Firefly/Serenity

Last year a friend of mine upgraded many of his DVDs to Blue Ray.  Knowing that I was a fan of Joss Whedon’s work, he asked for my address and sent me the complete series of Firefly and the feature film Serenity.  He just wanted them to go to someone who might appreciate them.

Now I was not a Browncoat (an obsessive Firefly fan).  In fact, I barely remembered watching an episode or two before losing interest.  I also had some other things going on when the one and only incomplete season of the show aired in late 2002, like giving birth to my first child.  When Serenity, the sequel movie, was released in theaters in 2005 I was six days away from giving birth to my second child.  But I finally got around to pulling out the gifted DVD’s last month and started obsessively watching them.  I can totally understand why the people who got into the show really got into the show, and I can also totally understand why the show was canceled after only eleven of the fourteen episodes were aired.

We must start by talking about Joss Whedon’s most famous creation Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  When Buffy began on upstart network the WB, the WB had very low standards for what made a successful television show.  So, in other words, the WB was willing to take a chance on a strange new concept.  Then Buffy took off in popularity, and Buffy fans embraced its spin off Angel.  When Whedon pitched Firefly to FOX they were kind of banking on his Buffy following, but at the same time they were wary of Firefly because it was so different even from Buffy. And Firefly, a sci-fi western, was definitely not like anything else you were seeing on television.  So this led Fox to meddle with Joss Whedon’s vision, making him re-write pilots and air episodes out of their intended order.  And then when Firefly wasn’t doing as well as they hoped, Fox just dumped it.

Like I said, Firefly is absolutely nothing like Buffy or Angel.  The latter two were more literary, with lots of metaphor and foreshadowing.  Firefly was more philosophical.  As a result, I have a feeling that people who expected another Buffy probably did not warm up to Firefly very much.  I think that is one reason I didn’t get into it at the time, myself.  And in fact, my friend who gave me the DVDs told me that he did not really like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  They are apples and oranges.

Now, here is why I think that those who really watched Firefly fell in love with it.  The nine main characters and the relationships that they formed with each other made you want to invest your time with them.  And when the series ends abruptly visions of what might have been pop in your head.  When will Simon and Kaylee finally kiss?  Will Mal and Inara ever admit their true feelings for each other?  What exactly did the government do to River, and will she ever be able to get over it?  Will Shepherd Book’s secret past ever be revealed?  And what role does the crew of Serenity have in the fate of the universe?

The cast of the show was also extremely talented.  Nathan Fillion I knew of from his previous roles on One Life to Live and  Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I recognized Alan Tudyk from his recent short stint on the new V television series, and my husband remembered him from his small role in Knocked Up.  And I immediately recognized Morena Baccarin, who plays Anna on V, from her voice; her long hair on Firefly made her face less recognizable to me.  But the entire cast was excellent.

Then there are the visual effects, for which the show won an Emmy, and cinematography.  Whedon tried to film the entire show in widescreen format, despite Fox’s objections.  The visual aspects of the show from sets to costumes to lighting to camera work were amazing.  Joss has a very cinematic way of directing.  This last point especially is what I think sets Joss Whedon apart.  I feel like I have learned so much about how television and films are made just by listening to his audio commentaries.

And of course, Joss Whedon is a brilliant writer.  He is great at creating multi-layered characters that form intricate relationships.  He has a great sense of humor, resulting in great dialogue.  He has an interesting philosophy about making television more than just “radio with pictures”.  He knows how to capture emotion without resorting to cliches and cheesy gimmicks (although he’s not above sometimes using them for fun, either).  He hires actors that he can trust, and he trusts them to know their characters.  He gathers directors, producers, and writers who can express his vision and add their own twists.  And I think Firefly was very much a look into Joss’s soul.  That’s probably why he took it so hard when the show was canceled and lobbied so hard to have the movie made.

Now there were some aspects that I wasn’t too sure about.  The show does get a little raunchy sometimes, and one of the characters is a professional prostitute.  And you can really see Joss Whedon’s own ambivalence towards religion through the character of Shepherd Book.  On one hand Book is the crew’s moral compass.  On the other hand it appears that he may have a shady past, or may not even really be a Shepherd (pastor/priest) at all.  And there are many instances where Whedon kind of betrays his lack of understanding about certain tenants of Christianity, as Book is put in situations where he resorts to violence in order to protect others and is portrayed as slightly hypocritical.  Whedon obviously doesn’t understand that Christianity does not object to self-defense or killing in protection of others.  Despite these concerns I found myself wishing that there had been more (that there might some day be more) of the Firefly/Serenity story made for small or big screens.

But, probably the number one reason that people loved Firefly is because of the theme song, written by Joss Whedon himself.  That thing is damned catchy.  So, I’ll put it up again here at the end of the post.  I just don’t understand why they didn’t include more than an instrumental version in the closing credits of the movie.

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