Think Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and the immediate image is of Sarah Michelle Gellar fighting the dangerous demons and dark forces of Californian town Sunnydale, using her trademark wit, strength and superpowers. And rightly so - Gellar embodied the image of a kick-ass hero, but also deftly revealed Buffy's frailties, teenage angst and humanity.
Though it's difficult to imagine anybody else in a role which swiftly became so iconic, the real hero of Buffy The Vampire Slayer was the show's writer and creator Joss Whedon. Bringing together horror, comedy, romance, feminism and intelligent high-school drama in seven high-quality seasons between 1997 and 2003, he changed the way television approached fantastical tales. As Russel Davies, the creator of the revamped, and massively successful, Doctor Who once remarked to the BBC: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer showed the whole world that writing monsters and demons and end-of-the world is not hack work, it can challenge the best. Whedon raised the bar for every writer—not just genre/niche writers, but every single one of us."
Buffy and Whedon, then, are intertwined. Or, at least, they were until now. It was revealed this week that , Warner Bros is planning a new film based on his much-loved creation, without consulting the man himself. Furthermore, a hitherto unknown scriptwriter Whit Anderson is fashioning a "reboot" of the story - and may even star in the film. Immediately, the series' huge fanbase hit Twitter to voice their disapproval. "Remaking Buffy without Joss Whedon is like remaking Psycho without Alfred Hitchcock," said one. "Why do I have a feeling this is gonna end with some crazy fan staking a movie exec in the heart?" smirked another.
But the best reaction came from the man himself. "This is a sad, sad reflection on our times, when people must feed off the carcasses of beloved stories from their youths - just because they can't think of an original idea of their own," wrote Whedon in a typically caustic e-mail to entertainment website E! online. "Obviously, I have strong, mixed emotions about something like this... I always hoped that Buffy would live on even after my death. But, you know, AFTER. Leave me to my pain!"
And painful this news must have been because this isn't the first time Whedon has had a bad experience with a Buffy film. It's a little-remembered fact that he actually wrote the original screenplay for the 1992 movie which predated the series - but looked on in horror as director Fran Rubel Kuzui mangled his original vision beyond recognition. "I had written this scary film about an empowered woman, and they turned it into a broad comedy. It was crushing," he said years later.
But it was who he made those comments to that reveals just how deeply enmeshed in the cultural consciousness the Buffy series was to become. Whedon was speaking to an academic publication intrigued by the significance and meaning of all things Buffy. The series was that important. Remember, this was a time when vampires were certainly not as de rigueur as they are today. And to frame Buffy's battles with these creatures in a high-school setting, and so tackling all the trials and tribulations of growing up, was groundbreaking.
Although Whedon had been critical of the original film's comic intentions, a large factor in the success of the television series was that Buffy The Vampire Slayer wasn't afraid to laugh at itself. One of the most memorable episodes was filmed in the style of a musical with completely original songs (which, typically, were all really good.).
All of which meant the last episode of Buffy, which aired on May 20, 2003, was an emotional, end-of-an-era televisual event. Still, the fans always had the Whedon-created and produced spin-off, Angel, and when that ended too, graphic novels and comics for both series continued the story. And even those had involvement from Whedon, when he wasn't working on new science fiction series Dollhouse. That particular show didn't last more than two seasons - it was far too unconventional and complicated for mainstream tastes - but Whedon's star remains undimmed. He's begun work on co-writing and directing the eagerly awaited superhero film The Avengers, slated for release in 2012.
Before then, though, there may well be a new, Whedon-free Buffy hitting the cinema screens. The question is, without his involvement, will anybody actually want to watch it? Warner Bros clearly think so. And although the immense Buffy fanbase will probably do everything in their power to slay this film before shooting begins, once it's actually in the public domain there's a very real chance it will be successful at the box office - if only because you can bet that very same fanbase won't be able to resist seeing if it's as bad as they feared.
In fact, perhaps the reaction to the prospect of a rebooted Buffy has been just a little over the top. The e-mail to E! Online is also self-deprecatingly funny (not that many fans appeared to have noticed), Whedon pointing out the irony of complaining about studios riding roughshod over an original piece of work, when he's doing just that with The Avengers. Perhaps there's a little part of him that is slightly disappointed that he won't get the chance to make a Buffy feature film. But the truth is, he's best off not being involved; to start with, it would have stretched the boundaries of credibility for the 33 year-old Sarah Michelle Gellar to return to Sunnydale High School, youth and vigour intact. This way, a fresh start is made, and the exceptional work of the television series remains untouched.
And if Whedon still needs cheering up, he need only heed the example of Let Me In this month. A Hollywood remake of the brilliant Swedish vampire film Let The Right One In, the critical reviews have been surprisingly positive. And yet it hasn't impressed cinemagoers at all - currently the film is some way short of breaking even. The subtext - that we're perfectly capable of understanding when a film is just an exercise in economics - was clear. Let The Right One In is available on DVD, just like Buffy The Vampire Slayer in its many box sets. In years to come, Whedon can rest assured, people will still return to his original vision.