illustration pilfered from: www.RonChan.net
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been watching Firefly on Netflix, and giving mini-reviews over Twitter after each episode. I wrapped it all up with a viewing of the follow-up movie, Serenity, and thought I’d share my thoughts on the two… without the limitation of a 140 character cut-off :). This is more an extension of those reviews, than a stand-alone review, so no grades on this one. Also, since we’re having a two-for-one, this post is a bit long for the front page, so I’ve tucked it away under a break. No need for spoiler warnings, though.. I stay vague.
I’d heard much about this show since it was prematurely taken off the air, but don’t recall even knowing it existed when it was on TV. That may have had to do with more than advertising, though. I had started watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer when that show had first begun, but my interest in the show fizzled out after a little while. I couldn’t tell you why, but I found that I wasn’t a huge fan of the tone. While he’s capable of doing other things, I associated that tone with writer/director Joss Whedon, so when I saw that he had created Firefly, I probably just tuned out.
I don’t hate Whedon, but he has one trait that I personally find very annoying. Whether in Buffy, Angel, or Firefly, the main characters joke far too often. Since this review is on Firefly, I’ll talk about that. Some of the banter between characters is fun and charming, and making us like these people as one group is a big part of what makes them endearing, but it happens often enough to take me out of the moment sometimes. As I said, it’s a trait of the writer’s, but in most situations, at least one of the characters has something snappy or sarcastic to say. This continual banter jumps out to me as a writer who isn’t writing characters, but as a writer who is writing dialogue for an audience. It’s not “wrong”, but it keeps the characters at a level of feeling like they’re a performance, rather than my getting lost in the show and thinking of them as real. Basically, I suppose, it’s about dialogue being too smart for its own good. The big difference with Firefly, though, is that while this style was definitely present… the show didn’t completely turn me off. Why? I liked the characters.
The Whedon-esque tone of Buffy was certainly annoying, but much more than that – I just didn’t care about anyone in the show. A TV series is different from a movie in that it develops a relationship over time. I recently watched the original version of The Office, and didn’t like it at all. Why not? I didn’t care about anyone in it one bit. As I said about the snappy dialogue above, it’s not a matter of being right or wrong, but a matter of taste. With Firefly, though there was an overall tone that sometimes bugged me, the characters and their situations connected with me.
The thing with an ensemble cast of characters is that you’re supposed to care about them as a whole. The more of them that interest you, the stronger that connection will be. Every lead in Firefly had at least one moment where I responded well to what they were going through. Even the character I found the least interesting, River, shone through in moments that made me care about her. I always love the more innocent, heart-breaking characters the most, so I obviously had a huge sweet spot for our mechanic, Kaylee. Just about every person on that ship was interesting, though, and that’s what really made watching the show fun for me.
As far as the show’s storyline, itself, even if I didn’t love every episode, I really liked the world. I love good concepts, and the idea behind this show was a fun one – a western frontier in space. With most concept-stories, I think they either nail it or waste it.. but for Firefly, it didn’t really matter because I wasn’t watching for the world, I was watching for the ship’s crew. My favorite episodes made great use of this interesting environment, but as a means to create emotionally bonding moments for the characters. In one episode, two characters are being tortured together, and one is egging on the other with jokes and mockery… but you quickly realize that they are only doing so to keep the other from folding under the pressure and mentally losing it. Most of the stories involved this rag-tag group of people having to survive by relying on nothing more than each other, and that’s what made it a fun show, regardless of tone or other details.
I couldn’t let this review end without mentioning one very important thing, though. For a man like me who really appreciates attention to detail, the fact that there was no sound in space brought a very big smile to my face – every single time :).
By the end of watching the series, it came to be that hearing the opening theme song was a welcoming sound. It meant I was going to be spending some time with new friends. Firefly wasn’t perfect, but for the one-time adventure that it was for me, I rather enjoyed the ride. I could nitpick various episodes or moments, but overall, I was happy to have met this cast of characters and been able to spend a little time with them. Then, of course, it ended. Until…
The final episode of Firefly wasn’t my favorite, so I went right into watching the movie. After years between the show’s original airing and this movie’s release, it might not have been as noticeable, but I found the change in looks rather jarring. Sure, the movie is a MOVIE, so it’s going to look better, but it wasn’t just that. The whole color-palette had shifted. Serenity looks like one might expect a sci-fi space movie to – dark, shadowy, blue. The thing is, though, that the show wasn’t JUST set in sci-fi space. It had plenty of warm, western elements, as well. While they usually weren’t my favorite parts of the show, they certainly WERE part of the show… and the movie pretty much just abandons that.
Also, right off the bat, Simon (the doctor) felt like a very different person. This movie is to have taken place six months after the show ended, but for most of the movie, Simon feels as if he’s almost completely changed… while everyone else around him mostly felt the same. Maybe those six months really took their toll on him, but it came across more like a change of character for the non-fans.. to give the story more conflict or something.
In fact, that’s what most of the alterations felt like. When the movie felt like it was shying away from the show in some way, I assumed it was because they wanted to make it a more general story.. which is why, in my Twitter review, I said that it felt more like a spiritual successor rather than a directly connected movie. These issues weren’t TOO major, though, and after some adjustment, it felt comfortable again.
Then I saw Reavers.
I’m not going to get into story-ruining specifics, but the scary, ominous beings that were a constant back-of-the-mind threat in Firefly become a visible threat in Serenity… and I hated it. In the pilot for the show, we are introduced to the idea of Reavers – men gone mad, who stalk the far reaches of space and do unspeakable things to victims. The crew stands in silence as they pass a ship manned by these vile creatures, and it’s a very tense moment. It’s the horror of the unknown. I absolutely loved that any mention of these monsters during the show’s run immediately brought a fear into the situation. Back to the movie, though, and they’re just guys in (occasionally cheesy) make-up. We don’t just see them in flashes, either… they’re walking around in daylight. It completely deflated the scariest thing from the show. Of course, the movie doesn’t even touch the idea of the mysterious men in blue gloves, either. It was all very odd.
Honestly, Serenity felt like someone else taking over and creating their own movie based on the show… which is strange, since they’re both from Joss Whedon’s pen. I feel like I’m picking on the movie, but I DID enjoy it… it just felt “off”. I suppose everything just felt amplified up to 11. It skirted some parts of the show, only to ramp up others. The climactic moment of the movie was rather satisfying, but it was undercut by a rather horrible choice Joss Whedon made with a certain character. I’m avoiding spoilers, but fans will probably know what I’m talking about. It’s THAT moment in the movie, one I would have been rather upset about if I had been a rabid fan of the show and waited years for the movie. In an instant, most of the appreciation I had gained for Whedon was dashed by his taking a character in a direction that was of no value to the story, no value to the fans, and felt really out of place. It was a choice that, more than anything, left me confused… and as the movie was continuing on, I simply asked myself, “but why?” The only answer I could discern was “Why not, sucka?” Vague, I know, but this is a darn long post and so I didn’t want this after-the-break part to only be half spoiler-free.
I review things with my gut, and my original grade for Serenity was rather favorable… despite what you’re reading here. I think that’s because, in many ways, it was backed up by the show, Firefly. The movie, though it did a number of things I didn’t like, was still a “conclusion” of sorts to the show, and while it left a semi-bitter taste in my mouth, it was at least a more proper send-off.
Even if it WASN’T a romantic comedy about fate and love, starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale :(.