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Fans of sci-fi "Serenity" follow their bliss

Daniel Terdiman

Tuesday 20 June 2006, by Webmaster

PORTLAND, Ore.—Like many fans of fantasy screenwriter Joss Whedon’s TV series "Firefly" and the movie that followed it, "Serenity," Adam Whiting is beyond passionate.

So much so, in fact, that he’s joining dozens of diehard Whedonites from around the world this summer to try to bring the 2005 film to the masses. The result of their rabid fandom, "Can’t Stop the Serenity," is a series of at least 47 screenings in dozens of cities, beginning—except for one "early bird" showing—on Whedon’s birthday, June 23.

Most people probably know Whedon for his hit television series, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." But even Buffy and her vampire-stomping sidekicks saw fandom competition from "Firefly," which was a critical success but lasted only 11 episodes. On the strength of the show’s fan base, and its huge DVD sales, Whedon convinced Universal Studios to back "Serenity," which follows the adventures of a former galactic war veteran turned hired transporter. It, too, garnered a devoted following among fans, but only broke even at the box office.

Whiting, who works as a classical musician in Cleveland but is spending his summer in his hometown of Portland, wants to change that.

I met Whiting by chance at the famed Powell’s Books here as I took a quick pit stop in book heaven while on my Road Trip 2006 through the Pacific Northwest. He came up to the table where I was sitting and randomly began proselytizing the gospel of "Serenity" and "Firefly."

Of course, I had to stop and listen.

Whiting admits that he missed the "Firefly" boat while it was on television, but came across the DVDs later. He and his father quickly became addicts.

"We watched the first disc in one sitting," Whiting said. "We were hooked...We realized there was nothing more, and got hooked up with the Browncoats online."

The Browncoats, Whiting said, are the legions of "Firefly" and "Serenity" fans, people of all ages and backgrounds, who fashion themselves the vanguard of a nearly literary television and movie creation.

And while Whiting is currently in Portland, he is actually working remotely to put on the June 22 screening at Cleveland’s Tower City Cinemas. Other Browncoats are putting on screenings in cities as far-flung as Los Angeles; Austin, Texas; London; Montreal; Milwaukee, Las Vegas, Seattle, San Francisco; Oxford, England and others. Road Trip 2006

Profits from the screenings will go to Whedon’s favorite charity, Equality Now, which Whiting said promotes equal treatment for women and girls around the world.

This is despite the fact that Whedon himself is not connected with the Can’t Stop the Serenity movement, Whiting said.

Meanwhile, the point of the screenings effort is apparently just to get the movie more exposure. As with "Firefly," the film has not convinced financiers that it was a good investment, and so fans’ hopes for a "Serenity" trilogy are not looking good. But many Browncoats, Whiting said, are already satisfied with where Whedon’s fictional world has gone.

"It’d be great if something else came out (of this)," Whiting said, "but that’s not the goal (of the screenings). We’re happy with this ’verse,"—the Browncoats’ term for the "Firefly" universe.

The idea for "Can’t Stop the Serenity" came from one charismatic Portland "Serenity" fan, known to his minions as "The One True b!X."

The name of the event is a takeoff, Whiting explained, on the tagline for the film, "Can’t stop the signal."

"That was a jab at Fox for canceling our show (’Firefly’)," Whiting said, "but you can read whatever you want into it." In other news:

At the same time they’re mounting their "Serenity" campaign, Whiting and some friends are involved in another "Firefly"-related effort. This one is what he calls the Ariel Ambulance Rescue Group.

Apparently, one day, some "Firefly" fans discovered that a "flying" ambulance used in an episode of the show called "Ariel" had been abandoned at an aircraft scrap yard in the Mojave Desert town of Mojave, Calif. So the rescue group’s mission—and it’s an admirable one—is to raise money to renovate the ambulance and bring it back to the shape it was in during its 15 minutes of fame on "Firefly."

Currently, Whiting said, the ambulance is sitting at Minter Field Air Museum in Shafter, Calif. The group raised enough money to buy it from the scrapyard, and on June 10, the group began restoration activities. The goal is to get the vehicle in good enough shape so that they can take it on the convention circuit.

Presumably, the ambulance will not be flying when it appears at the conventions. But no doubt, some of the more deeply affected Browncoats will stare at it longingly, hoping for some levitation.