DVD is a powerful medium. Not only for its ability to bring cinema quality picture and sound into your living room, and not only for the opportunity to collect unprecedented archival support material in a CD-sized package. DVD has already repeatedly demonstrated its skill at breathing new life into media that has died elsewhere. Numerous films (Zoolander springs immediately to mind) that struggled to find an audience at the local ‘multiscreen’ have become enormously successful at home.
Television has been equally affected. The Family Guy had production cancelled after season three, but has been re-green-lit after the phenomenal sales of the DVD sets in the States.
Likewise the fate of master fantasy writer Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Fox greenlit the Buffy and Angel creator’s dream project, only to screen it out of production order and cancel it before the end of the first series. Forever this will remain one of the greatest crimes against the televisual arts ever perpetrated. Thank God for DVD.
Firefly sits itself between genres in the same way Buffy blended fantasy and highschool-drama. Borrowing thematically from the Whedon-scribed Toy Story, this series is quickly established as a seamless amalgam of the Science Fiction and Western genres (as represented by the aforementioned Toy Story’s protagonists).
Serenity is a Firefly-class salvage ship travelling through the furthest reaches of the galactic rim with a collection of fugitive (or otherwise base-less) passengers and crew. Led by Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), the collective group are drifters across a largely unregulated expanse, surviving on cowboy-like jobs that keep them comfortably mobile.
Whedon’s humour is more instantly accessible than it has been in his prior series’, due mainly to the intricately detailed crafting of the primary characters. They bounce off each other with sparks, creating wit and drama as their characters are allowed to develop in such a confined space. Unlike Buffy, which introduced a small cast that eventually grew to a larger ensemble, Firefly tosses all its balls into the air immediately. This can make the viewing experience frustrating in the beginning, the viewer forced to catch-up on the relationships and environments, rather than discover them alongside the characters (as was the case in Buffy and Angel), but with patience, you’ll get to know everyone like family.
Firefly does a good job of referencing its direct influences without becoming steeped in irony, a fate that did not escape either Buffy or Angel. Much of the set design (specifically, the brilliantly amateur paint job in Serenity’s kitchen), as well as the character of Kaylee (Jewel Staite), the ship’s mechanic, refer subtly to genre-defining shows like Little House on the Prairie. Without a trip, simultaneously, the narrative function and visual design of the universal governing body The Alliance evoke memories of science fiction’s most well known imperial influence (the costumes appear to have been stolen directly from the Star Destroyer. In fact, the Alliance officers in The Train Job are garbed in actual costumes from Starship Troopers). All of this, however, is done without a knowing wink to the audience - no I, Robot-like Converse Footwear ‘gags’.
Firefly’s alien-less interpretation of our own future is both unique and familiar. Earth, prior to the settlement of the universe, has been reduced to two superpowers that eventually became one body; American and Chinese. Thus, the language exists as a strange hybrid where Chinese phrases regularly replace English ones. Other developments in language, particularly in slang, are integrated without glitch; “Gorram’, by way of example, being the regularly-uttered mutation of “God damned”.
Much of the universe, particularly the ‘outer rim planets’, were terra-formed, populated with the minimum number of people, cattle and building supplies, and subsequently abandoned. Thus, this future is a series of contrasts between poverty and human-achievement, and the Serenity crew frequently find themselves in situations where their sense of duty to mankind overrides their need to sustain themselves. This provides material for limitless stand-alone episodes against which the complicated arcs of each character can develop. Unfortunately, given the show’s cancellation, we feel we’re only scratching the surface of this universe, and that’s just “gorram” frustrating.
Other touches, like the omnipresent and mysterious references to the ‘Blue Sun’ corporation, and the role of prostitutes in the future (known as ‘Companions’, they are revered above all other professions), create a thematic setting ideal for the characters to play out their angst, while keeping them regularly embroiled in drama.
The computer animation heralds a new standard for television, with the seamless integration of innovative techniques. Digital creations vibrate within the frame, or sit out of focus, and finally a program is brave enough to leave external shots in space without the inaccurate sound effects, allowing the visuals to communicate everything.
|""Ah, curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!""|
Disc One features the two-part pilot, ‘Serenity’, which does a succinct job of introducing a large ensemble cast, a complicated back-story and a detailed world. The flashback opening is vital, but a little slow. Mal and Zoe (Gina Torres)-Mal’s direct-report in both the Independent’s Army and on board Serenity- are abandoned by their own fleet and left to die on the planet Hera. By the end of the episode, we see the full crew assembled onboard Serenity. The pilot, Wash (Alan Tudykk); the mechanic, Kaylee; the Companion, Inara (Morena Baccarin); the fugitive doctor, Simon (Sean Maher) and his sister (and victim of government brain experiments) River (Summer Glau); the preacher, Book (Ron Glass) and the mercenary Jayne (Adam Baldwin).
‘The Train Job’ reinforces each character’s introduction, as well as the primary themes, in a neat stand-alone story. ‘Bushwacked’ develops the mythology, through a greater exploration of the savage space-trawling Reavers, and sets up more of Simon and River’s Alliance-escape arc.
On Disc Two, ‘Shindig’ develops the romantic tension between Mal and Inara, ‘Safe’ gives Simon a role beyond his frightened puppy-dog act, ‘Our Mrs. Reynolds’ provides the series’ biggest laughs and ‘Jaynestown’ comically elucidates on the titular character’s past.
Disc Three starts with the strongest episode in this collection, ‘Out of Gas’, which stylistically references some of ‘Buffy’ and ‘Angel’s more experimental narrative structures. ‘Ariel’ increases the urgency of Simon and River’s arc, and embroils Jayne in the process. ‘War Stories’ is Wash’s moment to become more than just comic relief, and also lends a needed legitimacy to his marriage to Zoe. ‘Trash’ (which never aired on Fox), like ‘The Train Job’ is a delightfully stand-alone ‘caper’.
Disc Four’s ‘The Message’ (also never shown on television) provides more information about Mal and Zoe’s involvement in the war. ‘Heart of Gold’ (the third unaired episode) is the most directly Western-influenced episode, with some beautiful Mal/Inara moments. ‘Objects in Space’, the final (ever… Sob!) episode of this brilliant program, was never meant to finish any of the stories, but in its own way does a neat job of convincing us that somewhere in the universe (albeit in the future), these nine are sailing through space and looking after each other.
This is a program for lovers of comedy, drama, science fiction and Westerns, and each genre is represented so strongly that only interest in one is required. With wit, drama, romantic tension, kick-ass special effects, action and some of the most beautiful scoring for television ever created infiltrating every episode, this is television at its best. Never having been screened in Australia (and not likely to be), this is your only chance to see this already-cult-favorite.
So how has DVD helped Firefly? Thanks to massive international sales, ‘Serenity’, the Firefly movie, opens in Australia in April.