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Ain't That a Stake in the Heart: Warner Rebooting Buffy… Without Whedon

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From the Oh, This Will Definitely Work Dept.: Warner Bros. is planning a reboot Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie—without the involvement of Joss Whedon, who wrote the script of the original Buffy movie and was the creative force behind the seven-season series on The WB.

And just in case you’re thinking this is one of those amicable deals, where Whedon hands off the series with his blessing, it’s not. From the funny, resigned e-mail reaction he sent to E! Online: “I always hoped that Buffy would live on even after my death.  But, you know, AFTER.  I don’t love the idea of my creation in other hands, but I’m also well aware that many more hands than mine went into making that show what it was. And there is no legal grounds for doing anything other than sighing audibly.”

So let’s look at the reasons this is a bad idea. Which may not be the ones you’d first think.

First, I don’t automatically assume the movie will be bad. It would seem pretty much a jerk move, made in the spirit of “Hey, look around and see what vampire crap we own the rights to, I hear the kids are eating that up right now.” But I’m a strong believer that these things are all about execution. I can’t see any way that a new creative team could make the same Buffy that Whedon would, but—just as with any reimagining, Batman, Star Trek, &c.—it’s entirely possible that someone could rethink the premise in a way that works. (Whedon himself admits that he attempted to do the same with The Avengers, not that that is a direct comparison.)

Or it could be absolutely God-awful. That we won’t know until the movie gets made, if it does.

That said, I can’t think of any good reason that Buffy needs to get rebooted, especially so close to its having gone off the air (and having lived on in graphic novels). Is there really some creative purpose, some paradigm of the ’90s-to-mid-’00s that needs to be rethought from the drastically changed perspective of the early ’10s? See: “Look around and see what vampire crap we own,” above.

Indeed, I have to admit that my first reaction when I heard the news was that I was glad Whedon was not involved. I loved Buffy—even the much-maligned later-period Buffy, especially season 6—but I feel like Whedon has said his creative piece there. (He may well disagree; I don’t know.) He’s since gone on to make Firefly, Dollhouse and Dr. Horrible, and I would much rather he continued making new creative statements. Frankly I would rather everyone in Hollywood focused on, you know, actually coming up with original ideas for a change.

But moral and artistic questions aside, the way Warner is approaching this—with what, to the public eye anyway, seems like a big screw-you to Whedon—seems like the dumbest way imaginable of executing what is a questionable idea to begin with. Namely: whose genius idea was it to relaunch Buffy by alienating essentially every devoted Buffy fan on the planet? (Perusing Twitter, fan sites and blog comments, I literally have yet to find one with a good word to say about the move.)

Now here’s the thing: sometimes it can be a good idea to alienate fans of an old franchise—or, at least, to demonstrate independence from them. A creative project can only flourish if it’s not beholden to re-creating the vision of some past artist, and if you have a figure who’s become archetypal—Superman, say—you’re not going to do well by trying to please the pickiest sticklers for consistency with the original comics.

But Buffy is not Superman, or Batman or, sorry, even Star Trek. That is to say, it is not a mass franchise with a huge potential audience of casual fans in addition to the hard core. You have Buffy fans, and then you have people who didn’t watch it, think of it as some vampire movie/series with a silly name, and possibly remember that the guy from Bones was in it. And Buffy fans are specifically Joss Whedon fans, in a way that Star Trek fans are not—not to a person, that is—Gene Roddenberry fans. Might be a good idea to find a way of making the movie without flipping him off, you think?

It’s become a movie-biz truism in the Comic-Con, fanboy/girl-ingratiation era that you can build a larger audience for a cult property by starting from the fan base. But tick them off, and I’m guessing you’re left with a potential audience of about five people for this movie. Perhaps there is some Hollywood logic by which this idea works, but it seems to me that Warner has put its foot in its Hellmouth.