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Firefly/Serenity

Posted June 30, 2015 into Telly by John Birmingham

A couple years ago – to be truthful, probably a whole passle o' years ago now – I bought me the DVD of Joss Whedon’s Firefly. There was only one series made before it was shit-canned by Fox and I’d wanted to watch it when it first went to air. Whedon’s first outing post Buffy/Angel and spaced based sci-fi western to boot. What’s not to love?

The ratings, apparently.

That disc sat in my pile o’ shame for years, however, and it sits there still. Unopened. I was waiting for Jane to watch it with me, but gave up and caught the whole series on Netflix recently, finishing up with Serenity on the weekend. The step up in production values from TV to cinema was obvious, and very obviously established by Whedon in a cheeky tracking shot early in the film which flows through the entire body of the ship. Not a point of view you ever saw on the television show which made do with much more modest sets.

Bottom line. I came to love this series and would have happily paid good folding money to watch more. I enjoyed the transference of the Old West myths to an interplanetary canvas and did’t have to work too hard to suspend my disbelief at the idea that frontier cultural forms would reappear on this new frontier.

The framing of the wider narrative promised an expansive story world to explore over years, rather than the fourteen episodes Lord Rupert left us with. On the upside, the film was a fitting send off to a great concept. iO9 ran a long extract from a bio of Whedon, which devoted a chapter to Firefly. The extract came with some interesting background deets I didn’t know of. The series was apparently inspired by a Pulitzer Prize winning historical novel of the American Civil War, The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara. Whedon read it while on holiday in London and was taken by the minutiae of detail Shaara crammed into the work.

The director said he "wanted to play with that classic notion of the frontier. Not the people who made history, but the people history stepped on—the people for whom every act is the creation of civilization.” Firefly/Serenity is not the story of Jedi Council or the Federation’s celebrity starship captains, he said. It’s the story of the guys who cleaned out the trash compactor on the Death Star. Or the redshirts who jumped ship to escape their inevitable and anonymous fate as Klingon disruptor fodder.

There’s been a lot written about the debt it owes to John Ford’s Stage Coach, with some characters making the hyper space jump from old West to new almost intact. They’re archetypes too. however, with familiar character traits from Buffy, and possibly even the Avengers, finding fresh purchase here.


From i09:

Firefly's cast of characters is filled with the archetypes that pop up in much of Joss's work: the loner with a distinct sense of justice, although his sense of right and wrong may not mesh with society's; the stalwart and dependable comrade, who may question the hero but will always have his back; the stuffy, book-learned one who finds that real life often does not adhere to the facts he was taught; the one with faith, who has left an organized group but still works to apply its tenets for the benefit of those around him; the mercenary who's always up for a fight; the confident one who is often just trying to get through the day in the most pleasant way possible; the well-trained one whose strength is not fully understood until she is pushed; and, of course, the young woman coming to terms with her new power and the responsibility that it entails.

The movie, Serenity, could be enjoyed without investing a dozen or so hours in the TV series, but you’d find it a much richer experience for that first investment. I don’t know whether Whedon was always heading towards the resolution he laid out on the big screen, especially as regards the origin of the Reavers, who do sterling narrative duty as space zombies. Fast space zombies. Given the lack of telegraphing I doubt it.


I won’t give away any spoilers in case there are other slackers, like me, who’ve gone the better part of decade without catching this series. But if you haven’t, and you’re inclined to sample Netflix’s free trial period, you could do worse than spend a wet weekend on the High Frontier with Captain Mal Reynolds.

33 Responses to ‘Firefly/Serenity’

Spanner is gonna tell you...

Posted June 30, 2015
I loved Firefly. I've watched the series several times. It's one I can go back to over an over again. The crew of the Serenity are a bit like Easy company from Band of Brothers or crew of the rebooted Galactica in that I care about them. Yeah I get that in Serenity and even Galactica there are tropes and that Easy was real people.
Do the characters carry the narative?
In Firefly and Galactica they certainly do.
*puts on thinking hat and goes to think some more.

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Paul_Nicholas_Boylan mutters...

Posted June 30, 2015
Serenity is high in my top ten bet films of all time.

NBlob is gonna tell you...

Posted June 30, 2015
I don't remember a bet?

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan mutters...

Posted June 30, 2015
Bet = best

Fucking jet lag.

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beeso mumbles...

Posted June 30, 2015
Pretty sure the Netflix listing is the TV one which is out of order. So watch them in this order if you do use the streamSerenity (parts 1 & 2)

beeso is gonna tell you...

Posted June 30, 2015
I will modify that. If you might be an early adopter and using the US version of Netflix you will get this problem. Oz has the DVD version it seems.

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Murphy would have you know...

Posted June 30, 2015
Unfortunately, if you actually know anything about the American Civil War then trying to watch Firefly is akin to a brigade of cats clawing away at a chalkboard.

It is the show I wanted to like, but man, I just can't. In fact, Whedon's only offerings to date that I have been able to sort of buy has been his Avengers outings.

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Aaron is gonna tell you...

Posted June 30, 2015
I watched serenity first having heard about firefly. Great stand alone flick and better when paired with the show. I wish they would open up the universe as it had so much more light and shade to offer. The current trend of dark and even darker we seeIn game if thrones and walking dead is getting too much. Theoriginal cast was great but why not relaunch with new faces the right age.

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Peter Bradley mutters...

Posted June 30, 2015
Not having a historical perspective to it I just watched it for what it was when it came out. Engaging and at times a little bit thinky but like Buffy there were some great one liners;
Kaylee - "ain't nothin' touched my nethers for a year that weren't battery run
Jayne - "I'll be in my bunk"
Wash - " I am a leaf on the wind, watch how I soar"

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Bondiboy66 asserts...

Posted June 30, 2015
I was late to the series, having finally watched it last year, and loved it! I have Serenity sitting on my hard drive half watched...I got interrupted and haven't finished it. That was definitely a show with promise, and a great shame it got canned by bean counters. My wife was quite a fan of Castle there for a while...they managed to toss the odd Firefly reference into that show too!

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TheWah swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 30, 2015
Has anybody watched the new series "Dark Matter"? I get the feeling they are trying to capture the Firefly vibe. Firefly mixed with Farscape.Not as good as either, imo

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted June 30, 2015
Thanks ComicBook Guy.

TheWah swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 30, 2015
We can't all have your "Ten years past the zeitgeist" level of cool. :)

John Birmingham ducks in to say...

Posted June 30, 2015
No. No you cannot.

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coriolisdave mutters...

Posted June 30, 2015
I've also heard not-great things about Dark Matter, but a similar show that's just kicked off is "Killjoys" - I get a similar firefly vibe from it, remains to be seen if they can keep it up

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Barnesm reckons...

Posted June 30, 2015

Watched it often, and even to this day if I turn on the TV and Serenity is on I'll watch it again.

In one of the pieces I read Whedon said TV is about questions where as movies are about answers. Never was that more clear than that the differences in the stories between the series and the movie particularly regarding the Reavers.

Zoe's "She's torn up plenty, but she'll fly true" still brings a tear to my eye.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan asserts...

Posted June 30, 2015
I really do love this film. There are many really great lines and bits of dialogue. But for me the best is what Joss Whedon describes as Mal's “St Crispin's Day speech”:

"Y'all got on this boat for different reasons, but y'all come to the same place. So now I'm asking more of you than I have before. Maybe all. Sure as I know anything, I know this - they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, ten? They'll swing back to the belief that they can make people... better. And I do not hold to that. So no more runnin'. I aim to misbehave."

Barnesm puts forth...

Posted July 1, 2015

and the delivery. Nathan Fillion either has a natural rhythm or he was directed by Whedon but that speech.

swing back to the belief that they can make people... better.

that beat between people and better, conveyed so much


Paul_Nicholas_Boylan swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 2, 2015
My wife and I discuss that kind of thing all the time. A good actor makes good choices. A great actor makes the perfect choice. I think the pause you describe was a perfect choice.

GhostSwirv mumbles...

Posted July 2, 2015

Nathan Fillion is a fine actor and his range of dramatic delivery is typical of many North American actors.

Writing and direction is key ... the clearest difference between entertainment media content of the USA, UK and Oz is how the Americans deliver the dramatic world of the story, particularly in TV, it might be overly melodramatic at times - but more often than not it serves the dramatic intent and heart of the story, ... mostly a considered beat is all it takes.


Paul_Nicholas_Boylan has opinions thus...

Posted July 2, 2015
Thank you for recognizing that. The world loves to slam American media by focusing in on its worst examples. Much of it is excellent by any standard.

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Surtac would have you know...

Posted June 30, 2015

Yeah. Have to admit that Serenity is definitely one of my all-time favourite movies and I rewatch it often -- it has got to the point where I've found myself quoting its' dialogue in seemingly (to me) appropriate situations both at work and home.

So it goes.

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nhamilton@iinet.net.au is gonna tell you...

Posted June 30, 2015
Watched it years ago with my daughter. It now comes out every school holidays along with Lord of the Rings trilogy and Veronica Mars series when she wants to lie around and watch movies. High praise indeed.

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GhostSwirv mutters...

Posted June 30, 2015
I love Firefly and Serenity ... I've owned and watched the DVDs since they were first released, over and over again.

Captain Mal is up there in my opinion almost on the same level with Captain Kirk, and like PNB I feel that ... "I aim to misbehave" is one of the best inspirational speeches I've ever heard, I'd sign on in a heartbeat.

It's as good as ... "I swear by my pretty floral bonnet I will end you".

If ever a show needed a rebirth, reboot its Firefly - plenty would have happened to the crew of Serenity since we last flew with them and I'd love to journey with Mal once more.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan puts forth...

Posted July 1, 2015
I am informed by confidential sources that part of the discussions surrounding the film involved the original cast's concerns about the film inspiring a reboot of the series - something many of the original cast wanted to avoid. If the series comes back - which I personally would welcome - it would be with different cast set in the same universe.

Blake is gonna tell you...

Posted July 1, 2015
I am not much of a twitter user, but i do follow Nathan Fillion - the interplay between he and William Shatner is pretty cool. The fictional likeness you mentioned crosses over into a real life one with the way in which the communities sprung up around them, and their canadian heritage etc

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David Bofinger mumbles...

Posted June 30, 2015
I know fans scream at George RR Martin when he does anything other than finish their series. I guess John Birmingham needs to have a similar work ethic. But leaving Firefly on the shelf for ten years is amazingly dedicated and I salute you for it.

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Steve mumbles...

Posted June 30, 2015
Fun fact: Serenity makes an appearance in the first episode of Galactica. There's a scene where Laura Roslin is in an office building, and you see the reflection of Serenity in the building across the road.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan mutters...

Posted July 1, 2015
I am so going to the first episode to check this out. I so want it to be true.

Murphy swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 1, 2015
The AN/UGC-74A makes an appearance as well in Galactica's CIC, but no one cares.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan is gonna tell you...

Posted July 1, 2015
Very cool. The Galactica was supposed to be low tech, and the AN/UGC-74A is certainly low tech for that civilization.

GhostSwirv reckons...

Posted July 3, 2015

Its cool too how they've incorporated obsolete Westinghouse military tech into the art direction - if I'm not mistaken, just to the right is of the AN/UGS-74A is a WTO1010B/W.

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Sweet Jane Says mutters...

Posted July 3, 2015
Um... Yeah... I saw both series and film, each a few times, in their respective decades.

This is a report on why I like dinosaurs.

J.

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