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One almost unexpected benefit of DVDs is the media has recently been used to resurrect television series that have unfortunately died before their time. One such series was Joss Whedon’s late, lamented ‘Firefly’. Although this quality series was completely ruined by the studio, airing episodes out of order and pre-empting it constantly the DVD sales where considerably better than they could have expected. It is a hard and fast rule that profits beget sequels and in this case Universal wisely picked up the gauntlet and released the film ‘Serenity’. After a brief summation for those that are unfamiliar with the series the film picks up just about where we last left the crew of the illegal freighter, Serenity. It is five hundred years in the future, the earth is worn out. Mankind has taken to the stars bringing all the strife and derision along for the ride. There was a war, the Government Alliance pitted against the brown-coats, separatists who only want to live in peace. The brown coats lost and the Alliance retained its grip on the civilizations of a dozen worlds and moons. Former brown-coat Malcolm ‘Mal’ Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) commands the Serenity, a firefly class small transport which permits Mal and his crew to eke out a meager living. On board the Serenity is Mal’s second in command Zoe (Gina Torres), her husband, pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk), ship’s engineering Kayle (Jewel Staite) and mercenary Jayne (Adam Baldwin). During the television series they picked up a pair of unusual passengers, medical doctor Simon Tom (Sean Maher) and River (Summer Glau), his telepathic and reclusive sister. During the course of the film they are reunited with former shipmates Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) and the beautiful professional companion Irana (Morena Baccarin). Together they must help River avoid recapture by the Alliance. River is so important to this evil government that they have dispatched the ultimate black-ops agent known only as the Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor). While the Operative is used to the swift resolution of his missions he finds that sweet little River is far more than she seems. Not only can she read minds but she is the ultimate martial arts killing machine. Once stirred from her almost catatonic state River is a force to be reckoned with. The rag tag crew of Serenity also obtains some much needed assistance in the form of the best hacker in the galaxy, a man known simply as Mister Universe (David Krumholtz). He is able to find, decipher and disseminate any information that happens to be available.

It used to be a cult classic like this would have a very small fan base. Thanks in a large part to the internet, DVD and science fiction conventions something like Firefly has grown beyond what the short sighted executives at Fox could have imagined. Still, without innate quality this would have been a moot point. Like the series that begat this film the quality is excellent. This is a good old fashion space opera, very reminiscent of the pulp sci-fi novels I loved as a kid. There is a clear cut distinction between the good and bad guys. The government is evil, out to control the ‘verse while the average man fights against them. The characters are fully formed human beings, people that the audience can readily identify with. Mal is a veteran of a war his side loss. They were not defeated by tactics as much as by deception. Zoe is loyal to Mal and completely in love with her husband. Kayle is nothing short of a cute bundle of sexual energy, she is also able to keep the ship going through any circumstances. For the legion of brown-coats (Firefly fans) out there this film does answer a lot of the questions the series never had the opportunity to investigate. For example there are the heinous Reavers. In the series all we get to know about them is from a great line from Zoe, "If they board us, they'll rape us to death, eat our flesh and sew our skin to their clothes. And if we're very, very lucky, they'll do it in that order." Here we get to see them up close and learn about their origins.

Firefly and Serenity are part of a growing movement referred to as naturalistic science fiction. With this form of this classic genre the focus is on the human drama far more than the technology. The look of the film is straight from the old west. After all it is easier to maintain a horse on a remote planet than a flying car. The people are beset with very human flaws. Mal lives with the ghost of the final battle of the war, Wash feels that he lives in the shadow of his action oriented wife and Jayne is loyal only to his own needs and desires.

A very big part of the success of this film is the casting. Nathan Fillion is absolutely perfect as Mal. Fillion has a background with comedy, just look for episodes of the television series ‘Two Guys and a Girl’ and you will see what a great sense of timing this actor possesses. This gives him the ability to add the right touch of comedy in the tensest situation adding even more to the realism. Mal uses his dry sense of humor to defuse situations and cope with the dangers he and his crew faces. Gina Torres is a veteran of television sci-fi and brings this expertise to the film. She can achieve the balance between Zoe’s tough as nails public face with the more tender and loving wife to Wash. No one could have done better as Kayle than Jewel Staite. She has the innocent face of a country girl with an engineer’s mind and a sex kitten’s desires. For many men Kayle is the perfect woman, able to rebuild an engine and then engage is wild sex. The real breakout star here is Summer Glau as River. In the series we only got a few little glimpses of her extraordinary abilities. Whether River is taking out a small army or hiding pressed against the ceiling she remains the cute faced slim girl.

Although Fox did make some amends with the DVD release of Firefly Universal had the presence of mind to continue this tale on the big screen. They did a great job with this release, giving the proper attention to one of the most anticipated films in a long time. I reviewed a watermarked pre-release copy so the video and audio may differ from the actual release. Still, what I saw and heard was fantastic. The Dolby 5.1 audio was extremely well balanced providing a better than usual sound stage. The audio is crisp throughout the entire frequency range with no hint of distortion. The video was equally of the highest standards. The color balance was typically realistic with some push towards the yellows on various planets. The extras are geared towards die hard brown coats out there. Joss Wheldon’s feature length commentary is obviously a labor of love. You can tell by how he speaks about the film how important these characters where to him. There are some perfunctory deleted scenes and a few outtakes that show just how much the cast enjoyed this reunion. There is a feature called ‘Future History: The Story Of Earth That Was’ that gives a little more back story on old earth and a look at the ship in ‘What's In A Firefly’. It doesn’t matter if you were a fan of the series or this is your first encounter with this universe, this is a fun flick that brings human drama together with old time action.

Posted 12/13/05            07/13/2017

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