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Joss Whedon - Firefly - "Serenity" Movie - Channel4.com Interview

Friday 26 August 2005, by Webmaster

Joss Whedon on Serenity

We caught up with the Buffy creator ahead of the premiere at Edinburgh of his directorial debut.

Cancelled TV shows don’t normally get a second chance. Space-western saga ’Firefly’ is an exception to this rule.

Originally aired on US television in 2002, this engaging sci-fi drama was axed after only 15 episodes, despite having earned critical acclaim and built up a strong following. Normally this would have been the end of the story. Instead, the massive success of the show’s DVD box set has produced a totally unprecedented result, and Firefly has been reborn onto the big screen as the highly anticipated sci-fi action thriller Serenity.

Making its world premiere at the 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival, Serenity is an enjoyable and hard-edged adventure. It marks the long-awaited cinematic directorial debut of Joss Whedon, the acclaimed writer-director behind the cult TV sensation ’Buffy The Vampire Slayer’, its spin-off ’Angel’ and the original ’Firefly’ series.

"The idea for the show came from my fascination with stories of American frontier life," explains Whedon. "I wanted to explore what happens when life is much harder and less convenient than the way we live now. One of my biggest influences was a very detailed account I read of the battle of Gettysberg in the American Civil War, which really gave me an idea of what people were like in that kind of environment. So, I took all those concepts, and put it on a spaceship - because you should always do something on a spaceship if you can..."

Set five hundred years from now, Serenity is the story of ex-soldier Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his ramshackle crew, who spend their lives trying to make a living by any means possible, whether it’s transporting passengers or pulling off minor crimes. They’re happy avoiding the attention of the all-powerful conglomerate known as the Alliance, but when one of their crew turns out to be hiding a potentially lethal secret, they are quickly forced into finding out the lengths they will go to survive.

Whedon has packed the film with his trademark rich, witty dialogue, but he admits that transforming the series into a film that would satisfy the general public as well as dedicated fans wasn’t an easy task. "It was the hardest piece of writing I’ve ever done. I’ve seen films of TV shows that feel like extended episodes, and that was the last thing I wanted to do. It had to be self-contained and work as a movie, which meant I had to cope with problems like introducing nine main characters who’d already met!"

"Through all the restructuring, it ended up being quite different from the original show," says Whedon. "It became more about taking these tiny people in this tiny ship who meant nothing and weren’t a part of history, putting them in the most epic situation I could and seeing if they folded under the pressure."

As well as increasing the scope of the story, Serenity also sports a variety of spectacular CGI sequences, although Whedon has been careful to balance these with more traditional sets and effects. "I’m a great believer in things that are actually there," he explains. "The trouble with CGI is that it often doesn’t look quite real, and filmmakers end up losing their abilities and just going "Hey, we can do this!" rather than trying to show it cinematically. There’s also an airlessness to some digital effects that you just can’t get away from. In the big chase sequence on the Mule hovercraft, we specifically built a practical vehicle that we could put the actors on, because it gave the scene a reality you just wouldn’t get with CGI, even if you had all the money in the world. Which we didn’t."

"Ultimately, it’s part of the whole ethos of the movie, putting you there on that ship, with those characters. It’s how I’ve always liked to make stories, whether it’s a show like ’Buffy’ or a show like ’Firefly’. You take seemingly impossible situations and treat them as real as you can, but also make sure that it comes down to stories about people. Yes, there’s action and explosions and all that joy, but it always comes back to the characters in the end."

The film’s strange production history has continued through to the unusual location for the world premiere, and for Whedon, appearing at the Edinburgh Festival is a fitting end to Serenity’s unique journey to the screen. "I know there’s a lot of people in Los Angeles who are going ’What? This is against all the laws of nature!’, but I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be premiering. When you hear the phrase ’science fiction’, people tend not to take it seriously, so to be showing in a festival like this, and to be considered an actual film with something to say about humanity... it’s tremendous. I just hope the fans like what they see... because if they don’t, we’re in really big trouble!"