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Our review of Firefly: The Complete Series, published December 9th, 2003, is also available.
"Out here, people struggled to get by with the most basic technologies; a ship would bring you work, a gun would help you keep it. A captain's goal was simple: find a crew, find a job, keep flying."—Shepherd Book
Firefly, writer-producer-director Joss Whedon's (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) futuristic pseudo-postbellum television epic, debuted on Fox in the Fall of 2002. Eleven episodes and less than three months later, it was unceremoniously cancelled by the network—much to the chagrin of its small clutch of devoted fans. Due in large part to a complete series DVD release containing all 14 of the show's episodes (three of which were never aired—"Trash," "The Message," "Heart of Gold") that clutch of fans grew into a genuine cult following. Three years after the demise of the show, an action-packed feature film, Serenity, wrapped up most of the show's loose ends, giving fans closure even if it wasn't quite as satisfying as being able to tune in to the show each and every week.
Now Firefly: The Complete Series arrives on Blu-ray with upgraded audio and video, and a couple HD-exclusive supplements.
Facts of the Case
Firefly takes place in 2517. Human beings have migrated to a new solar system. A civil war between the Alliance and Independent "brown coats" has recently come to an end with the Alliance controlling the solar system. Like many of the defeated Independents, Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion, Waitress) has drifted to the frontier outskirts of the system. He makes ends meet by taking on jobs—legal and illegal—in his Firefly class starship, Serenity. His crew consists of second-in-command Zoe (Gina Torres, The Matrix Reloaded), a former soldier who fought alongside Mal in the war; Zoe's husband Wash (Alan Tudyk, 3:10 to Yuma), Serenity's pilot; ship's mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite, Stargate: Atlantis); mercenary badass Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin, Chuck); and Inara Serra (Morena Baccarin, Heartland), a companion (something like a courtesan or a geisha) who rents one of Serenity's shuttles in order to ply her trade. As the series kicks off, Mal and his crew take on three passengers: holy man Shepherd Book (Ron Glass, Barney Miller), Simon Tam (Sean Maher, Living 'til the End), and his sister River (Summer Glau, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles).
Firefly: The Complete Series contains all 14 episodes of the series, presented in the order in which they were produced (and meant to be broadcast):
• "Serenity" (Parts 1 and 2)
• "The Train Job"
• "Our Mrs. Reynolds"
• "Out of Gas"
• "War Stories"
• "The Message"
• "Heart of Gold"
• "Objects in Space"
Confession: I'm not a Joss Whedon fan. I gave Buffy the Vampire Slayer about a dozen chances (my wife was a fan during the show's first couple seasons), but couldn't get past the precocious over-writing. From what I saw of it, Angel seemed to suffer from the same soap operatic excesses as Buffy, but contained maybe half the wit and fun. I didn't even bother watching Firefly during its brief run on Fox. It didn't look like my cup of tea. Boy, was I wrong.
Firefly is part sci-fi actioner, part Western, and part Blade Runner-style multi-cultural dystopian fantasy. It's a space voyage show about all-too-human human beings (there's not a muppet, monster, or alien with a funny-looking forehead in sight). Absent the governance of a prime directive, its central cast of rogues, brigands, and fugitives struggles constantly to find the balance between self-preservation and loyalty to one another. None of the crew of Serenity exhibits the sort of predictable nobility that render plot developments foregone conclusions—there's always the sense that anything might happen, that the principal characters aren't above screwing each other over if necessary. And the world of Firefly proves the perfect vessel for Whedon's dense, quickly-delivered, and hyper-stylized dialogue. Where his writing often felt showy and forced in the modern teen world of Buffy, it's perfectly natural in the future world of Firefly. The blend of techno jargon, Old West idiom, and Mandarin slang merge with poetic beauty…and loads of humor.
Truth be told, though, I'm not sure that I'd have liked Firefly if it had survived for multiple seasons. During the show's brief run, Whedon carefully sowed seeds for the sort of soap opera shenanigans that generally result in writers painting themselves into narrative corners and audience members (me, at least) becoming fatigued with increasingly absurd and unsatisfying turns of plot. Among the eight crew members and passengers on Serenity, there are two (yes, two) tentative potential romances that toy with the same will they/won't they dynamic that usually torpedoes successful shows with an array of increasingly annoying explanations as to how two beautiful people who are attracted to one another can manage to not get together (remember Moonlighting?). Also, with the character of River Tam, Whedon seemed to set himself up (consciously or unconsciously) to slide into his favorite mode of storytelling: feminist parables centered on ass-kicking teen girls. If that's your thing, cool. It's not mine.
As it stands, Firefly is a finely-honed 14-episode collection of great writing, compelling characters, and rousing action. Coupled with Serenity—a 2005 feature film that wraps up many of the series' loose ends—Whedon's sci-fi/Western becomes a self-contained marvel of cult television, a rich and complex epic well told from beginning to end.
I never saw Firefly when it was broadcast in full frame on Fox, but it's not unreasonable to guess that the widescreen complete series DVD release offered a significant improvement in audio and video quality. Broadcasts of the show on Universal HD provided a noticeable sound and image upgrade over the DVDs. Now this Blu-ray release offers an improvement over the Universal HD presentation. Colors are more accurate and fully saturated. Black levels are deep and rich, while whites sparkle. Detail is decent (better than DVD) but not as eye-popping as more modern shows shot on HD video, nor as dynamic as 35mm feature films shot on much larger budgets. Some fans worried about how the show's special effects, which were produced in SD, would translate to a high definition format. If you apply a critical eye, there is a noticeable difference between the upscaled effects and the rest of the show. The difference is minor enough, though, that if you're watching to be entertained you won't even notice.
The upgrade to DTS lossless master audio is also impressive (and a huge improvement over the DVD's Dolby Stereo offering). The episodes' mixes are well-crafted and as natural as the show's concept allows. Action sequences have plenty of bombast for a television production, though they don't match typical science fiction theatrical epics.
Considering Firefly was a network failure with a cult following, the original DVD release of the series got it surprisingly right when it came to extras: audio commentaries on seven episodes ("Serenity" parts 1 and 2; "The Train Job," "Shindig," "Out of Gas," "War Stories," "The Message," "Objects in Space"); a nearly half-hour long making-of documentary called Here's How It Was: The Making of Firefly; a featurette about Serenity, and another with Joss Whedon touring the Serenity set; deleted scenes; a gag reel; Whedon singing the show's main theme; and Alan Tudyk's audtion tape. Plus, an easter egg that features Adam Baldwin singing "The Hero of Canton."
All of those supplements are included on the Blu-ray, along with an HD presentation of a Firefly reunion lunch with Whedon, Fillion, Tudyk, and Glass. It runs 24 minutes and is a loose and funny reminiscence of the men's experiences working on the show. The quartet also offers a brand new audio commentary for the "Our Mrs. Reynolds" episode.
Given the upgrade in video and especially audio, fans of the show will find the Blu-ray release of Firefly: The Complete Series worth the cost of a double-dip. Those new to the show are encouraged to discover it in high definition. Pair it with the upcoming Blu-ray release of Serenity and you'll have a fine sci-fi epic that offers a unique world, easy-to-love characters, smart plots, great action, and loads of potential for repeat viewings.
Time for some thrilling heroics.
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