Sci-Fi Storm

Serenity DVD review

by on Dec.16, 2005, under General News

Serenity, the movie sequel to the short-lived-but-greatly-loved Fox series Firefly, comes out next Tuesday, offering all the Browncoats out there a chance to see it again. Here is a pre-street review of what you can expect. What? Haven’t seen the series yet? It’s it’s not too late… [Shameless Editorial Plea: SciFi Storm‘s only income is through Amazon commissions – if you haven’t completed your online shopping for the holidays, please consider doing so through our links on the left or in the articles – even for non SF merchandise. You don’t pay more, but we get some pocket change. Our Amazon sales are WAY down from the last two years, and an impending layoff is making this Holiday difficult.]

Firefly/Serenity is something of a success story that doesn’t happen in Hollywood too often. A show is cancelled, but through the persistence of the creator and the fans (called Browncoats, after the nickname of the Independence fighters in the show), comes back several years later. Offhand, I can only think of it happening once – Star Trek.

I admit that I didn’t watch Firefly when it first aired. I don’t even have the DVD set – I watched it for the first time when SCI FI re-aired it prior to the release of Serenity. At the time I was too busy to add another show to my watch list (two dual tuner DirecTV TiVos since then solved that problem…), and after watching the first aired episode (which was not the actual first episode), it just didn’t seem interesting. Now I wish I had watched it through, and had been part of the Browncoats from Day 1.

Serenity picks up pretty much where Firefly left off. Inara is teaching at a Companion school and Shepherd Book is heading what appears to be a refugee camp at Haven, but everyone else is on board. A simple robbery results in an encounter with Reavers – and a bit of moral conflict with Mal. In the meantime, an Operative for the Alliance (read: assassin) is brought in to track down River, who knows one of the Alliance’s darkest secrets – and it doesn’t matter if everyone in the universe dies to get to her.

The movie provides two closures – who/what River is, and who/what the Reavers are. I was disappointed that more about Book wasn’t handled – I think he has a history that would be very interesting, but I understand that was handled in a comic series. Will need to track that down.

In fact, the roles of Book (played by Ron Glass – anyone old enough to remember Barney Miller?) and Inara (the lovely Morena Baccarin) seem more incidental to the movie than part of it. Book could have been left out completely except as a bridge to what happens at Haven, and Inara seemed only a bridge to a fight seen – but as can be seen in the Deleted Scenes a lot more involving Inara was filmed. Still, they are minor characters to the whole. The rest of the crew – Mal (Nathan Fillion), Zoe (Gina Torres), Wash (Alan Tudyk), Jayne (Adam Baldwin), Kaylee (Jewel Staite – who is just too cute even with grease on her face), Simon (Sean Maher) and River (Summer Glau) have a lot more to do. Primarily it focuses around Mal and River, with Summer Glau putting in a great performance for a troubled, schizophrenic girl who is a lot more than she seems. She even gets in a Jackie Chan-esque barfight. If I were to pick a fault in acting, I would have to say that the emotional response was rather weak coming from Fillion – I just didn’t feel the emotion driving him. Newcomer Chiwetel Ejiofor is admirable as the understated but deadly Operative.

The production of the movie wasn’t much different than the show (except for enhancements afforded by a larger budget and more production time), so it really feels like an extra special episode of the show. Even with the lesser restrictions on language, they kept the practice of speaking Chinese when insulting or swearing, as it is part of the culture of the show. All the wit and satire is in place.

The DVD I have for review is a “screener”, so it may be somewhat different than the final release. There are no menus, so I won’t see what those look like until everyone else does. Also, I believe that the video quality is slightly affected by some copy protection involved, so the final product will be more refined. As such, some parts of the normal DVD review won’t apply, and some of what may be described below may be different or missing, and other things may have been added.

The DVD includes a number of deleted scenes, including: Extended scene between Jayne and Kaylee, Inara at the Companion school, digging up information on Mal and Zoe (explains how Inara gets involved), some preaching from Book, the escape from the Companion school, a few moments between Mal and Inara, and a little more dialog between Mal and the Operative, about the irony of the ship’s name.

Various outtakes also included faulty equipment, tricky holsters, and the the fact that Fillion is a klutz. One scene seems to imply music started playing, but the sound was cut – I wonder if it was cut out for licensing reason. It would be interesting to see if the audio is intact for the release – it seems awkward otherwise, except for Mal dancing during what should be a extremely serious scene.

There are three featurettes:

“Future History: The Story of Earth That Was”: Featurette featuring Joss Whedon talking about how he saw the Firefly universe extended from our own.

“What’s in a Firefly”: “Making of” featurette

“Re-Lighting the Firefly”: The fight to being it back.

Also included is a short introduction by Joss Whedon, explaining why Serenity exists, and to spread the word to those who might otherwise never see it.

I believe the final release will include a full length commentary from Joss Whedon, but that was absent from the review copy.

Now for a hybrid feature/DVD review (especially since I never posted a review for the movie itself):

Plot/Story: A good continuation of the Firefly series. The source of the Reavers is interesting, although the revelation could have been improved. 4/5

Characters/Acting: Aside from Summer Glau, nothing spectacular, but nothing bad either. 3/5

Video/Production: As mentioned, not a significant difference from the show, beyond budgetary expansion. The Alliance vs. Reaver battle was well done but brief. I like the fact that the style didn’t change. 3/5

Extras: Somewhat average extras. 3/5

Overall: A great movie, especially for fans of the show. Possible for people who haven’t seen the show to watch, but it would make more sense to see the show first. 4/5

Final Score: 3.4 out of 5…excellent score for the first foray from small to big screen.

Will we see more of the crew of the Serenity? I don’t know – box office response wasn’t spectactular – but perhaps with good DVD sales we may see our favorite scofflaws again…

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