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"Serenity" Movie DVD - Collector Edition - Digitallyobsessed.com Review

Wednesday 22 August 2007, by Webmaster

By now it’s the stuff of legend, how a prematurely canceled sci-fi television series was resurrected as a $40 million dollar feature film, in large part on the strength of the fanbase (known affectionately as "browncoats") that bought mass quantities of the DVD season set and filled the web with sites demanding the show’s return.

Firefly was the series, cut short after 11 episodes aired in 2003, and the story of how creator/writer/director Joss Whedon (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) eventually was given the opportunity to revisit his Old-West-meets-deep-space universe with the 2005 feature Serenity. Whedon’s film is represented here by a nicely packaged two-disc Collector’s Edition that carries a new DTS track, a new commentary, and approximately an hour or so of additional bonus materials, as well as what has already been issued on the previous release.

Serenity picks up well after the events of Firefly, and my only real beef is that for all of Whedon’s best intentions to encapsulate the series for new viewers with a prologue, it just seems too rushed. I’m a firm believer that Serenity is optimally enjoyed after having taken in all of the backstories and subplots via the series. Not that it’s all that intricate, but a couple of characters in the feature are involved in plot points that might not carry the same punch if you haven’t seen the series. Add to that the fact that Firefly is simply a terrific show, filled with Whedon’s fast-paced and witty dialogue, and a nice tilt on the future of the space frontier.

With Earth That Was (hey, that’s us) overcrowded and all used up, Whedon uses deep space colonization as his tweak on the mythos of Old West settlers, pitting a colorful block of fringe-dwellers in a battle against the strong arm of the Alliance and the dreaded cannibalistic Reavers. An implied allegiance between the United States and China—the specifics all cleverly sidestepped—has resulted in a language that is littered with purposely hokey gunslinger phraseology and a smattering of Chinese expletives. It’s an interesting blend, and Whedon does his best to not over-explain things, instead leaving it up to the viewer to connect some of the dots.

The plot here is a variation on the recurring theme of the series (only bigger, louder, and flashier), diving deeper into the character of River Tam (Summer Glau) the sometimes catatonic teen/sometimes fighting machine that is wanted by the dreaded Alliance, who have in the film sent a character known only as The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to "retrieve" her. River and her protective brother Simon (Sean Maher) had previously stowed away on the titular salvage ship, captained by gruff, look-out-for-myself Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) in the series Firefly, and their return finds them right back on Serenity, alongside the original crew, which includes Mal’s second-in-charge Zoe (Gina Torres), her wisecracking "leaf on the wind" pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk), gun-happy muscle Jayne (Adam Baldwin), ridiculously cute mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite), and the alluring—make that very alluring—professional "companion" Inara (Morena Baccarin). Wise sage Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) is relegated to a glorified cameo, a point that Whedon makes more than a few jokes about in the new commentary on this release.

Whedon may have tried to make Serenity in part for those who have never seen Firefly, but the reality of the situation is that this is a "thank you" to the fans, to the browncoats. It’s a larger-budgeted epilogue, an opportunity to elaborate upon and tie up certain plot points that the series never had the chance to properly do. It is likely that this is the last we’ll see of these characters, and to revisit them again would probably just tarnish the whole impact of this particular project.

Whedon seems to have been able to cap this off nicely, and the inclusion of a DTS track and a stylish bit of packaging on this Collector’s Edition somehow makes this seem less like a double dip and more like a final farewell.