Review: Firefly & Serenity

The time - 500 years into the future.

Mankind has infiltrated the farthest reaches of space and the 'Verse is being ruled by the ’Alliance’ - an autocratic government-like entity. It is 5 years after the war between the Alliance and the Independents or the ’Browncoats’ which put the Alliance in power. The Alliance exercises control over the planets that form the central core but the planets that inhabit the outer reaches of space still try to resist it’s power.

Captain ’Mal’ Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), a disenchanted ex-Sergeant in the Browncoat army and still very anti-government, leads a raggle of space smugglers on his spaceship, a Firefly-class transport, ’Serenity’.

The crew on Serenity is a varied bunch - the peppy chief engineer, 'Kaylee' (Jewel Staite), the pilot and resident comic 'Wash' (Alan Tudyk), his wife, the soldierly career woman and second-in-command 'Zoe' (Gina Torres), the Man They Call 'Jayne' (Adam Baldwin), a mercenary thug and odd jobs man and the stunningly, beautiful 'Inara' (Morena Baccarin) - a companion (the world’s oldest profession gets another name) and thorn in Mal’s side.

Mal himself has a skewed moral code but is extremely protective of his crew whom he regards as family. Joining the crew as passengers are 'Shepherd Book' (Ron Glass) a preacher, and two fugitives, the prim 'Dr. Simon Tam' (Sean Maher) and his crazy little sister 'River' (Summer Glau), a psychic and child-genius who has been subjected to mind-altering experiments by the Alliance.

Firefly - the series (Rating: 5 /5)

The tv-series ’Firefly’ which aired in 2002 for a couple of episodes until it was cancelled is the brain-child of Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel).

’Firefly’ as a series is certainly very engaging. It is envisioned along the lines of a Sci-fi Western (anachronism, but there it is!) with characters carrying gun-holsters, rifles, Colts and riding horses well into the future. The rationale for this was that the inner core planets under Alliance control were well-developed but the outer planets were places where people were just dropped off with a minimum of water and food and forced to populate worlds in a Frontier-like existence.

The most precious commodity and contraband in this future is food, not the protein-synthesized stuff that can feed a whole family for a month, but real, fresh food, which is in short supply on the outer planets. The show depicted the two worlds beautifully, the very well-developed modern inner core planets (all steel and glass, tall buildings and modern gadgetry) and the ’Wild West’ outer planets (undeveloped desert-like terrain, mining planets etc). Sometimes the show got too Western for me, like one episode which featured a bordello (and wouldnt u know it - a Madame called Nandi and Hindi music playing in the background argh!) and a gun battle, but the drama and the characters definitely made up for it.

Whedon’s vision for the future was that there were only two superpowers left - America and China, the Chinese angle is woven into the script subtly. We have characters wearing Oriental clothing, Chinese characters and instructions everywhere instead of English and the most fun of all, Chinese phrases introduced into the language. The Chinese words and phrases are included for situations which do not really need translation (I'm sure people can think of several situations where) and this introduced a sense of authenticity into the script. However, for a future in which a remaining superpower is Chinese, there are hardly any cast members, even extras who are even vaguely Oriental - blatant oversight, I feel.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Whedon’s vision is that he doesnt subject you to the horrendous masked creatures, scaly lifeforms or little green men that science fiction generally suggests. There are no aliens in this world, the only evil is unleashed by or is human. The most evil are the ’Reavers’, people who cut their own faces, living on the outskirts of the 'Verse. To elaborate in the words of one of the characters

’If they catch you, the Reavers will rape you continuously until you die, cut you up and eat your flesh and carve your skin into clothing ... and if you are very lucky, they will do it in that order.

Firefly worked for me because of the fantastic chemistry between the cast, fresh episode storylines each with an abundance of drama, humor and action and very decent special effects. Oh, and did I mention, I’m a sucker for spaceships :D

Serenity - the movie (Rating: 5 /5)

Even though TV networks unceremoniously pulled the plug on the series, it went on to gain a massive fan following with the result that Whedon wrote and directed the movie in 2005. The movie kept all the actors from the series, with a plot emphasis on the story of Simon and River. In an attempt to complete the story arc, the movie deals with some mysteries underlying in the TV series, about River, Shepherd Book and the Reavers. While River and the Reavers are dealt with in the movie, the resolution of Book’s character was very unsatisfactory.

In the movie, after picking up Simon and River, Mal and his crew soon realise that River is not who she seems. Apparently she is very valuable commodity to the Alliance who have sent a special agent known only as the Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to eliminate her and the secrets she carries. The Operative’s search for River forces Mal and crew to carry out their own investigations, leading them to a planet called Miranda and a hideous discovery about Alliance experiments.

With Serenity, Whedon has cut out some of the most irritating aspects from the show, the excessive Western-ness - he’s changed most of the music from the show, there are still the old-fashioned guns but a lot less horse riding and other dated elements - and he’s created a better science fiction movie adeventure. The movie assumes that people are familiar with the story of Firefly, but it doesnt really require it. A few of the initial scenes are a little confusing with characters and plot elements being introduced rapidly - but the attentive reader shouldnt be lost :)

I thought that he majority of the cast have handled the transition from TV to movie pretty well (and of course, I could forgive anything of anyone who looks like Mal). Perhaps the most striking actor, a new member, is Ejiofor as the Operative. The Operative knows he is evil, but believes in harnessing that evil for the greater good, which he interprets as the Alliance being in power. Ejiofor’s acting as the smooth-talking, emotionless Samurai assassin is perfectly effective in bringing an immensely scary intensity and sense of focus to his role. The end of Serenity and especially the resolution with the Operative is really silly but I guess it had to end it somehow.

Finally, this is a perfect DVD watch to while away a lazy Sunday evening when you are in the mood for a little space-action, gun-fighting, drama and humor. Dont read too much into the hype created by IMDB and you wont be disappointed. Even better is to get the DVD’s of Firefly, watch them and then catch the movie. That would be (in 'verse slang) shiny!

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