Universal // 2005 // 119 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // December 23rd, 2008
"I am a leaf on the wind -- watch how I soar."
"Movies based on failed TV shows are not supposed to happen." -- Joss Whedon.
When the Alliance sends out an operative to locate and return the fugitive River Tam (Summer Glau, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), the crew of the Serenity must come together to protect its youngest member.
With the Alliance's attention comes a development in River herself. Set off by an unknown trigger, River becomes a deadly fighting machine, which may or may not have something to do with "Miranda." As the crew of Serenity begins its planet-hopping adventure to discover just who or what Miranda is, they come across a long-held Alliance secret that just might change the 'verse forever.
Little did I realize the effect Serenity would have on me as I took my seat at the local multiplex on its theatrical release. Having had no exposure to Firefly, the series from which Serenity was born, I had no idea what to expect; I simply felt like seeing a movie. Fast-forward two hours and I was on my way to becoming a big fan of Joss Whedon. I immediately headed to the nearest DVD store and picked up a copy of Firefly: The Complete Series. Having eagerly devoured every moment of its genius I moved on to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I was late to the party for sure, but now I was in I had no intention of leaving.
Three years on from its theatrical release and Serenity still feels like Whedon's crowning glory. This sci-fi western bests each of the Star Wars prequels with ease. With no room for talk of trade embargoes or midi-chlorians, Serenity was smart enough to realize that nobody cared about being Luke Skywalker. Sure the Force is all very well and good, but let's be honest here, we all wanted to be Han Solo when we were kids, and in Capt. Malcolm Reynolds we have a hero who can stand up to Han and would be damn sure to shoot first.
If you have yet to see either Serenity or Firefly, I suggest going out and picking up a copy of the recently released Firefly Blu-Ray first. Although a knowledge of Firefly is not a prerequisite to enjoying or understanding Serenity, it certainly makes it a much more emotional experience. Without wanting to give too much away, there are moments here that will sting with the character development the TV series provides.
I myself am not the biggest sci-fi fan, yet Serenity, like all great films, transcends genre conventions to become something more, something deeper, something approaching a stone-cold classic. This is a universe populated with wonderful characters, and each blessed with such depth. After a cleverly structured opening salvo, which helps to educate the uninitiated on the universe they are about to enter, we are reintroduced to the crew of the Serenity. To begin with at least things are as they were when Firefly ended, with two exceptions: both Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) and Inara (Morena Baccarin) have left the ship. While both departures are consistent with their characters from the series, they also help drive the story forward. Mal and Inara shared a somewhat tempestuous relationship throughout Firefly, with neither able to admit to their feelings toward the other. Here, when the chips are down and things are looking bleak, they are forced to confront their emotions; this sees Mal charging headfirst to Inara's rescue when she calls. Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) is given little screen time here, but his presence is vital. Having left the crew and found peace in a small settlement, Shepherd becomes Mal's Yoda-like mentor. The visit to Shepherd offers a moment to grasp the weight of the situation the crew members, specifically Mal, find themselves in, while offering an understanding of how far Mal needs to go to see through what must be done. Shepherd Book was always the most mysterious character in Firefly, with a past only hinted at. Here he appears to have finally completed his transition from what he was to who he needed to be all along, while still keeping his past a secret.
The members of the crew who stuck by Mal are also developed further. The relationship between Kaylee and Simon presents the film with its sweetest moments, despite Kaylee's frank admission that she "ain't had nothin' twixt my nethers weren't run on batteries!" Though on the surface Zoe always appeared to be more suited to Mal, her relationship with her husband Wash has always been a highlight of Firefly, lending the series many of its funniest moments. While Zoe has always been the first into the fight, with Wash often left to look on in admiration, Serenity sees Wash forced into being the hero, leaving Zoe to beam with appreciation for her husband. Jayne, a part Adam Baldwin was born to play, sees less development that other characters, that is, at least, until the film's action packed final act. Jayne's shifting loyalties finally give way to a real hero who, in Mal's absence, stands side by side with the rest of the crew.
The film's biggest developments, however, are reserved for Capt. Mal Reynolds and River Tam. As mentioned previously, Mal is finally forced to admit to his feelings for Inara, but just as importantly, he is forced to open up to his crew. So often during Firefly Mal presented himself as the boss, ready to drop members of the crew if they were bold enough to go against his wishes or prove to be of no worth. Although his softer side would frequently come to the surface in Firefly, Serenity forces Mal to lay his cards on the table. Time and again he must defend his crew, not because they are his crew, but because they have become his family. In return, when Mal delivers his speech on what he intends to do to bring down the Alliance, his crew stands by him; he's not just their leader but their friend. Finally there's River Tam herself, so very easy to overlook in Firefly if you weren't paying attention. Here, she's what the entire movie hinges on. Her story is one born of tragedy, but as the film progresses, becomes one of empowerment. Without wanting to give too much away, Joss Whedon's affiliation with strong female characters is extended through River Tam. She and Mal share a touching conversation during the film's final moments that offers a fitting end, should a sequel fail to materialize.
Though the returning cast is as good as fans would hope, the new additions are just as impressive. Mr. Universe (David Krumholtz, Numb3rs), a character not seen in Firefly and perhaps Joss Whedon's homage to sci-fi geeks, is an essential addition, adding much humor while helping to add a sense of a wider universe. Chiwetel Ejiofor (Children of Men) is a revelation as The Operative. A steely, yet totally self-aware agent of The Alliance, The Operative sees his role as a very necessary evil, "I believe in something greater than myself. A better world. A world without sin...I'm not going to live there. There's no place for me there...I'm a monster. What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done." Ejiofor's delivery, which is all the more effective thanks to his emotive eyes, suggests a man resigned to his fate, lending the character a sense of tragedy. He really believes he is making the universe a better place, but still, every life he takes weighs down on him. Oh, and did I mention he's totally bad-ass!
Appearing identical to the HD DVD release, the 2.35:1 1080P transfer bests the DVD release at every turn. Simply put, this is a gorgeous-looking movie. Colors are rich, and if they are a little unnatural looking, this is purely down to the visual style adopted for the film. What made Serenity such a great early HD DVD release was the amount of "pop" (that early buzzword of the high-definition era) that the image contained. Even now, with a number of titles exceeding the technical achievements of Serenity, this Blu-Ray contains numerous scenes that offer excellent demo material. The bank raid early on, complete with the chase sequence that immediately follows it, collects everything that makes this such a strong transfer into one scene. From the deep blue skies and the level of detail in the desert town, with individual specs of dirt clearly visible, to the amazing depth of the image, this is Grade-A material. The epic, yet all-too-brief space battle that ensues when the Reavers and Alliance clash, with the Serenity caught in the middle is truly astounding on Blu-Ray. The sheer amount of onscreen action is exceptional. Despite the screen being filled with gigantic spacecraft, with small fighters and explosions popping up every few seconds, the transfer shows no problems whatsoever. The detail on each vessel is such that small markings can be clearly made out, while the black levels are rock solid. While the DVD transfer was indeed strong, I have no hesitation in recommending this Blu-Ray release to anyone considering an upgrade.
Moving on, the audio actually offers an upgrade over the HD DVD version of Serenity. The inclusion of the DTS-HD lossless 5.1 track is sure to please audiophiles, while providing a quite extraordinary sonic assault for those with a suitable setup. There are no problems making out individual sounds. Whether it be gunfire, the roar of an engine, or dialogue, each sound is crisp, with an excellent use of the rear speakers helping to make Serenity a top tier Blu-Ray release.
In what I hope is going to be something we see more of in the future, Universal has included a number of new special features for this Blu-Ray release not found on its DVD and HD DVD counterparts. Kicking off these new features is a visual commentary with Joss Whedon and members of the cast. This is, in reality, the same audio commentary as found on the DVD and HD DVD release, albeit now presented visually. The standalone audio only track can also be accessed from the special features menu. Also new are BD-Live enabled features, none of which had been activated at the time of writing. A Picture-in-Picture track presents a behind-the-scenes look at the movie, with everything from rehearsals to interviews, some of which is taken from the standalone features included on the disc. The "Mr. Universe Compendium" is basically a trivia track that plays throughout the movie, but with added visual aids. Of more interest is the "Digital Tour of the Serenity," which opens an additional window with information and graphics related directly to the ship.
Apart from the new features you'll find everything from the previous Collector's Edition and HD DVD releases. The best of these returning features is the "Filmmaker's Journey" featurette (which did not feature on the HD DVD released in Region A territories, but did make it on the Region B release). Allowing Joss Whedon to discuss his film and offering insights from the cast and crew, this 20-minute piece is a pleasant surprise. There's a genuine affection held for these characters by each of the actors; the chance to reprise their roles was clearly a big deal for each of them. Deleted and extended scenes, some of which were not on the HD DVD, come with optional commentary to round off an impressive set of extras.
So how do I find fault with the Blu-Ray release of Serenity? The answer, of course, is that I can't. This is a truly great disc, and short of having Nathan Fillion and Joss Whedon come to your house to watch the movie with you, I cannot think of a better possible way to enjoy the film.
As of now, this is the definitive version of Serenity, essential for all Browncoats. The upgrade over the DVD version is a given, but that it also trumps the HD DVD release in the audio and supplemental departments is an unexpected surprise.
Review content copyright © 2008 Paul Pritchard; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Top 100 Films: #94
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French, Canadian)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (German)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Italian)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish, Castilian)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* French (Canadian)
* Spanish (L.A.)
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Video Commentary (new)
* Audio Commentary
* Picture In Picture (new)
* Deleted Scenes With Commentary
* Extended Scenes
* Digital Tour Of Serenity (new)
* Mr. Universe's Compendium (new)
* Alliance Database
* Future History
* What's In A Firefly
* Re-Lighting The Firefly
* Joss Whedon Introduction
* Take A Walk On Serenity
* A Filmmaker's Journey
* The Green Clan
* Session 416
* BD-Live (new)
* Official Site