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"Firefly" still soaring

Saturday 23 December 2006, by Webmaster

Joss Whedon earned fame and fortune for the TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” but an even greater accomplishment was the creatively rendered “Firefly.” Unfortunately, hardly anyone noticed.

“Firefly” lasted less than a full season on Fox in 2002 and only 11 of its 14 episodes aired. The unimaginative studio chiefs pulled the plug on the terrific series that combined Western and sci-fi elements in a tale about a freedom fighter and his crew making their way through the galaxy in what might have been titled “Wagon Train in Outer Space.”

Whedon convinced Universal Pictures to budget $39 million for a big-screen version of “Firefly,” which he titled “Serenity” after the interplanetary cargo ship flown by the rebels. Unfortunately, the project enjoyed only a modest gross, ending the hopes the fans had for a series of movies, a la “Star Trek.”

“Firefly” and its big-screen offspring, “Serenity,” may be gone, but they certainly haven’t been forgotten. The series (Fox; $49.99, DVD) and the movie (Universal; $19.99) are easily found on DVD and books on the movie and show have been published.

With “Serenity: The Official Visual Companion” (Titan Books; $19.95), Whedon provides an introduction, participates in an in-depth interview on the film and provides the full shooting script, which includes some cut scenes.

“Science fiction is absolutely an obsession, and what happened when I read (Michael Shaara’s Civil War book) ‘The Killer Angels’ was not so much thinking about the Western genre as about the experience of immigrants and pioneers moving west, the dangers and the desperation of the kind of person who’d go with their family and babies into unknown territory, where nobody wanted them, with nothing but what they could carry either on their backs or in their wagons,” Whedon says of his inspiration for the show.

“I thought putting it in a setting of a science fiction show would service everything that I wanted.”

With “Firefly: The Official Companion - Volume I” (Titan Books; $19.95), Whedon provides a look at actors Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin and Adam Baldwin who play Mal Reynolds, Zoe Washburne, Hoban “Wash” Washburne, Inara Serra and Jayne Cobb, respectively. There are also full, uncut shooting scripts for the pilot, “The Train Job,” “Bushwhacked,” “Shindig,” “Save” and “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” each annotated with cast-and-crew comments.

Fans of “Firefly” should love all of the details.

“Finding Serenity: Anti-heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon’s ‘Firefly’” (Benbella Books; $17.95), edited by Jane Espenson, offers a series of essays on the series, which had political overtones.

“One of the main themes of ‘Firefly’ was that of the exploitation and the separation between haves and have-nots; the majority of the villains on the show reflected that,” Keith R.A. DeCandido writes in his chapter on “The Train Job,” an episode that Fox insisted air before the pilot due to its action-oriented plot.

For avid fans of “Firefly” and “Serenity,” Espenson’s book of essays provides insights into Whedon’s sci-fi world that didn’t contain any alien enemies but had plenty of flesh-and-blood monsters.