Review: Serenity (DVD)

Director: Joss Whedon | Publisher: Universal | System: DVD | Genre: Science Fiction

Firefly may have been cancelled and Serenity just about made back its budget, but I really hope that the Firefly universe hasn’t come to an end. I enjoyed this film when I saw it in the cinema, fell in love with the whole thing when I watched through Firefly on DVD, and, now that I’ve had an opportunity to watch Serenity again in the context of the rest of the series it’s just even better. Be prepared because this review will probably turn into a Firefly love-fest fairly quickly.

BOOM! Headshot!

Much has been written about the weird western/sci-fi combination and how it doesn’t seem like a world 500 years from now, but I’d argue that it’s more realistic. The Alliance worlds are the traditional sterile sci-fi of Star Trek and the like, but most of the people in this universe are drifters on the edge of the law, exploring the new frontier with grungy little ships, and this is where the western comparison comes in – when the western United States was being explored it wasn’t done with technology and order; it was done with men on horses with guns. Just like they didn’t have the trains and cars that would later make colonisation easier, this is a world(s) where there’s no light speed travel and they spend weeks flying between worlds. It’s a realistic idea of what you’d expect the first era of interstellar travel to be like. They say in one of the episodes of Firefly that settlers on new planets are dropped there with basic provisions and expected to make it work, effectively making them form a society all over again.

The obvious comparison with any 2005 sci-fi is a little movie called Revenge of the Sith, so I’m going to just get it out of the way as I make no secret of the fact that I didn’t care for any of the Star Wars prequels. Whereas Lucas painted his characters in broad strokes and ended up with inane dialogue and characters that can go from despair over killing one man to agreeing to commit genocide in the space of a couple of minutes, Whedon has sharp dialogue and characters with failings and human sides, but who ultimately care about each other and do what they do because they love it. The whole thing has action but is really character driven, and without characters as likeable as this lot it wouldn’t be as good as it manages to be. Empire magazine gave Mal their award for best character of 2005, after all.

Story-wise, Serenity plays out like a conclusion to the threads started with the TV show, and the crux of it is that we find out exactly why River is as freaky as she is and why the Alliance want her back so much. On the way to the amazing end (the last 30 minutes is incredible considering that this film was made on a meagre $40 million budget) we get what is almost an extended episode of Firefly turned up to 11. If you liked Firefly you’ll love this – simple as that – but it’s even worth seeing if you’ve never watched the TV series, even if you won’t completely understand absolutely everything. I went into it in the cinema with very little knowledge of the Firefly universe (or ‘verse, if you’re down with the lingo) and still enjoyed myself a lot. This is my favourite sci-fi movie in a long time.

How exactly did they do this with $40 million?

Generally speaking the AV quality of the DVD is very good. All the video boxes are ticked – original 2.35:1 aspect ratio (there is a fullscreen one, but if you buy it on purpose you deserve to die), no major compression problems, and the transfer handles the dark scenes aboard the ship and in space as well as it does the extremely bright desert scenes. I have no complaints there. When it comes to the audio the only real complaint is that the Firefly theme doesn’t make an appearance, but when we’re talking technically with the DVD, I found that the dialogue was occasionally overwhelmed by background noise. I wasn’t sure if that was the fault of my crappy 5.1 system, but it turns out that other reviews have had the same criticism so it looks like it is the fault of the audio mix. No biggie, though.

As expected, any special features are aimed squarely at the Firefly fan, the kind of person who wanted Fox executive blood to spill when the show was cancelled. The featurettes don’t go into too much depth on anything, with the most interesting being ‘Re-lighting the Firefly’ for when it shows the cast reactions to the huge fanbase the series has, culminating in their visit to the Comic-Con where 5,000 fans turned up to ask questions and get autographs. The outtakes are pretty funny and the deleted scenes are worth seeing, even if most of them are only a couple of cut lines and some were right to be removed.

The real meat of the extras is Joss Whedon’s commentary. I would have liked something with the whole cast since this could be the last time we see the Firefly universe, but Whedon has obvious enthusiasm for the project (it’s his baby, after all) and a ton of interesting stories about the production. He’s optimistic about the future for Firefly as well, which hopefully means there’s at least something on the horizon. Maybe if the DVD is a big enough cult hit we’ll get another movie, so there’s only one way to help ensure that – go out and buy it!

5 Stars