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UNIVERSAL

MOVIE INFO

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

Tagline:
The future is worth fighting for.

Synopsis:
A passenger with a deadly secret. Six rebels on the run. An assassin in pursuit. When the renegade crew of "Serenity" agrees to hide a fugitive on their ship, they find themselves in an action-packed battle between the relentless military might of a totalitarian regime who will destroy anything - or anyone - to get the girl back and the bloodthirsty creatures who roam the uncharted areas of space. But, the greatest danger of all may be on their ship. From the mind of Joss Whedon comes a new edge-of-your-seat adventure loaded with explosive battles, gripping special effects and fantastic new worlds!

Box Office:
Budget
$40 million.
Opening Weekend
$10.086 million on 2188 screens.
Domestic Gross
$25.335 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG-13

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 119 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 12/6/2005

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Joss Whedon
• Deleted Scenes
• Outtakes
• “Future History: The Story Of Earth That Was” Featurette
• “What’s In a Firefly” Featurette
• “Re-Lighting the Firefly” Featurette
• Joss Whedon Introduction


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Serenity (2005)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 3, 2006)

Hollywood turns TV series into movies all the time. However, they usually adapt successful TV series. That pattern changed with 2005’s Serenity, a flick based on the Firefly series. Aired during the 2002-2003 season, Joss Whedon’s project lasted only 14 episodes before it got the axe.

Hollywood taketh away, but Hollywood also giveth. Whedon doggedly refused to give up on his creation, and he received ample support from the dedicated fans of the series. This resulted in a second chance, one that took place on the big screen with 2005’s Serenity.

Set a few hundred years in the future, Serenity quickly notifies us that overpopulation forced humans to colonize a new solar system. Some core planets formed the center of this and became an apparently enlightened civilization known as the Alliance. However, the outer worlds were less easily tamed, and the two sides clashed. This led to battles between the Alliance and the Independents.

Alliance scientists take psychic subjects and turn them into skilled warriors. River Tam (Summer Glau) is their star pupil, but they lose her when her brother Simon (Sean Maher) reclaims her. He takes her onto Serenity, the ship on which he serves as doctor. Led by Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), the crew acts as rogues for hire, and during the first mission we see, they rob a settlement. This goes poorly when violent mutated beings called Reavers arrive, and they barely escape.

After that we learn more about River’s abilities and her issues. We also find out that an Alliance operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) pursues River and that she possesses a secret that could damage the Alliance government. The film follows the Serenity’s pursuit of the truth while they attempt to avoid the operative and stay alive.

A film like Serenity encounters one major potential problem. It needs to make sure that new viewers understand its setting and scenario but it doesn’t want to bore established fans with excessive retelling of material they already know. Since I’d never seen Firefly, I don’t know how well Serenity accomplished the latter, though I get the feeling fans loved it, so I assume they didn’t mind the movie’s “baby steps”.

I do know that Serenity handled the set-up quite well. Going into it, I worried that I’d be lost or confused due to my unfamiliarity with Firefly. That didn’t occur. Would the story have made more sense and would I have gotten more out of it if I’d watched Firefly? Undoubtedly. I clearly missed out on some character nuances and had to play catch-up to a degree. However, writer/director Joss Whedon tells the story well enough to make sure that newbies like myself can focus on the plot and not worry too much about backdrop issues.

Whedon also wears his influences on his sleeve. As I watched the movie, connections to flicks like The Fifth Element, Blade Runner and Star Wars. Mal seems heavily influenced by Han Solo, and other reflections seem clear.

Happily, Serenity never comes across as a rip-off or something unimaginative. It manages to create its own universe and form its own feel. I can’t say it feels completely fresh, but it doesn’t suffer from its references.

Serenity seems darker than some of those influences, however. It presents a more overtly dangerous environment in which we don’t automatically assume the good guys will survive. Indeed, one of them doesn’t, and that moment comes as a shock. (I don’t think this qualifies as a real spoiler – even with the knowledge someone will die, I doubt anyone will see the actual event in advance.) This threat makes the events more perilous and allows us to become more involved in matters.

Perhaps the only negative I’d attach to Serenity comes from its western leanings. The movie embraces some elements of that genre but doesn’t go far enough to really connect to them. This leaves us with little more than some oddly awkward lines, most of which come from Kaylee. She gets stuck with groaners like “Goin' on a year now I ain't had nothin' twixt my nethers weren't run on batteries!” I’m not sure why Whedon goes for weird lines like that, but they don’t work.

Otherwise, I find a lot to like about Serenity. It creates an interesting setting along with good characters and a lot of fine action. It doesn’t reinvent the sci-fi genre, but it stands on its own and provides a strong effort.


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

Serenity appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. From start to finish, this was a fine transfer.

I noticed no problems with sharpness. If any softness occurred, I couldn’t see it. Instead, the film always looked well-defined and crisp. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering popped up, and I witnessed no edge enhancement. In addition, print flaws remained absent.

Much of the film favored a restricted palette that either went with a bluish tint or an earthy tone. Both worked fine for the content, and the DVD depicted them with richness and accuracy. Blacks seemed firm and deep, while low-light shots were smooth and concise. Overall, the film presented terrific visuals.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Serenity was even stronger. I expected a lively soundfield from this sort of movie, and that’s what I got. The mix used all five channels actively throughout the flick, and it brought the visuals to life. Elements emanated from everywhere in the spectrum and blended together smoothly. Battle sequences were the most effective, as anything that involved flying craft created an impressive setting. Other moments were solid as well, however, and the entire package combined to form a rich environment that engulfed us.

Audio quality also seemed good. Speech was natural and concise, and I noticed no edginess or other problems. Music sounded bold and dynamic, while effects soared. Those elements always appeared accurate and vivid. They suffered from no distortion and offered excellent bass response. Low-end was tight and deep. This was a superior soundtrack.

Heading to the DVD’s extras, we begin with an audio commentary from director Joss Whedon. He provides a running, screen-specific chat that covers lots of good information. Whedon gets into adapting the TV series and script/story issues, cast and characters, effects, cinematography and visuals, sets and design, stunts and fight scenes, and general notes.

Whedon infuses the track with a nice sense of humor and even lets us know some of their goofs. He digs into his movie well in this informative piece. Consistently interesting and enlightening, Whedon presents a terrific commentary.

Nine Deleted Scenes fill a total of 14 minutes, 39 seconds. A fair number of these fall into the category of extended sequences, and some simply contribute a little extra exposition. We learn more about Inara as well as how the Operative found her; those are the most valuable added moments.

We can view these with or without commentary from Whedon. As with his main track, Whedon continues to give us good notes. He tells us background about the scenes and why he cut them. The commentary merits a listen.

A collection of Outtakes runs six minutes and four seconds. I thought this might include some small deleted snippets, but unfortunately, it offers nothing more than bloopers. I don’t find any of them to be particularly memorable or unusual.

Three featurettes follow. Future History: The Story Of Earth That Was goes for four minutes and 32 seconds. It shows movie clips and remarks from Whedon. He tells us a little about the origins of Firefly and then provides a quick history of the worlds it depicts. This is probably old news for fans of the series, but newbies will like it and might want to watch it before they check out Serenity.

Odd subtitle note: due to Whedon’s pronunciation, the person who transcribed his remarks misheard “Millenium Falcon” and wrote “Millenium Vulcan”. Or perhaps Whedon just really wants to create a Star Wars/Star Trek hybrid.

During What’s In a Firefly, we hear from Whedon, executive producers Christopher Buchanan and Alisa Tager, CG supervisor Emil Smith, producer Barry Mendel, and visual effects supervisors Loni Peristere and Bud Myrick. In the six-minute and 33-second piece, we get notes about the flick’s visual effects. It rushes through these quickly and lacks much detail, but it gives us a decent overview of the work done for the movie.

For the last featurette, we get Re-Lighting the Firefly. This nine-minute and 41-second program offers info from Whedon, Buchanan, actors Nathan Fillion, Jewel Staite, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Summer Glau, Gina Torres, Ron Glass, Sean Maher, and Adam Baldwin. We hear about Firefly’s cancellation and all the work put into bringing it back to life. The program becomes a bit self-congratulatory, but it gives us some decent background.

In an odd twist, the DVD ends with an Introduction from Whedon. He chats for three minutes and 54 seconds. Created for preview screenings, Whedon discusses the background of the TV series and its resurrection as a movie. Though it repeats information from the last featurette, it acts as a decent historical artifact.

The Firefly TV series died an early death, but it earned a big-screen revival with Serenity. Based on what I saw here, it deserved that second chance. Exciting, quirky and involving, the movie works well. The DVD offers excellent picture and audio along with a smattering of extras highlighted by a terrific commentary. Whether or not you saw Firefly, you definitely should give Serenity a look.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4666 Stars Number of Votes: 30
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