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MOVIE INFO

Created By:
Joss Whedon
Cast:
Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass
Writing Credits:
Various

Tagline:
When justice is blind, it knows no fear.

Synopsis:
Five hundred years in the future there's a whole new frontier, and the crew of the Firefly-class spaceship Serenity is eager to stake a claim on the action. They'll take any job, legal or illegal, to keep fuel in the tanks and food on the table. But things get a bit more complicated after they take on a passenger wanted by the new totalitarian Alliance regime. Now they find themselves on the run, desperate to steer clear of Alliance ships and the flesh-eating Reavers who live on the fringes of space.

Includes all 14 episodes; 3 of which were never broadcast on TV.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.78:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby 2.0
Spanish Dolby 2.0
French Dolby 2.0
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 675 min.
Price: $49.98
Release Date: 12/9/2003

Bonus:
• Audio Commentaries for Seven Episodes
• “Here’s How It Was: The Making of Firefly” Featurette
• “Serenity: The 10th Character” Featurette
• “Joss Tours the Set” Featurette
• Deleted Scenes
• Alan Tudyk’s Audition
• “Joss Sings the Firefly Theme”
• Gag Reel


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EQUIPMENT
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RELATED REVIEWS


Firefly: The Complete Series (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 20, 2006)

Back in Ye Olden Dayes of this website, I often took review requests from readers. I liked this and was able to do so since I acquired so many of the DVDs on my own. Armed with a Netflix subscription, I snared many of the titles I reviewed that way.

As time passed, however, we got more and more support from the studios. That meant I received lots of new releases and didn’t need to get discs on my own. Unfortunately, this also made it much more difficult for me to check out older discs. I dropped my Netflix subscription and focused almost entirely on the screeners I received. I did – and still do – occasionally rent titles for review, but that’s almost always when I want to compare an old release to a new version of the same title. If the DVD doesn’t have a modern counterpart, I’m unlikely to rent it.

Once every blue moon or so, however, I get the urge to check out something I missed the first time. Fox actually sent me a review copy of Firefly - The Complete Series back in 2003, but I skipped it. Reviews of packages like this take a ton of time to do. Since I can write up a bunch of movies in that span, it doesn't seem like an effective choice, so I usually restrict these TV reviews to series I know I like.

And then came 2005’s theatrical film Serenity. A big screen take on the Firefly universe, I thoroughly enjoyed the flick even though I had no familiarity with the series. The film certainly whetted my appetite, though, and made me eager to check out the shows.

So I went back into my stash to finally watch Firefly. This set includes all 14 episodes of the series. I’ll examine them in production order. That doesn’t remotely follow the sequence in which their aired, so I’ll mention those dates as well. The story synopses come straight from the DVD cases.

DVD ONE:

Serenity – Part 1 and 2 (air date 12/20/02): “The crew of Serenity is eager to rid themselves of an easily traceable cargo they salvaged from a vessel adrift in space, totally unaware that a passenger has brought an even more dangerous cargo aboard.”

The series launches with this strong double episode. It sets up all the characters and situations in a concise manner. “Serenity” doesn’t dally with tedious explanation of every little thing. Instead, it tosses out just enough bits and pieces for viewers to get a feel for matters and trusts us to figure things out on our own.

In addition to being a solid introduction to things, “Serenity” provides a very entertaining show. Admittedly, it functions best as a series overview, but that doesn’t mean it concerns itself solely with exposition. It musters a good story in its own right and makes us eager to see more.

The Train Job (air date 9/20/02): “Mal has second thoughts after discovering that two boxes of Alliance goods his crew has been hired to steal are full of badly needed medical supplies headed for the mining town of Paradiso.”

Since “Serenity” clearly received a lot of time and effort, I worried that the second episode might come as a letdown. Happily, “Train” keeps things soaring. In fact, it might even top “Serenity”, as it provides a nice, fairly self-contained story. It helps expand some characters and some themes, but it works fine on its own. We can see the series’ complexities and nuances as they develop here, and that helps make “Train” a solid show.

Bushwhacked (air date 9/27/02): “After encountering a booby-trapped spacecraft carrying the lone crewmember of a horrific Reaver attack, Serenity is boarded by an Alliance Commander looking for Simon and River.”

This episode helps move along a couple of elements. We dig into River’s story a little more, and we also learn a bit extra about the Reavers. As with “Train”, these come with another fairly self-enclosed story. “Bushwhacked” provides a good scary tale and a strong program.

DVD TWO:

Shindig (air fate 11/1/02): “In order to secure a job transporting cargo for a client, Mal attends a social event where a dance with Inara leads to him being challenged to a swordfight in defense of her honor.”

Characters come to the forefront during “Shindig”. The plot is secondary as the show mostly examines the romantic tension between Mal and Inara. It develops them well and turns into a fun episode.

Safe (air date 11/8/02): “When Simon is kidnapped by a group of villagers in need of a doctor, Serenity is forced to make contact with an Alliance ship in order to seek medical help for the critically wounded Book.”

Here the series expands our knowledge of River, though it doesn’t neglect other areas as well. We get a nice look at the business side of the characters’ lives in addition to the tidbits about the mysterious River. The way the show turns into a witch trial gets a bit silly, unfortunately.

Our Mrs. Reynolds (air date 10/4/02): “After a celebration in which the crew is honored for ridding a planet of a group of bandits, they return to Serenity to find a woman named Saffron who claims that Mal married her during the festivities.”

I gotta admit “Mrs.” threw me for a loop. At first, I took the episode to be little more than a goofy bit of comedy, and the story line seemed pretty predictable. We had an exploited woman who I felt sure would be taught how to be an individual.

That’s what I get for underestimating Firefly. As it progresses, “Mrs.” Becomes more complex and interesting. Add to that a gorgeous guest star and you discover a winning episode.

Jaynestown (air date 10/18/02): “When the crew returns to a planet where Jayne participated in a heist gone bad, they’re shocked to discover that Jayne’s past actions have turned him into a local hero of Robin Hood-like mythic proportions.”

Another episode with an apparently comedic theme, this one offers a funny commentary on the nature of myth and legend. How many of our heroes were really just as mercenary as Jayne? It’s a good choice to use the series’ least altruistic character as its folk hero. The subplot with Inara exists just for story convenience, but the main tale is more than clever and involving enough to make this a good show.

DVD THREE:

Out of Gas (air date 10/25/02): “After an explosion leaves Serenity crippled, Mal orders everyone to abandon ship while he stays behind in an attempt to make repairs – and reminisces how he found the ship and picked his crew.”

More dramatic than usual, “Gas” utilizes a complex flashback structure to cover various areas. I like the look at how the crew came together, but don’t mistake this for a glorified clip show. The main Mal story is tense and dramatic, even though we know he won’t die.

Ariel (air date 11/15/02): “Simon offers the crew a proposition: if they help him sneak River into a hospital so he can run tests on her, he’ll tell them where to find medical supplies that will fetch an enormous price on the black market.”

More info about River pops up here. This is really a caper episode as the crew goes to enormous lengths to get River in and out of the hospital. It provides nice action and intrigue, and it also clearly alludes to the Alliance’s intense interest in River.

War Stories (air date 12/6/02): “Wash regrets insisting that he be allowed to accompany Mal on a mission after the two men are captured by Adelai Niska – the client who previously hired Mal to steal the medicine bound for Paradiso.”

Arguably the series’ best episode, “Stories” deserves to be called an epic program. It starts in a comedic bent as it looks at tensions between Wash and Zoë; the former seems jealous of the latter’s relationship with Mal, though at times it seems he’s more jealous of her closeness to the captain.

Once Wash and Mal take off on their expedition, though, matters change. This becomes a shockingly brutal program that really packs a punch. It works brilliantly and turns into a riveting piece.

Trash (never aired): “Mal is shocked to discover that his old friend’s new bride is Saffron who, although furious after Mal blows her cover, offers to cut Mal in on what she calls the perfect, big-time scam.”

Since this episode offers copious shots of a naked Mal, I’m sure female fans consider it a favorite. We get the return of the sexy but devious Saffron and provides a fun caper show. She’s an intriguing character, and this show’s lighter tone nicely counterbalances the intensity of “Stories”. It’s a good little program.

DVD FOUR:

The Message (never aired): “While Jayne opens a mail package from his mother that contains a wool cap with ear flaps and a pom-pom, Mal and Zoë open their package to discover the body of their old way buddy, Tracey.”

“Message” ends up as one of the less interesting episodes, largely due to the presence of Tracey. Other than blind military allegiance, it never becomes clear why Zoë and Mal display such devotion to their weaselly old colleague. He always seemed shifty and selfish even in the good times, and nothing changes that. The show’s twists are predictable so this program doesn’t work terribly well.

Heart of Gold (never aired): “The crew comes to the aid of a bordello when its madam, an old acquaintance of Inara’s, asks for help after a gunslinger claims a prostitute’s baby is his and he’s taking it because his wife is barren.”

More Western than most Firefly episodes, there’s not a lot to this one’s story. Essentially the plot acts as an excuse for more complications in the Mal/Inara relationship, and the tale itself is slow and dull. It never becomes memorable.

Objects in Space (air date 12/13/02): “The crew is caught off-guard when a bounty hunter, eager to claim the enormous reward on River's head, sneaks aboard Serenity and methodically begins taking the crew prisoner one by one.”

After two lackluster episodes, the series rebounds a bit for its last produced program. It develops River’s character and also adds a cool new personality via Early the odd bounty hunter. This one fades at the finish, but it offers enough quirkiness and cleverness to succeed overall.


The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

Firefly appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The shows displayed a few rough spots, but they usually looked good.

Sharpness created some of those mild issues. I noticed a bit of edge enhancement, and that contributed to the moderate softness I detected in wider shots. Most of the episodes displayed nice clarity and definition, though, and I saw no problems with jagged edges or shimmering. Despite a bit of graininess at times, the shows came with no source flaws.

Colors stood as the best part of the transfers. Though Firefly went with a mildly dusty sepia look, it offered plenty of room for more vibrant tones. Hues consistently appeared rich and full; they really seemed quite attractive. Blacks were acceptably dark and dense, but shadows tended to be a little thick. Various low-light shots appeared a smidgen more opaque than I’d like. I debated whether the shows deserved a “B” or a “B+”. I thought they were too soft and murky to get the higher grade, but much of the time the episodes offered very positive visuals.

Although the Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of Firefly didn’t demonstrate the highs of the visuals, it also failed to suffer from many lows. This was a consistently good but unexceptional set of mixes. My only moderate complaints related to the occasional edginess I heard in speech. While most of the lines sounded natural and distinctive, a few too many suffered from crackling.

Other aspects of the tracks sounded solid. Bass may have been a little too dense, but the effects and score nonetheless showed good range and definition. Highs were consistently tight and clear, and lows usually appeared warm and firm.

The soundfields expanded matters in a decent manner. As one might expect, action sequences demonstrated the best movement. Elements zoomed around the spectrum well and helped open up the environments. The various effects spread cleanly to the surrounds, and the score demonstrated good stereo presence. The greater ambition made possible by a 5.1 track would have been nice, but I still thought the audio of Firefly was satisfying.

A mix of extras rounds out the set. We get audio commentaries for seven episodes. These involve a variety of participants:

Serenity Parts One and Two: executive producer Joss Whedon and actor Nathan Fillion. Whedon dominates as they chat about the story and characters, the cast and their performances, visual design, sets, locations and related elements, and general production notes. A lot of humor fleshes out this track, and it offers a nice look at the series’ start.

The Train Job: Whedon and executive producer Tim Minear. Similar subjects show up here, as Whedon again makes this an amusing and illuminating chat. In addition to the aforementioned topics, Whedon also tells us about various studio pressures and how this ended up as the first episode aired.

Shindig: writer Jane Espenson, Actor Morena Baccarin and costume designer Shawna Trpcic. The women discuss changed/cut scenes, costumes, set details, and general notes from the shoot. They prove fairly interesting and informative, but they suffer due to their placement in this sequence. Since they’re not as much fun as Whedon, the chat seems a little lackluster through no fault of the participants.

Out of Gas: Minear and director David Solomon. Story issues dominate as Minear talks about the episode’s structure and plot challenges. We hear about rearranging the complicated sequencing along with some notes about the episode’s visual style and other production topics. I like the dissection of the story points but this commentary displays way too much happy talk. That drags it down and makes it less compelling.

War Stories: Fillion and actor Alan Tudyk. The actors provide a chatty but not terribly informative discussion. They let us know a few secrets from the set and some issues related to characters and situations, but I don’t think you’ll learn much from this piece. Despite that, they’re charming and amusing, so the commentary moves quickly.

The Message: Tudyk and actor Jewel Staite. Ditto my remarks about the Fillion/Tudyk commentary. Staite and Tudyk joke around and give us some trivia about the shoot but that’s about as deep as it gets. We do hear a little about reactions to the fact this was the last episode they shot.

Objects in Space: Whedon. He finishes the series with a very introspective chat. Whedon gets into philosophy, his childhood, and a mix of influences that came to bear here. He also discusses production specifics, though he prefers the broader picture in this informative, thoughtful commentary.

On DVD Four, a few other supplements fill out the package. Three featurettes appear. Here’s How It Was: The Making of Firefly runs 28 minutes, 37 seconds and combines the standard mix of show clips, behind the scenes bits, and interviews. We get notes from Whedon, Fillion, Minear, Tudyk, Staite, Baccarin, producer Gareth Davies, Mutant Enemy president Chris Buchanan, writer Jane Espenson, translator Jenny Lynn, producer’s assistant Kelly Wheeler, camera operator Allen Easton, visual effects supervisor Loni Peristere, associate producer Lisa Lassek, composer Greg Edmondson, and actors Sean Maher, Adam Baldwin, Summer Glau, Ron Glass, and Gina Torres. The program looks at the series’ genesis and development, problems with the studio and changes made to various elements, how studio pressure affected the production in other ways, and production specifics like the use of Chinese speech. We then hear about the cast and characters, the show’s cinematic style, music, the atmosphere on the set, the series’ fan-related afterlife, thoughts about where the series might have gone if it’d lasted, and valedictory remarks.

Since we already learned a lot from the commentaries, some redundancy occurs in “Was”, but not as much as you might fear. Indeed, “Was” turns out to be a tight and honest little show. It touches on the high notes with bluntness and concision as it provides a solid overview of the series. It’s consistently interesting and useful.

Funny footnote: at one point a participant states that he hopes they’ll make a movie based on the series and then others will come up with the “idea” to turn it into a TV show. I watched some of these episodes on an airplane and my rowmates noticed. They asked if the show was based on Serenity!

For a look at the ship, we move to the nine-minute and 44-second Serenity: The 10th Character. It features statements from Whedon, Fillion, Glass, Baccarin, Tudyk, Baldwin, Easton, Peristere, Glau, and production designer Carey Meyer. They discuss the design and building of the ship. We learn a lot about the various set details and what the ship intended to convey. This piece could – and probably should – have simply been part of “Was”, but it’s still a nice program.

Four Deleted Scenes fill a total of . We get “Serenity – Scene 1” (1:35), “Serenity – Scene 74/75” (4:33), “Our Mrs. Reynolds – Scene 18” (3:39) and “Objects in Space – Scene 6” (2:08). The latter actually ran during the program’s initial broadcast but was edited here so that the show appears “as Joss Whedon originally conceived” it. It’s not a big loss, and the others aren’t particularly noteworthy either. The one for “Reynolds” is fun but superfluous, and the “Serenity” clips got the boot due to storytelling changes. No commentary shows up here, but text gives us notes about the deletions.

Alan Tudyk’s Audition lasts 63 seconds. This is fun but too brief! It’s also too bad we don’t get any other auditions. Still, a short snippet is better than nothing.

The standard goof-ups and silliness appear in the two-minute and 39-second Gag Reel. It’s predictable stuff, though I’m sure some will enjoy the uncensored shot of Fillion’s ass. Joss Sings the Firefly Theme goes for 70 seconds and includes Whedon’s demo version of the tune. It’s a nice inclusion for archival purposes.

Lastly, we get Joss Tours the Set. In this 81-second clip, we see a short overview of the ship. This is another piece that offers archival value only. I don’t know where it appeared, but it looks like the kind of teaser you’d see at some fan convention, so don’t expect anything rich or detailed.

As many have bemoaned over the years, Firefly died before its time. Creative, amusing and almost always entertaining, this was a terrific little series that deserved a longer run on the tube. The DVD provides generally good picture and audio. Extras aren’t extensive, but they’re informative and useful. I definitely recommend this package, as Firefly provides lots of entertainment value.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.7173 Stars Number of Votes: 46
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main