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Firefly

Firefly Complete Series Dvd - Computercrowsnest.com Review

By Andy Stout

Sunday 7 November 2004, by Webmaster

Firefly - The Complete Series pub: DVD: Twentieth Century Fox. 25498DVD. Price: 34.99 (UK) - shop around for the best deal.

In the words of Captain Mal Reynolds from the ’Firefly’ title sequence, ’Here’s how it was.’

Seldom can there have been a TV show that was destined to be such a sure-fire hit as ’Firefly’. Created by Joss Whedon, who had already changed the shape of genre television by unleashing the Buffyverse on an unsuspecting world - and was also strongly suspected of inventing the word ’zeitgeist’ by an enthralled TV industry, this was his first stab at out and out SF.

The concept was a simple one. Set 500 years in the future, ’Firefly’ would follow the adventures of a small band of humans living on the edge, in all senses of the word, of a post-civil war society which found itself increasingly teetering towards totalitarianism (which is an alliteration I’ve always wanted to try out for size).

With the margins of civilisation busted back to pre-space flight technology levels, Whedon’s band of inevitably loveable rogues, thieves and vagabonds would fly around in their own starship firing guns, riding horses, drinking whisky, saving whorehouses from destruction and generally behaving as if Jimmy Stewart in his ten-gallon hat was back in town. ’Destry Rides Again’, only this time he’s got FTL travel. It was a SF show, it was a Western show, it had a budget of squillions and everyone thought it couldn’t fail.

Which just goes to show that everyone knows approximately zip.

The network, Fox, took one look at it and bolted. First, it changed the episode running order, wanting the more explosive debut of ’Train Job’ rather than the thoughtful, two-part, character-driven and universe-establishing ’Serenity’, then it started playing around with its timeslot. Then, after a mere 14 episodes, it pulled the plug and the first Firefly Xmas party suddenly also became the wrap party for the whole series.

Maybe Fox wanted ’Buffy In Space’. Maybe they needed stellar viewing figures to match the stellar budget, but either way it’s one of the most idiotic, short-minded decisions ever made by a group of entertainment suits. It’s not quite up there with not signing the Beatles or saying, ’No thanks, Mr Lucas, we’re not interested in the merchandising rights’, but it’s close. ’Firefly’ is, quite simply, superb: a heady marriage of tight writing, excellent ensemble acting and innovative effects from long time Whedon stalwarts Zoic, who pull out all the stops with pans, zooms, focus pulls and the like. High production values are maintained throughout, meaning that for sheer quality it’s as good a show as you will see in any style of television, never mind SF.

Two things really stand out. First is pace. Whedon gives his ideas and people time to breath, rather than flitting between them in fast-cuts. Scenes develop over minutes, characters over hours. Spaceships float through the inky blackness in silence, nothing but some understated steel guitar marking their passage. Yes, of course, there are action sequences and if ever ’Firefly’ misses a step it’s in a couple of these which seem rushed and clumsy in comparison to the rest of the show but beyond the odd gunfight, punch-up and space battle, it’s almost languid in its approach.

The other is the acting. Okay, so this isn’t the RSC, but the whole here is really greater than the sum of the parts. From Nathan Fillion (whom Buffy viewers will remember as the misogynist priest, Caleb, near the end of the show’s run) and his quietly brusque Captain Mal Reynolds down, Whedon has assembled a group that really gels. One that’s effective enough to draw in the viewer and make them really start to care what happens to this crew and their various functional and dysfunctional relationships with each other.

This is only re-enforced by the extras on the DVD, which show as happy and tight-knit a cast as you could wish for. There’s the usual mix of commentaries, documentaries with ’Here’s How It Was (The Making Of)’ being particularly good, deleted scenes and gag reels, all shot though with an infectious humour. Nothing ground-breaking and a bit light to be honest but then Fox was never going to spend a fortune on getting the DVD release of a cancelled show out the door.

It’s the 14 episodes themselves that are a powerful enough argument to spend your hard-earned disposable income on this DVD anyway. Presented in sumptuous widescreen, they’re primarily caper-driven, with some intriguing plot arcs just starting up in the background. Whedon doesn’t just sit back and let a cowboy allegory develop, he makes it in places a full-on western with remarkable success (only the fairly limp ’Heart Of Gold’ overplaying the card a bit too much).

When it’s funny, it’s very funny. When it’s dramatic, it’s very dramatic. When it’s brutal, it’s both shocking and surprising and the large canvas on which he’s painting allows Whedon to extend the tension to almost breaking point in places. Watch out for the first appearance of the dreaded Reavers in the opening episode as a good example. A genuinely scary moment where you realise you’re holding your breath along with the crew as the spaceships drift alongside each other.

It’s televised SF for adults basically. Remember the concept?

Of course, it isn’t the end of the story anymore either, with Universal Pictures picking up the rights to make a movie shortly after the show was cancelled. Written and directed by Whedon, with all the original cast reuniting for the project, ’Serenity’ is currently in post-production and set for a theatrical release in April 2005. If it’s as intelligent and well-crafted as the TV series, then it’s definitely going to be something worth seeing.