three might be as grainy as Season Two. Chapter 11 has some especially good footfall foley, and while the surround is not discrete, there’s some nice ambience in the rears.

Episode 2, “Dead Man’s Party,” finds Buffy’s homecoming marred by the lingering bitterness of her mother and friends, who are still dealing with their abandonment issues, and a horde of zombies, all dealing with killing people issues. Chapters 9 and 10 feature some very catchy tunes from Four Star Mary (they supply the music for the onscreen band that has werewolf Oz, played by Seth Green, as its bassist), including the very apt “Pain.” Chapter 12 features some good glass crashes and fist impacts.

“Faith, Hope and Trick” introduces Faith (Eliza Dushku), a second Slayer with a rebellious attitude that the responsible Buffy finds both alarming and alluring. The episode has some especially good definition of shafts of light in Chapter 13, though Chapter 14 suffers from a bit of congestion in the subwoofer. Extras include the episode’s script, although the combination of printing and busy background makes it hard to read (a consistent problem with all the scripts included on the DVDs here). The episode finishes with the return of Buffy’s (literally) soulful boyfriend Angel (David Boreanaz), who has (again literally) been in hell since the end of last season. In Episode 4, “Beauty and the Beasts,” Buffy keeps Angel’s presence a secret from her friends, even as she and her friends try to discover the culprit in a series of beastly killings that may be the work of the disturbed Angel, a wolfed-out Oz or some third, unknown creature. Chapter 4 has an especially nice sound effect, with the rears providing just enough background ambience to provide the scene-appropriate illusion that we’re hearing the life of the high school outside a classroom window. Chapter 9 also cleanly takes the sound from silence to a roar.

Disc Two begins with “Homecoming,” with Buffy and the bitchy fashionista Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) squaring off against each other in the battle for homecoming queen honors, only to bond (sort of) as they have to fight a posse of bounty hunters trying to kill the two Slayers (Cordelia is mistaken for Faith), while lifelong best friends Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and Willow (Alyson Hannigan) suddenly find themselves grappling with mutual attraction. Chapter 10 has more Four Star Mary goodness on the soundtrack and Chapter 13 has an actually effective sonic “jump” scare.

“Band Candy” is a hoot, one of the season’s best episodes, which has Sunnydale’s adults reverting to their adolescent selves, including Buffy’s normally responsible mother Joyce (Kristine Sutherland), while Buffy’s usually proper British Watcher Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) becomes an East London hooligan, who spins some classic rock in Chapter 7 that is gracefully integrated into the ambient mix. Chapter 8 features yet more Four Star Mary (although the onscreen band’s lip-synching is imperfect), while Chapter 9 has several middle-aged men engaging in an a cappella yet rather endearing rendition of “Louie, Louie.” Extras include the episode’s script.

In “Revelations,” the gang finally learns of Angel’s return, while Giles and Faith must cope with a supercilious new Watcher (Serena Scott Thomas, in a great villainous guest turn). “Lovers Walk” features the return of vampire Spike (James Marsters) – a character so popular that he’s lavishly featured in the disc artwork, even though this is his only Season Three appearance – who is drunk and distraught after being ditched by his loony bloodsucking lover Drusilla (Juliet Landau, who is featured on the box art even though she’s not physically in Season Three at all). The episode boasts killer dialogue, some insanely funny situations – and some surprising heartbreak. There’s a great, impactful car/sign collision in Chapter 1, although Chapter 6 suffers from a minor, momentary sound dropout. Chapter 14 features warm acoustic guitar strings, while Chapter 15, just before the end credits, treats us to Gary Oldman-as-Sid Vicious belting out “My Way” (with Marsters’ Spike cheerfully singing along). Extras include the script, which is well worth reading despite the eye-straining screen display.

Disc Three starts with “The Wish,” one of the most disturbing “Buffy” episodes ever, with Cordelia finding herself in a Sunnydale that’s never known Buffy – and is consequently overrun with vampires. This is nightmare territory, with beloved characters being monstrous, dying or both, albeit in an alternate reality. The episode comes with Marti Noxon’s script. The next episode, “Amends,” directed and written by series creator Whedon, takes Angel on an “It’s a Horrible Life”-type journey that nearly results in the vampire’s suicide. (Anybody who is just tuning into Season Seven should watch this episode, as although “Amends” villain doesn’t resurface in Season Three, it’s the major menace of the 2002-2003 arc.) “Gingerbread” is a keenly witty episode that marries observant social commentary about hysteria-driven censorship groups with the specifics of the Buffyverse.

Disc Four opens with “Helpless,” which has Buffy unknowingly involved in a potentially fatal Slayer test. The emotionally-charged episode features commentary by writer/producer David Fury, who points out a moment inspired by “Saving Private Ryan.” Dominic Keating, now a series regular on “Enterprise,” and Jeff Kober are two of the guest stars. “The Zeppo” focuses on Xander’s feelings of uselessness, showcasing Brendon’s comedic chops while pushing the customary world-saving heroics into the background. It’s amusing and appealing – and Chapter 1 features photography that is sharp despite its darkness.

“Bad Girls” has Buffy allowing herself to become more like sister Slayer Faith – until disaster strikes and the two deal in radically different ways. Writer/producer Douglas Petrie provides articulate commentary on the episode, which has some iconographic images – Buffy and Faith slaying in synch, then celebrating by dancing together in Chapter 8. Chapter 6 has a cool audio effect, with sound disappearing as Buffy almost drowns, her head underwater, then resuming at normal volume smoothly without jumps or distortion. The episode also has a nifty, very gross demon reminiscent of the giant vampire demon in “Blade.”

“Consequences” commences the bizarre, affecting and spooky daughter/father relationship between Faith and the evil, wholesome Mayor (Harry Groener), with director Michael Gershman (longtime director of photography for the series) giving some nicely specific commentary on how scenes were staged. Chapter 1 has a slightly reddish tint to the darkness, but Chapter 6 on the other hand is beautifully vivid in its handling of pinks and reds. Chapter 10 contains both a pretty folk-rock ballad and some fairly hot (especially by TV standards) and dangerous sex.

Disc Five opens with “Doppelgangland,” written and directed by Joss Whedon, which contains some consistently impressive and seamless CGI shots in which Hannigan’s Willow finds herself face to face (and sometimes neck to face) with her vampire double. “Enemies” has Faith trying to turn Angel to the dark side, while “Earshot” has Buffy tuning in to the thoughts of everyone around her – including a person unknown who’d like to kill everyone in the high school. The episode, which is actually very funny, had the misfortune to be originally scheduled for airing a week after the Columbine tragedy and was consequently shelved for many months. Writer/producer Jane Espenson provides entertaining commentary. “Choices” has Buffy and Company seemingly getting an upper hand against the Mayor, only to lose their advantage when Faith kidnaps Willow.

Disc Six opens the “The Prom,” where hellhounds take a back seat to the emotional danger of Buffy and Angel’s relationship. Chapter 5 has wonderful color and light, with exquisite details on a stained glass window. Chapter 13 is a bit visually grainy, but Chapter 14 is well worth revisiting for a genuinely affecting and funny valedictory speech. Chapter 15 boasts the Sundays’ cover of the Rolling Stones’ ballad “Wild Horses,” making splendid use of an already impactful song. The disc ends with “Graduation Day Pt. 1” and “Graduation Day Pt. 2,” with Buffy and Angel finding yet another complication to their relationship at the same time that they gear up to battle the Mayor’s transformation into a demon, which occurs in Chapter 12 of the final episode, with special effects that are very laudable for TV in the best tradition of Ray Harryhausen, with great CGI following through in Chapter 13.

The extras include an overview of the season, with interviews with Whedon and many of the writers and actors, plus a featurette on the series’ unique dialogue, the wardrobe, the weapons – we learn from prop master Randy Ericksen that a multi-bladed knife is called a “hunga-munga” – and a nicely illustrative and explanatory featurette on the visual effects. There’s also an interview with special effects makeup artist John Vulich, and several interviews with Whedon, Fury, Petrie, Espenson and Noxon. Oddly, the interviews tend to be duplicated in places – “Bad Girls” and “Consequences” share the same featurette, as do the pairings of “Enemies” and “Earshot” and “Graduation Day Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2.” They’re worth seeing, but putting them in one episode each would seem to suffice.

One hesitates to try to talk about the properties of “Buffy” Season Three, because once the gushing starts, it’s hard to stop. The characterizations, dialogue, imaginative creatures and plot twists, use of source music and fantastic performances – besides the usual suspects, season guests Dushku and Groener are riveting – make it all truly must-see TV or in this case, better still, must-own DVD.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Digital Surround; French Dolby Digital Surround; Spanish Dolby Digital Surround
aspect ratio(s):
special features: Audio Commentaries by Writers/Producers Jane Espenson, David Fury and Douglas Petrie and Director/Director of Photography Michael Gershman; Interviews With Series Creator/Writer/Director/Executive Producer Joss Whedon “Season Three Overview” Featurette with Joss Whedon, Jane Espenson, David Fury, Writer/Producer Marti Noxon, Douglas Petrie and Actors Nicholas Brendon, Charisma Carpenter, Alexis Denisof, Eliza Dushku, Harry Groener, James Marsters, Danny Strong and Kristine Sutherland; “Buffyspeak” Featurette; Wardrobe Featurette; Special Effects Featurette; Weapons Featurette; Interview with Makeup Designer John Vulich; Photo Gallery; Season Two Episode Guide Booklet; English and Spanish Subtitles; English Closed-Captioning
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba

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