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EW review: 'Buffy' set a missed opportunity

By Marc Bernardin
Entertainment Weekly

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(Entertainment Weekly) -- There are some things you can't state often enough. The Aston Martin DB5 was the greatest Bond car ever. "The Empire Strikes Back" is the best "Star Wars" movie.

And "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is one of the seminal TV shows of the last 50 years. In the top 10. Not open for debate.

So it's particularly noteworthy that now you can get all seven seasons, 144 episodes' worth of slayage, 40 discs' worth of ground broken by creator Joss Whedon, in one handy box.

Behold "Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Chosen Collection." And behold a colossal missed opportunity.

On the surface, "Buffy" was about a pretty blonde who killed vamps every episode, with a werewolf or a demon thrown in for variety. But the greatest weapon in Whedon's formidable arsenal was metaphor. Adolescence is a breeding ground for all sorts of insecurities that can be extrapolated to end-of-the-world dilemmas: the girl no one notices who actually disappears; the picked-on nerd who might snap ... and kill; the boyfriend who totally changes once you sleep with him.

And by confronting them all, Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her Scooby Gang -- Willow (Alyson Hannigan), Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), and Xander (Nicholas Brendon) -- evolved and matured as they went from high school to college to real life, even to the afterlife.

"Buffy" did what all great genre fiction does. It allowed us to look at ourselves through a fantastical lens, and see who we truly are: at once stronger than we thought we could be and weaker than we'd like to let on. And, as with most great genre fiction, the establishment just didn't get it.

"Buffy" was never nominated for a best-drama Emmy, probably because it was a show about a hottie who dusted vampires. But many of us fell for the girl, and the show, with a white-hot passion.

That geek lust explains why some were disappointed with Fox's first "Buffy" DVD sets. The handful of commentary tracks, documentaries, even the occasional full script couldn't satisfy our jones for more dirt. And now, in offering a $200 collection that, let's be honest, only the diehards are gonna buy, Fox has still failed to deliver the mother lode of extras. A few new docs and an admittedly nice Whedon-hosted roundtable featuring some of "Buffy's" most valuable players don't cut it.

Where are the audition tapes, so we can see why Charisma Carpenter, Selma Blair, or Julie Benz wasn't fit to be the Slayer? Where's that first abandoned pilot, with Riff Regan playing Willow? Where are the deleted scenes? I find it hard to believe that someone as geek-to-the-core as Whedon wouldn't have saved this stuff; why not let those of us willing to pony up for this set -- and you know most will be buying these seven seasons for a second bloody time -- finally have the goods?

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is a titanic achievement, one worth holding on to so you can show your children. If only "The Chosen Collection" had lived up to it.

EW Grade: B

'Born to Run: 30th Anniversary Edition,' Bruce Springsteen

Reviewed by Tom Sinclair

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There's a retrospectively comic passage about Bruce Springsteen in former Columbia Records president Clive Davis' 1974 memoir, "Clive: Inside the Record Business."

After praising the artist's ''fascinating use of words,'' Davis, who greenlit Springsteen's 1972 signing to Columbia, gripes that ''he is building a small cult, but it's been difficult to break him commercially ... without that trademark single, it's a slow build.''

By late 1975, two years after Davis left Columbia, that ''trademark single'' had arrived. ''Born to Run'' and the album that shares its name had launched Springsteen into the public consciousness, big-time.

Spectorian in scope and execution, "Born" was an inarguable watershed, a richly dramatic document that found Springsteen breathing fresh life into hoary Top 40 cliches. This scruffy, post-Dylan hipster from Freehold, New Jersey, had become a new kind of rock & roll alchemist, capable of transforming a genre of songs that had been largely concerned with girls, cars, and the search for kicks into one that encompassed stirring, almost religious epics about the Girl, the Car, and the Quest for Redemption.

The faithful have probably been singing hosannas since getting wind of "Born to Run: 30th Anniversary Edition," although we imagine some acolytes may be perturbed by the absence of any outtakes (usually considered de rigueur in compilations of this sort). The package includes only a lone, remastered CD of the original album, which still sounds both timeless and terrific. From the romantic, wind-in-our-hair rush of the title track and the madcap R&B propulsion of ''Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out'' to the steely-eyed balladry of ''Backstreets'' and the gritty urban melodrama of ''Jungleland,'' it's a collection that will no doubt be as compelling three decades hence.

But it's the two DVDs that accompany "Edition" that make this boxed set something extra special. The documentary "Wings for Wheels: The Making of Born to Run" includes interviews with Springsteen and E Street Band members and associates past and present, who reminisce about the long, often painful process of honing that album. (The Boss' autocratic tendencies may be old news, but who knew that he had coached saxophonist Clarence Clemons through literally every single note of the solo on ''Jungleland''?)

Wheels contains a wealth of delectable info-tidbits, whether it's Springsteen's confession that he still has no idea what the title ''Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out'' means, or the revelation that Steve Van Zandt walked in cold one day and conceived the final horn arrangement for that track on the spot.

The scenes showing today's Springsteen talking about the sessions are particularly refreshing, with the Boss achieving just the right mix of gravitas and self-deprecating humor as he recalls what it was like to make the album while under tangible pressure from Columbia to come up with a hit. Sitting around a studio with longtime manager Jon Landau, we see him listening to -- and occasionally laughing at -- alternate takes, like syrupy, string-soaked versions of the title track and the intro to ''Jungleland'' (''We should have used that one,'' he comments to Landau of the latter snippet).

There is also a swell 20-minute segment of a 1973 Los Angeles show (with excellently named original drummer Vini ''Mad Dog'' Lopez). But perhaps the biggest treat is the two-hour London concert, filmed four months after "Born to Run's" release.

Here we see a bearded, hoop-earringed Springsteen leading the E Street Band on a joyride through songs from his three then-existing albums. It's a sizzling testament to what many have long contended -- that, in the '70s, Bruce and his boys put on the most exciting show around. Look out for the priceless moment when a sheepish Springsteen says to the audience, ''I've never been here before.'' He was talking about England, but he could just as well have been referring to his newfound seat at the table of rock royalty.

He's been there ever since -- and this lovely anniversary set reminds us why.

EW Grade: A-

'Madagascar'

Reviewed by Hannah Tucker

After a foiled escape attempt from the Central Park Zoo, pampered denizens Marty, Gloria, Melman, and Alex find themselves shipwrecked on the island of Madagascar. The main characters are charming, but hilarious minor players like the stowaway penguins and disaffected monkeys don't get enough screen time after the first third of "Madagascar."

Still, "Madagascar" makes good use of the tested DreamWorks formula of bathroom jokes and grown-up quips: ''I heard Tom Wolfe is speaking at Lincoln Center. ... Of course we're going to throw poo at him.''

EXTRAS An amusing short about the eggnog-chugging, havoc-wreaking penguin foursome is just the beginning. The plentiful features also include a virtual tour of "Madagascar," a behind-the-scenes look at the animation, and lively interviews with the film's stars. But it's too much -- ''Mad Mishaps'' is dull, and the ''I Like to Move It, Move It'' lemur music video is just plain annoying. The DVD-ROM, meanwhile, which offers slow-paced games and printable iron-on T-shirt transfers, is for PCs only.

EW Grade: A-

'The Oprah Winfrey Show: 20th Anniversary Collection'

Reviewed by Tina Jordan

"When you sit down with somebody for an hour, you get a real sense of who they are,'' says Oprah Winfrey in her running commentary on "The Oprah Winfrey Show: 20th Anniversary Collection."

And yet it isn't the stars (John Travolta and the Judds among them) that make the set worth watching. Most interesting is learning which guests, like Elie Wiesel, meant the most to Oprah, and why. And of course, there's her ever-evolving appearance -- ''For me, good taste was a long time in coming,'' she says cheerfully -- especially her frank discussions about her weight.

Recalling her most popular segment, 1988's ''The Fat in the Wagon'' -- where she fit into a pair of size 10 jeans after four and a half months on a liquid diet -- she admits, with a twinge, that she couldn't zip them up just two days later. But it's exactly this humanness that makes her viewers able to relate to her, and her, in turn, able to inspire them.

EW Grade: B+


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