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Firefly - "Serenity" Movie - Estefanfilms.com Review

Arlo J. Wiley

Saturday 7 January 2006, by Webmaster

Film: A+

Video/Audio/Extras: A/A+/B+

Directed by: Joss Whedon

Written by: Joss Whedon

Based on the television series by: Joss Whedon

Produced by: Barry Mendel

Starring: Nathan Fillion, Summer Glau, Alan Tudyk, Gina Torres, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher

In the Fall of 2002, there was a little sci-fi revolution on the FOX network that came and went over the span of three short months. It was horribly mis-marketed, it was continually pre-empted for baseball games and the episodes were aired out of any kind of chronological order (this included airing the first episode last). Thus, it became the lowest-rated program on any of the four major American TV networks. Its name was Firefly, a sci-fi/western hybrid from the mind of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel visionary Joss Whedon and though only 11 episodes were aired, it made an impact and has now spawned a brilliant feature film continuation, Serenity.

It’s 500 years in the future and the earth has been used up. Thus, mankind has been forced to move out into the galaxy, discovering, terra-forming and colonizing dozens of planets and hundreds of moons. The Anglo-Sino Alliance, comprised of Earth’s only two remaining superpowers, America and China, rules the universe in the clutches of its iron fist in the aftermath of a galactic civil war...which, of course, they won. On the losing side were the Browncoats, fierce independents who opposed the Alliance’s skewed visions of "unification." Nearly seven years after the war, we find one of those aforementioned Browncoats, the callously heroic Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), captaining the Firefly-class cargo/transport vessel Serenity. His crew consists of right-hand warrior woman Zoe Alleyne (Gina Torres); her husband, the witty pilot Hoban "Wash" Washburne (Alan Tudyk); the gruff, only occasionally loyal mercenary Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin) and cute-as-a-button yet blunt-as-a-schoolboy engineer Kaywinnet "Kaylee" Frye (Jewel Staite). Mal is also harboring two fugitives from the Alliance, once-wealthy Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and his dangerously unstable psychic sister River (Summer Glau). Trouble comes their way in two forms: A sinister yet sympathetic nameless assassin, known only as the Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), sent by the Alliance to find and destroy the Tams and the Reavers, cannibalistic savages who roam the outskirts of space.

For hardcore fans of Firefly—called "Browncoats" in homage to those trampled by the Alliance—Serenity is just about as perfect a film as could be. However, if you’ve never even heard of Firefly and don’t know a gorram thing about the series, don’t fret: Writer-director Joss Whedon makes everything just as accessible to newcomers as he does to his fervent legions of fans. As usual, his Oscar- and Emmy-nominated writing is sharp and witty, with his characters speaking in a truly unique western/futuristic verbiage that results in some of the best, most thoroughly original dialogue in years. The characters are also all well-developed, three-dimensional people who always do things for a reason...they aren’t heroes in the traditional sense, they just react to the horrible things going on in the world around them. The actors, with enough chemistry for at least five other movie ensembles, bring the characters to fully-realized life, with stand-outs being Nathan Fillion as the hardened, bitter Mal, Summer Glau in a frankly amazing and mesmerizing performance as psychologically-tortured River and Chiwetel Ejiofor as the menacing realist, the Operative. Whedon’s script is complex and thought-provoking, offering a different kind of outlook on the political world. It’s timely and relevant without forgetting that it is there to service the story and the characters. The video on the new DVD release, on store shelves less than three months after the film debuted in theaters, is crisp and clear, and with the rare exception, none of classic Clint Eastwood cinematographer Jack Green’s rich, detailed photography is lost in translation. The audio is some of the best on disc in recent memory, fully bringing home the whirling, dizzying sound effects as they were experienced on the big screen, as well as a superb transfer of David Newman’s haunting, beautiful score.

The extras leave a little something to be desired, but for a film that took in as little money at the box office as Serenity did, they are surprisingly thorough. First up, we have three short featurettes, the first of which is "Future History: The Story of Earth That Was." From a fan’s perspective, it is a very interesting documentation of the story’s origins by Whedon and it may even help to clarify some points of the film that weren’t made too clear to new viewers, including the backstories of two important characters from the series that end up getting sidelined for most of the movie, Companion Inara Serra (Morena Baccarin) and Shepherd Derrial Book (Ron Glass). The second featurette, "What’s in a Firefly?" goes over the making of the low-tech but effective special effects used in the film and it’s amazing to see the budget constraints that Whedon and crew had to surmount, considering their lack of money is hardly noticeable in the movie itself. The last featurette, "Re-Lighting the Firefly," which details the resurrection of Firefly and its genesis to big screen production Serenity, is perhaps the most redundant, with bits seemingly recycled from the countless other promotional materials that cover the same subject. Still, new comments by Whedon and the cast were filmed for the DVD, which does make it worth a glance. Also included is Whedon’s introduction to the audience of fans that preceded the first preview screening of the rough cut of the film, which took place in December 2004. It will mean little to those of you who aren’t Browncoats, but for the fans, it is a heartfelt, funny little speech.

The real boon to this disc are three pivotal special features. The first, and most noteworthy, is the feature-length audio commentary by Joss Whedon. Whedon is a man known for his sharp wit and humor, and those qualities are intact in his commentary track. From the opening, "Hi, I’m Joss Whedon, and I directed this mess...er, film," to his description of a much-talked-about character death as "totally cute and sexy" and the point where "everyone laughs," you’ll be in stitches. It’s also insightful and informative with Whedon discussing the process of writing the screenplay, altering the series’ continuity to fit the film, actually making the thing and then editing it all together. There’s nary a second where Whedon isn’t saying something and that’s to be thankful for, considering everything he says is worth notice. There are also nine deleted scenes, totaling around 15 minutes. Most of them should’ve been cut from the film, though there are a few key moments that may have helped the film overall. Luckily, Whedon also has individual commentary tracks for each of these scenes. The last feature is a six-minute outtakes section which is absolutely hilarious. Each member of the cast is funny and memorable in their own right, and we really get to see the kind of camaraderie they had together onset in these outtakes, which highlight plenty of classic blunders and pranks. (Especially watch for the strangely affecting silent bit where Fillion breaks from character during a dramatic monologue to dance with off-screen co-star Baccarin). Plus, for you hardcores, there is a rather pointless yet extremely entertaining Easter egg hidden on the disc (three words: Fruity. Oaty. Bar.).

While a more hearty selection of extras would’ve been appreciated for the American release, those of you who want more of Serenity can check out the tricked-out two-disc Australian special edition (trust me, I’ll be buying it when I can). Still, despite promising early sales, this is most likely the only DVD edition of Serenity we’re likely to see on this side of the Atlantic for some time, so I recommend buying it just for the ingenious film, Whedon’s wit and the joy of seeing the cast interact with each other outside the confines of the movie. You’ll laugh, you’ll jump, you’ll cry and most importantly of all, you’ll feel like your money’s been well-spent.