Jewel Staite, Summer Glau,
Sean Maher, Chiwetel Ejiofor
- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Universal
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
he tale of the prematurely-cancelled network series is one that has become more frequent over the past few years. And now, passionate fans who once overlooked the possibility of a rebirth have gathered together through the power of the Internet in a desperate attempt to persuade the studios to reconsider. The return of “Family Guy” is perhaps the most prominent example of a cancelled show brought back to life, but who can forget about the original “Star Trek”? A ratings nightmare during its first season on the air, fans of the show protested its cancellation and a feature-length film was produced. Five more movies followed, the series returned to its rightful place on TV, and the rest is history.
Now it appears to be happening again, this time with Joss Whedon’s brilliant sci-fi western, “Firefly,” which bumbling Fox execs cancelled midway into the first season. Despite its formidable fan base, only 11 of the 14 episodes actually aired (and out of chronological order, no less), but when sales of the DVD boomed, Universal saw the opportunity to turn a profit by relocating the story to the big screen. Whedon returns as the film’s writer and director in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revive his epic space tale, and as the first installment in a possible franchise, “Serenity” is without a doubt one of the best pieces of fan service in the history of the sci-fi genre.
The story picks up six months after the events of the final episode, with the crew of Serenity still fugitives on the run from the governmental Alliance. Whedon is smart to make quick reference as to how this all transpired in the opening moments of the film, but he does it in a manner that also offers new truths to fans of the series as well. Long story short, after a brilliant doctor (Sean Maher) rescues his sister River (Summer Glau) from a government experiment that has turned her into a psychic as well as a skilled assassin, the two find refuge aboard Serenity, a small Firefly-class freighter ship captained by Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion). When an Alliance assassin (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is sent to track down River, the crew of Serenity learns that the seemingly harmless girl is carrying a secret that could impact the universe.
There’s no denying Whedon’s talent for dialogue, and for once, it feels less like scripted dialogue and more like real conversation. He’s also does a commendable job of making moviegoers who haven’t experienced the charm of the series feel welcome in what fans would refer to as the Whedonverse – although the script dioes rush supporting characters in and out of the story without explaining much. One of my biggest complaints would have to be with the character of Shepard Book (Ron Glass), a fairly prominent cast member in the series who doesn’t even receive a proper introduction and is then reduced to a short Obi-Wan-like appearance.
Other major players from the series also show up as background dressing in a majority of the scenes, but at least their absence is explained. The rest of the cast, mostly unknowns with the possible exception of Alan Tudyk, make wonderful transitions to the big screen, which is only further evidence of Whedon’s spot-on casting. Fillion and Glau are arguably the stars of the film – as most of the film is spent further developing their characters – but cult actor Adam Baldwin remains the standout performer of the cast as the comic relief and muscle of the group, Jayne.
In fact, the only problem with “Serenity” is that many of the unanswered questions from the series aren’t wrapped up, but instead put on the back burner while a new can of worms is opened for many of the characters. A decision like this may have major repercussions for Whedon down the road, but if anything, it should help to ensure a sequel. And just what does the future hold for fans of “Firefly”? Will more films follow if "Serenity" is a success? Or better yet, a resurrection of the TV series? Whatever happens, at least fans can finally enjoy a little bit of serenity of their own.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
It may be the third version of “Serenity” in as many years, but you’ve got to hand it to Universal: they manage to include more extras with each new release. As one of the more highly anticipated catalog titles to make its way to Blu-ray, the single-disc release features a new HD video transfer and lossless audio track, as well exclusive bonus material including an Alliance database filled with character profiles, a picture-in-picture video track, a pop-up digital tour of Serenity, and Mr. Universes Compendium, featuring decrypted files and intercepted transmissions that dive further into the history of Joss Whedon’s world. All of the extras from the previous two releases also appear, including both audio commentaries (one with writer/director Whedon, and another with Whedon and cast members Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, Summer Glau and Ron Glass), as well as deleted scenes, six production featurettes, and the Fruity Oaty commercial in its entirety. Shiny.