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Serenity Now ? Ew.com Article

Thursday 18 August 2005, by Webmaster

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HOME SWEET HOME The cast of Serenity (from left) Sean Maher, Jewel Staite, Ron Glass, Summer Glau, Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Adam Baldwin, and Morena Baccarin

Joss Whedon’s canceled TV series ’’Firefly’’ is back from the dead — The writer/director/cult-media prophet’s aborted TV series has emerged from the cancellation cocoon as a full-blown movie by Jeff Jensen

There are several thousand reasons why the film Serenity is coming to a theater near you on Sept. 30, and on this balmy San Diego evening in July, a couple hundred of them have just broken out into song. Some sport T-shirts that read JOSS WHEDON IS MY MASTER NOW. (Pop idolatry like this can happen when you make cult magnets like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel for a living.) But most are Browncoats, a division within the Whedon Nation devoted to Firefly, the producer’s short-lived 2002 TV series about a rinky-dink spaceship and its thick-as-thieves crew. Tonight, these true believers have gathered in this multiplex for a sneak peek at the miracle they have helped make possible: the reincarnation of Firefly as Serenity, a $45 million film written and directed by Whedon and starring the show’s original cast. So when they rip into Firefly’s guitar-and-fiddle theme song (’’Take my love, take my land...’’), they do so with glee. And when the Master himself materializes from behind the curtain, they greet him like a golden god. Whedon soaks it in with a shy smile. Then, a trademark zinger: ’’A little enthusiasm might have been nice.’’

He’s joking, obviously. But if Browncoats everywhere would like to take him seriously, Universal sure wouldn’t mind - much of its marketing strategy hinges on it. Since April, the studio has sneak-previewed the film a whopping 66 times for Firefly loyalists as part of a plan to mobilize Whedon’s well-organized, Internet-chatty fans. Universal could use the extra muscle: There’s a lot of heavy lifting involved, trying to explain a sci-fi Western in which cowboys giddyap on space freighters, fire Winchesters, and curse so damned much. In Chinese. (In case you’re wondering why Fox canceled the series after 11 low-rated episodes, now you know.)

For Whedon, the support from fans has sustained him through Firefly’s arduous slog from TV flop to potential franchise. ’’It means more to me, in fact, than I care to admit,’’ says Whedon, 41, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter (Toy Story) making his feature directing debut. But in many ways, his fractured heart is there for all to see in his movie. ’’Nobody has felt more like Mal Reynolds than me,’’ says Whedon, referring to Serenity’s Han Solo-esque haunted hero, a battle-scarred ex-soldier (Nathan Fillion) who must fight like hell in order to save the life of a strange, damaged child. ’’A lot of emotional issues have come up while making this film. And one of them,’’ he says with a laugh, ’’is that I don’t deal with loss very well.’’

Of course, hardship and heartbreak were always supposed to be part and parcel of Serenity’s world. Whedon dreamed up Firefly six years ago after reading Michael Shaara’s Civil War novel, The Killer Angels. He pictured a gritty drama about the rigors of frontier life - ’’but on a spaceship, because I’m me,’’ says Whedon, who saw Firefly as a scruffy Star Trek minus the noble causes and aliens. He fell hard for his new creation. TV viewers did not. For all of Firefly’s rich ingredients - including a prostitute with class (Morena Baccarin) and a sad, spacey teen (Summer Glau) tweaked by evil scientists to be a killing machine - the show was too eclectic for a mass audience. A Friday-night time slot didn’t help, nor did Fox’s decree that Whedon lighten up his bleak concept with more Buffyesque quips and kicks. He agreed, though his gut told him that compromise wouldn’t make Fireflyany more commercial. ’’I chose to ignore it,’’ says Whedon, ’’because I was in love with the show. It was like crack.’’ The actors were similarly quixotic. ’’I had it in my heart we were doing something good, and because we were in the right, we would prevail,’’ says Fillion. ’’And I was crushed.’’

Whedon was too, but he refused to accept it. He didn’t believe he had to. After all, this was the guy who rescued Buffy, which was first a failed movie (based on his script) before it became a seminal TV show. After Firefly was snuffed in December 2002, Whedon spent nine months trying to reignite it. But cancellation had given the project a stink. Even UPN and Sci Fi Channel turned him down. ’’I asked all the homeliest girls at the prom if they would dance, and they said no,’’ he says. ’’Then the beauty queen showed up.’’

’’I was a Whedon stalker,’’ laughs Mary Parent, Universal’s now-outgoing vice chairman of production, who dug Whedon’s vision and no-surrender passion. She also recognized a potentially marketable Cinderella story. A modestly budgeted film, Parent believed, was a gamble worth taking, and in September 2003, Universal optioned the rights from Fox. ’’I thought this band of underdogs could make for a cool movie,’’ she says. ’’But I did want to see a script first.’’

So Whedon wrote. And wrote. And wrote. And wound up with an unfilmable, only-for-the-fans 190-page epic - ’’basically the second season of Firefly,’’ he says. He boiled the script down to a crackerjack chase flick charged with political subtext: Mal & Co. on the run from a government agent (Chiwetel Ejiofor) desperate to recover that lethal and loony teen, River. In February 2004, after the script was done (and Firefly emerged as a DVD smash), Universal cleared Serenity for launch. Browncoats cheered. The cast rejoiced. And Whedon...was pissed. The battle to save Firefly finally won, Whedon found himself ’’burping up a huge amount of an undigested rage.’’ Serenity, he realized, was not Firefly; a two-hour film just could not encompass all the stories he wanted to tell, and could have told on TV. ’’When the fight was over,’’ he says, ’’I finally felt all the pain I never let myself feel.’’

But after that, everyone lived happily ever after, right? Not yet. In early 2005, the studio decided to move Serenity from April to September to shield its little fish from the bigger ones - namely, Star Wars. Whedon was disappointed for his fans, and worried the shift would be seen as a sign his film wasn’t very good. Fortunately, Universal had an idea for assuaging his insecurities that dovetailed nicely with its intention to utilize the Browncoats as buzz generators. On April 22, Serenity’s original release date, the first wave of screenings was held, publicized solely through Firefly fansites. The next day, reviews hit the Web - and fortunately, they weren’t bad.

Stumping for Serenity could bring fans the glorious spoil of even more Serenity. Universal execs say the film would need to gross north of $80 million globally to garner sequel consideration - not an impossible dream, given that Whedon also boasts a strong following abroad. (’’Trilogy!’’ cries Fillion.) Whedon is game, though he’d have to find time to juggle franchises: He’s prepping a Wonder Woman movie for Warner Bros. ’’This doesn’t feel like the end to me,’’ he says. ’’But then, nothing with me ever ends.’’

Serenity hasn’t healed all of Whedon’s Firefly wounds, but he does feel a sense of relief...and gratitude. ’’I know I’m a lucky man,’’ he says. ’’But there’s gotta be an easier way to make a movie.’’