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"Serenity" Movie - MetroWest Daily News article on series and film

By Ed Symkus

Thursday 21 July 2005, by Webmaster

’Serenity’ now

When third-generation television writer Joss Whedon created the series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" — based on his own script for the feature film — he had a hit on his hands. The same thing happened when he came up with the "Buffy" spin-off series "Angel." Fans came to refer to his shows as part of the "Jossverse," and at times were of the rabid variety. Yet fans couldn’t save Whedon’s best work, the short-lived 2002 science fiction series "Firefly." Fourteen episodes of this "Western in outer space" were filmed, but only 11 of them had aired when Fox Television pulled the plug. The show, taking place about 500 years in the future, well after Earth has been rendered almost unlivable, followed the exploits of a space-hopping crew of salvagers — well, that’s what they called themselves; they’re actually petty criminals — always on the run from the galactic federation known as The Alliance. The inventive scripts were filled with anti-establishment plots and messages, deeply intertwining personal stories, and a great sense of humor. The series also had lots of partially revealed secrets about the crew members that were slowly coming to light, and it won an Emmy for Outstanding Special Visual Effects. But it was the colorful characters — from the swaggering Captain Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) to the mysterious River (Summer Glau), from the square-jawed Jayne (Adam Baldwin) to the warrior woman Zoe (Gina Torres) — that captured viewers’ attentions. This was a show with refreshingly different people taking part in offbeat stories. It was so good, it just couldn’t last. But the letter-writing and e-mail-sending outcry from disappointed fans did finally pay off. Whedon was given the green light to write and direct a medium-budget (about $40 million) feature film version of the show titled "Serenity," which was the name of Captain Reynolds’ rogue spaceship. Set for release by Universal Pictures at the end of September, the film picks up on the adventures of the renegade crew — the entire cast is intact — a few months after the final episode took place. In an unprecedented move, Universal has been holding late-night test screenings of the film in a number of cities over the past couple of months — 10 cities in early May, 20 more in late May, 35 a couple of weeks ago. All of them sold out in advance, every seat was filled by hardcore fans or newcomers that fans dragged along. A number of MetroWest "Firefly"-philes were in attendance at the Loews Boston Common for one of the recent 10 p.m. screenings. Many of them were wearing small green buttons that read "shiny," a Whedon term meaning extra special or really nice. All of them were champing at the bit to see how their small-screen heroes would transfer to the big screen. "It’s an amazing show; I found it to be really credible," says Weston resident Meredith Stern, who recently graduated from Smith College. "It’s science fiction, in that it takes place in the future and it’s on space ships. But if you watch ’Star Trek,’ there are aliens everywhere and everyone’s more or less at peace. But this is somehow a little more apocalyptic. Earth has been mined hollow, and the U.S. and China are the superpowers that have survived. It’s dark, there aren’t aliens, and people are very much at war. I hate to say it, but it just seems a lot more credible." Lonnie di Nello of Worcester enjoys the fact that the show mixed a couple of disparate genres together. I like the whole sort of space cowboy thing," she says. "I was totally excited about that because I love modern Westerns. And I’ve always liked sci-fi stuff. So I really like the idea of combining the two of them together. "And all the other sci-fi shows seem to be formulaic," she added. "Everything is like ’Star Wars’ or ’Star Trek." This was just funny and had a different feel to it." Although Stern had heard through the "Serenity" grapevine that the film’s ending was "somewhat startling, for content reasons rather than quality," di Nello shied away from any advance word on the film. "I’ve seen every episode of the TV show," she says. "But I’ve avoided every conversation about the movie. I didn’t want to know anything about it." If di Nello and Stern sound like they know what they’re talking about, Jeff Rogers, from Sterling, comes across as an aficionado. "I watched the show from the start," he says. "I think it was the most original made-for-television science fiction series since ’Babylon 5.’ And I’m very picky when it comes to science fiction. When I saw the previews for the show, it seemed that it would appeal to my sense of humor and my enjoyment of science fiction. After I watched the first show, I knew it was a unique genre." Rogers refers to the show’s Wild West atmosphere and science fiction backdrop as "the old and the new mixed together, along with a sense of humor that seems to be a patent of Joss Whedon. "And it worked," he adds. "It worked very well. Good humor, good storytelling, and it mixed contiguous fiction with episodic fiction, which is difficult to do." Episodes of the television series "Firefly" are available on DVD, and the series will be run in its entirety on the Sci Fi Channel on Fridays at 7 p.m., starting tomorrow. The feature film "Serenity" opens in theaters on Sept. 30.