Thursday, 20 April 2006

Serenity (2005) DVD

Only for the compleatist

There’s a certain charm about the sci-fi Western, complete with federal authorities pursuing gunslingers, rebels and smugglers in a wild Frontier expanded to a galactic scale. This pulpy mashup genre was a regular fixture in the golden age of sci-fi, appearing in magazines like Amazing Stories and Astounding Science Fiction. It’s a mystery that despite their popularity in print, pure sci-fi Westerns haven’t made an appearance on television at all, aside from enjoyable Japanese animation series Trigun and Cowboy Bebop. As the first live action sci-fi Western on American television, Joss Whedon’s Firefly managed to garner a cult following despite Fox Broadcasting Company cancelling the series before the mid-season mark. Serenity is the big screen resurrection of Firefly, a gift to the legion of fans of the well-written series. With a very limited theatrical worldwide release last year, local fans of Firefly will want to pick up the DVD.

Serenity is both a condensation and continuation of the television series, reintroducing the main cast and setup to new audiences before resuming the plot from the television series. That’s actually a difficult task to handle. As a standalone movie, Whedon must ensure the characters are sufficiently fleshed out and properly introduced, while at the same time preventing existing fans from getting bored while waiting for the plot to catch up with what they already know. Here, I feel the writer-director does more than a serviceable job with his well-paced script. The characters feel the same as their television incarnations (it helps that the entire original cast of Firefly returned for Serenity); they even speak the same way as they did – which is to say all of them communicate in the same snarky teenspeak as characters in Buffy and Angel, other Joss Whedon serials. How you will take to that will vary, depending on your position in the Joss Whedon fandom.

Looks-wise, the sets and overall production value of Serenity resemble a 2-hour TV special of Firefly more than an actual movie. To be sure, Serenity cost USD 39 million, a very low budget for a film, but Firefly was an expensive series (costing an estimated 2 million per episode) that looked far better than this.

The plot of Serenity is serviceable and its twists and turns and clichés are standard Joss Whedon. It ties up most loose ends and unsolved mysteries in the series (I was fuming, however, at where the evil industrialists went to), while leaving a tantalising possibility for a sequel, either on television – something that will please fans to no end. The only other thing that will please them more is the availability of the Firefly DVD set in Singapore.

DVD Extras

Joss Whedon’s film commentary is something that all Firefly fans will appreciate. The director gives very detailed explanations for every scene and every set. Newcomers will find his frequent references to the television series informative, especially if they feel a little lost about the characters or the historical background of the Firefly universe, something plays a big part in the setup, but is too vaguely hinted in this movie.

The high value-addedness of the DVD continues with the deleted scenes, which receive their own commentary from the director – in Dolby 5.1. One gets the feeling that some of these deleted scenes should not have made the cutting board – they do provide the exposition that is important to newcomers to the series, and allow the film to stand on its own legs.

First published at incinemas on 19 April 2006

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