Universal // 2005 // 119 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // August 27th, 2007
As Josh Whedon points out in his introduction, Serenity is a bit of a miracle. Films don't get made from canceled television shows, especially by a different studio that didn't have the rights to said show. Firefly has shown that it isn't just another canceled show, though, despite the continued adversity that the franchise has faced. Now, fans have a chance to pick up Serenity: Collectors Edition, the special edition of this film that shouldn't have existed.
Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion, Waitress) and crew continue to experience an unreasonable level of trouble in their small interstellar smuggling operation. This time, the trouble is centered around River (Summer Glau), who has caught the attention of an Alliance operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Children of Men). That means trouble for all of them, especially when River goes ballistic at a bar and sends them all on the run. Now the agent is trying to take advantage of all of Serenity's contacts, including Shepherd Book (Ron Glass, Barney Miller) and Inara (Morena Baccarin, Justice League).
The two opening sequences of Serenity highlight why it's so much more than a simple space opera. First, we walk through a narration about the backdrop story, which fades into a lesson from River's childhood. This flashes into Simon's (Sean Maher, Living 'til the End) rescue. Finally, the rescue becomes an introduction to the agent, who is reviewing the escape as part of his own purposes. It doesn't make much sense when you think about it, but it's a breathlessly brilliant way to introduce the film.
Then the credits arrive. In what appears to be one seamless shot, we are introduced (or reintroduced) to the crew of the Serenity. We get the full layout of the ship this way, and get a feel for the relationships between the characters. If you've seen Firefly, it's like coming home. For the uninitiated, it's a great introduction, and it only takes a few minutes to get settled. Both sequences highlight something about Joss Whedon's approach, which is what makes Serenity so great. Whedon is unpredictable, willing to do anything to advance the story. That means that our favorite characters aren't safe, and we really don't know what's around the next corner. It makes for a first-rate ride, some of the best sci-fi action since the original Star Wars trilogy. While the Firefly series brilliantly transported the western feel into space, Serenity takes that premise and turns it into something new.
This time around, the focus is on faith and belief. The operative is a man who believes so strongly in the creation of a perfect society that he's willing to do anything to bring it about. Mal has lost his beliefs, and has reached the point that he's willing to do things almost as bad because he doesn't have anything to fight for anymore. Over the course of the film, we find a balance between these two extremes, as Mal finds a reason to fight again and we get to dig into River's past and learn a lot more about the reavers as well.
Most of you who are reading this, though, are already loyal browncoats. What you really need to know is whether or not the special edition is a worthwhile investment. As far as the transfer goes, we get exactly what we had the first time. That isn't a bad thing, though, because Universal got this one right the first time. The image quality is great, with a crisp dark level and no sign of artifacts. The same is true of the sound, which makes excellent use of all channels, especially the lfe channel. This film rumbles like crazy, just the way it needs to. Plus, we get a DTS track this time around, for that extra bit of punch.
The special features have been upgraded, though. All of the special features from the original remain on the first disc, with a slew of deleted scenes and outtakes, a couple featurettes, and a commentary with Joss Whedon. Added to the first disc is a second commentary, where Whedon is joined by Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, Summer Glau, and Ron Glass. The commentary is a blast to listen to, though it doesn't shine that much light on the production. Still, it's a fun reunion, which makes me wish even more for a sequel. That's unlikely to happen, though, since the film didn't even make up its budget in the theatrical run. I don't understand why, but it's a fate that everyone has to get used to.
The new special features are mixed in with the content from the original disc. On the first disc, we get several extended scenes, which are nice to see. We also get to "Take a Walk on Serenity," a tongue-in-cheek tour of the ship. "The Green Clan" is an ode to cinematographer Jack Green and the family members he brought with him. On the second disc, we get "A Filmmaker's Journey," a pretty good look at the production. It's all about the joy of making film, and that enthusiasm comes through clearly. The synergy that happens off-screen has to have an impact on the final product, and that joy is injected into the film itself. "Future History" takes a look at Serenity's version of the future. There are a lot of slick subtleties here, and they work well. In "Session 416," we get a little peek into River's past. They look like practice sessions, but they are a nice addition here. "Sci-fi Inside: Serenity" plays a bit too much like a promo reel, but it does focus on the transformation of the show to film form. It has a lot of recycled material from the other documentaries, but it has some other good material as well.
These extras, as well as some slick new packaging, make this package a solid investment. Casual fans of the film won't find enough extra on this disc to make it worth upgrading, but serious Firefly and Serenity fans (the ten of you who didn't buy this on the release date) will certainly be thrilled with this more impressive edition. If you don't have Serenity on DVD yet, this is the one to get. Hell, if everyone buys it, we might even get to see the franchise resurrected once more from the dead. We can hope, at least. It's a bit of a money grab on Universal's part, but I'm generous enough to them for producing Serenity to give them a pass on this one.
Strap in and enjoy the ride. Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2007 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Extended Scenes
* Deleted Scenes
* "A Filmmaker's Journey" Featurette
* "The Green Clan" Featurette
* Sci-Fi Inside: Serenity
* Session 416
* "Take a Walk on Serenity"
* Director Commentary
* Cast Commentary
* "Relighting the Firefly" Featurette
* "What's In a Firefly?" Featurette
* Official Site