Monday, 30 January 2012

A closer look at Serenity -- Why didn't it save Firefly?

After the Fox TV network lost faith in the show they'd ordered and coldly watched it die, both fans and the cast and crew of Firefly were heartbroken, but the good vibes surrounding the show were strong enough for the almost-impossible to happen: A major feature film was made.

Serenity was creator Joss Whedon's vision, pure and unfiltered (for the most part), without any of the meddling executives. Unlike Fox, Universal actually wanted to see more Firefly.

The feature film version (named, for legal reasons, Serenity after the central ship), was an opportunity for everyone who believed in the show to prove the world (and especially Fox), that it shouldn't have been cancelled, that its universe did hold widespread appeal. Fans on both sides of the camera hoped that this could be the new Star Wars. Some wryly speculated that its success might even spawn a TV spin-off...

Except none of that happened.

Despite garnering critical praise and winning numerous awards, Serenity was a flop at the cinema, and, although DVD sales helped put the movie into the black, they weren't high enough to create interest in a sequel.

Initially there were some grumbles about how the film had been marketed, but after all this time, was that the only reason it failed to set the world alight? Were there flaws within the film itself?

After recently working my through all 14 episodes of the Firefly TV series, and falling in love with it all over again, I viewed the film with fresh eyes, made a few notes... and came to the conclusion that, yes, I think there may have been a few issues with the movie itself.

Note: This isn't a "review" of Serenity, it's a critical look at what I see as its major faults, with a specific focus on how someone new to the Firefly universe might perceive them (it was them who needed to be won over, after all). And while the film did successfully convert me to a Firefly (and Joss Whedon) fan, it never managed to cross-over to a larger market, and I wanted to know why.

Here's what I see as the film's undeniable problems...

Best. Opening. Ever.

Ok, so this is the opposite of a problem, but watching the film again for this piece, it struck me how Serenity has just about the best opening 10 minutes of any sc-fi film ever. It's smart, gripping, exciting, it's near perfect. After it's finished, the title appears, and a wonderful, lifting score kicks in. It's goosebump city.

A portion of the audience has already decided that this film is utterly amazing (I was in that portion). Just as you think it can't get any better, a chunk of metal flies off the spaceship, and with a quick cut, before we can even laugh, we see the Captain turn to his pilot. "What was that?" And so begins the story proper. And so, unfortunately, do the problems.

We're introduced to our protagonists, the crew of Serenity, through a long scene without any cuts. According to writer/director Whedon, this was done to try and give the audience a sense that they were on "solid ground" after all that jumping around in time and space. In other words, this ship just got real. (Sorry.)

I love continuous takes as much as the next continuous takes fan, but there's a time and place for them, and this one doesn't really work for a number of reasons. For a start, it didn't make me feel on "solid ground". It's actually very frantic, we're pummelled with lots of information, and lots of camera movements. That could be fine by itself, but definitely doesn't do what Whedon hoped it would.

There's a bigger problem as a result of this shooting choice, however, and that's the fact that we don't get all the information we need. Dramatic moments do not have much available film language with which to give them any weight. You can't cut to someone's reaction, for example, you can only swing the camera around as fast as you can. With film, the camera should be part-narrator, helping to tell the same story the actors are.

Using long takes seems to work best when you're in a scene where you know who everyone is, and what the stakes are going in (see Crimes and Misdemeanors), but it definitely works against you when you're trying to impart lots of information. You can't easily inform the audience about what's important, and what's non-essential (but amusing) chit chat, and it's possibly because of these limitations that the Simon and Mal confrontation doesn't work as well as it should. It's a great moment on paper, but it doesn't work for someone new to the characters because the film language doesn't give any indication of its importance.

Also, rather unfortunately, the ADR work on the scene (where actors dubbing their lines in a studio afterwards to hide the clomping the camera crew in the background) was very poorly done, making us feel even less "connected" to what's happening. (The opposite of what Joss said he wanted.)

And unfortunately the problems are just the beginning for the newbies...

The Chase Sequence

Our first major force of conflict appears, they are known as "Reavers". We don't know anything about them, but in order for them to be a legitimate threat the audience has to believe one thing: The Reavers are a very real and very terrifying danger. Even if you're a group of fully-armed war-vets and mercenaries, it's pant-wetting time. The audience needs to believe this for not only the chase sequence to work, but also for the story to work as a whole. After they've been introduced, the idea of meeting one again should haunt the audience.

Whedon attempts to sell this necessary fear in a simple (and you might say, classic) way: If all the characters are scared at the mere mention of Reavers, then not only must they be something worth being scared of, but it's left up to the audience to decide exactly why.

This can be a very effective trick, as I'm sure we all know. A viewer's imagination can tailor a movie monster's menacing qualities to their own idiosyncratic fears, in theory creating a scarier threat for themselves. All it takes is a sense of creeping danger to get audiences' creative fear-juices flowing...

Unfortunately, when the Reavers appear, the viewer is completely in a comfort zone: A bank-heist that's actually going well, and is highly amusing to boot. There's no real sense of threat, and no reason to believe the characters can't handle anything the universe throws their way. It's even broad daylight, in a populated area. There's nothing to help germinate a sense of fear in the audience (although I think Whedon was hoping the jump from funny to fearful would be unsettling).

Outwardly there's even less to fear: Our heroes carry guns, while the Reavers are apparently too feral for that. We're never actually shown how ineffective four people with guns could be against a horde of Reavers. Hell, we never even see a horde of Reavers, we only really see about three, but surely guns could take them out?

We also don't actually know how tough our characters are. If we'd already seen them kick ass against a terrifying foe, but then act afraid of Reavers, we may be able to gauge that this new enemy was a very serious threat (this is how they were introduced in the series). But we don't. Our protagonists have only tackled a group of country-bumpkins, and since they've just committed a crime, it's natural to think that they'd like to leave ASAP anyway, Reavers or no Reavers.

This lack of terror hurts the movie immediately, and is felt so strongly that, when we see a townsman run towards our gang, begging to be taken with them, my immediate thought was not, "He wants to get away from the Reavers", it was, "Poor guy, stuck on this backwoods world, wants to go on space adventures with some space bandits". (I did get what Whedon wanted me to get, just not immediately.)

And the damage continues: In the ensuing chase sequence, our heroes are escaping from... what? A bunch of stunt men in make-up? A ship covered in red paint? It's hard to feel emotionally involved because we have no reason to feel our protagonists are in any real danger. Also, it's not very well directed, sad to say. (Joss Whedon is apparently very aware of début directorial short-comings on the film's Blu-ray, admitting he'd completely re-shoot the whole scene if he could.)

The chase's climax is also falls limp; Our hearts should already be pounding when a final bit of flaming debris nearly slices Mal in two (this "second shock" trick worked brilliantly in Die Hard), but not only is our heart beating calmly, but the debris looks far too flimsy as it bounces along the deck. It's a huge shame, as the script is tight and the story beats are good.

We're then back on Serenity, with the crew and their ill-gotten gains, and we've learned a lot about the characters and their relationship to one another, that's good. (Watchers of the original series will have note that Mal has returned to his infinitely more interesting "hardened" self from the original pilot.)

Unfortunately there's one more problem...

The Bar Fight

In a bar, that classic Western/sci-fi staple, we learn that the successful bank-heist has turned somewhat sour. Mal is being forced to give up 15% of his crew's earnings, but in an odd editing choice, we're not allowed to hear the justification as to why. A few words from his shady employers explaining that they're taking the extra percentage simply because they can, would have been all that was needed, and indeed this dialogue was filmed, but it was cut (presumably in order to try and make the viewer focus more on River -- a controversial choice).

So we're left wondering what's going on, why the one plot thread they've been introduced to has been yanked out of earshot, when River suddenly gets "activated". The inevitable bar fight ensues.

Although Summer Glau's flexible fighting skills are incredible, the brawl itself doesn't emotionally engage with the audience because there's no context: Why are the people in the bar fighting with her? If they're under threat, why aren't people trying to escape?

When Luke Skywalker had his scuffle with the ugly man with the death mark on three systems, the rest of the bar acted in a way we could understand: Avoid a fight, hope it will go away on its own. In Serenity it becomes a Wrestlemania cage fight for no apparent reason.

I'm fairly certain that the idea was supposed to be that a dispassionate and indiscriminate killing machine had just been released into a public space, but once again there's not a sense of immediate danger because the exit appears to be available to everyone in the bar, and hardly anyone is shown making a break for it. If these people want to stay and fight and get their asses kicked, then you can't help but feel that's their problem. Sure, some people try and leave, but the set design and direction never makes us feel as though River is holding people these people against their will: A lot of them seem to be attacking her.

What are we supposed to be feeling here? Are we supposed to feel bad for the patrons as River is taking them down? (Are they all thugs? Are they normal tax payers looking for a quiet night out? Do they want to escape? If they want to fight, why do they want to fight? Out if pride? Out of ego? Out of a desire to prove how manly they are? Out of self-defence? For the enjoyment of a battle? To see if they could best her? We don't know.)

Compare this again with the cantina in Star Wars. That venue had a vibe. You expected trouble there. You felt like you knew the patrons, that they weren't faceless nobodies. You could probably can imagine how they would react in this situation. Can anyone say the same about the patrons of the Serenity bar? Were they hard-working, innocent miners looking for a drink after a long day drilling? Were they all smugglers and bandits making shady deals? Were they deadly mercenaries? We don't know: They were just more stuntmen in generic costumes.

This confusion about who is attacking who and why is a shame because it hurts the final shot of the fight; Mal slowly putting down his weapon, his heart racing. This would have worked much better if it we'd felt he was in danger against his will. Instead we're wondering why this cold, selfish man didn't run out the bar's open exit. (Although it's possible he was trying to protect the patrons of the bar, it doesn't seem to be in keeping with his character -- although maybe I'm wrong there.) This problem isn't as bad as the audience not fearing the Reavers, but it also wasn't as engaging directed as it was written, and so another opportunity to engage the audience was lost.

Either way, the audience should have had two big jolts of adrenaline at this point in the movie. They should also be secretly hoping that the Reavers aren't going to come back.

If they'd had those things, I think the film would have been largely fine at this point. Everything would have been set up so the subsequent story turns would have had all the weight and resonance they needed.

Well, apart from one other minor hiccup before we reach the end: Shepherd Book.

Everyone unfamiliar with Firefly had no idea who the hell he was, and it felt like we should have (I was one of them). The scene with Mal and Book was pointless and weird, and didn't help explain who this man was or why the crew were there. Or what his relationship with them was. But hey, that's pretty minor compared to these other problems.

(Note: Shepherd Book was originally on Serenity throughout the film, and it was another unknown character they sought refuge with. When Whedon was forced to write Book out of the story, it made sense to switch the characters -- the crew did have a relationship with him, after all. At least for fans of the show -- those new to the party were wondering why such weight was given to his scenes.)

The Ending

Ok, I lied. There is actually one final big problem: The triumph of the protagonists is not something we, the audience, can easily relate to. Consider, once again, the final battle in Star Wars or The Matrix. When our heroes win, we feel their victory, we feel their triumph. In Serenity, their (most obvious) successes are felt by unknown people across the universe. People we don't care about. Our heroes survive, but they also suffered serious losses, and this "down" feeling is what we're left with. Yes, I believe that more people felt and related to Zoe's pain, than Mal or River's salvation.

You big whiner! So you're saying Serenity failed as a movie?

Absolutely not, at least not for fans of the series. Upon watching it an additional time for this blog post (to make sure I wasn't totally wrong about the problems I'd identified), I noticed that it actually works as a perfect ending for the series itself.

For the first time I saw really Mal's story. And not Mal's story from the beginning of the film, but his story from the beginning of the series. In the very first scene of the series, we watch Mal lose all faith as he has everything he believes in taken away from him. In the final scene of the film, we see man restored, optimistic about the future, with something to believe in again. (And, aptly enough, the first episode of the show shares the title of the movie.)

This layer means that the passengers we watched Mal take onboard at the beginning of the series, Simon, River, and Book, actually held the key to his own personal salvation. This character arc is in the film, but Whedon buried it deep.

If you missed it, consider Shepherd Book's dying words. A man of faith talking to a man without any: "I don't care what you believe. Just believe it."

Likewise, thanks to River, Mal discovers a truth that leads to him finally seeing something bigger than himself (self-obsession is usually the cause of nihilism). By the end of the film he's a whole person again, his heart no longer dead.

In the process of re-developing his own belief system he shatters that of his nemesis, The Operative, who is the ultimate nihilist. (His final words, after Mal tells him he'd better not see him again, "You won't. There is nothing left to see.")

River also finds her salvation through Serenity, finally finding peace at the end of the film thanks, not just to the love of her brother, and the family she's found on the ship, but to Mal for helping her excise her demons (in the original script it's made clear that a large part of her mental problems stem from the horrible truth about Miranda).

Serenity is Mal's and River's story, of how they saved each other, and if there's ever a sequel, we'll be seeing a different side to them than we've ever seen before. (Note: There's never going to be a sequel.)

In this way, it's actually an utterly fantastic and rewarding script. But we knew the problem was never going to be on the page, didn't we?


Unfortunately it took me five watches to see Mal's journey. As a first-time viewer I wasn't left with a sense of joy, or even success, it was pain and loss. Hell, it wasn't even bittersweet. Our losses as a viewer were too great, and the gains too small, too hidden. Joss cut us too deeply to notice the salve he tried to apply. And yes, Wash's death is a big part of that.

(Interestingly, Whedon justifies his decision to kill Wash on the Serenity Blu-ray commentary, making the point that if the audience is upset, it means he did the right thing. The obvious response to that is: Dear Joss, if you killed off Willow, you would probably have to go into hiding. That doesn't mean it's the right thing to do -- it just means you made us care. Signed, Everyone.)

Wouldn't you have just loved the movie even more if Wash and Book survived? I know I would have. And indeed that's exactly what happened in Whedon's original 190 page "kitchen sink" version of the script (available online, Firefly fans!). And don't forget that Whedon revealed that he had every intention of resurrecting both characters if there was a sequel. (There won't be a sequel.)

That original script also featured this wonderful piece of dialogue between Zoe and Simon, that really helps the audience become aware that Mal's spiritual salvation is an important part of the story:

You were in that same war. But
you live almost like a person
might; you have an actual
relationship — a marriage. You
didn't turn into some... Gorgon...

I'm career Army, my whole family
is. I was already in when the war
started. Mal volunteered. He
joined the fight because he
believed. He believed his planet
should be left alone. Believed we
would win if we gave our hearts to
it, that his generals wouldn't lay
down arms while his men were still
dying around him... that God would
help us in our darkest place.

She cinches a knot tight, moves to the next body.

See, that's the difference between
Mal and me. All I ever lost was a war.

So, when all is said and done, we finally have a complete understanding as to why we won't be seeing any more Firefly: Because the executives at Fox sold us all down the river.

The end. 


Robin Raven said...

Great article. I came across your blog from Ken Levine's. I have never seen this show, although many of my close friends are fans and I worked with one of its stars. I really will have to watch it soon. I enjoyed reading your take on it.

Johnny Walker said...

Hi Robin! Thanks for stopping by and and for your kind words. Who did you work with and on what? I have a friend who worked on the show myself. You really should check it out :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for these thoughts - I had a friend who was new to the series and loved the show and absolutely hated the movie -- hated. And I really was never able to understand why, but I think that you helped me to understand a little more.

On the flip-side, my brother loved the movie before he knew there was a show... which is also a little puzzling, but goes to show how different people react to the same thing.

Really great insights and considerations here - thanks again.

Johnny Walker said...

You're very welcome. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I'm glad to hear I managed to convey some of what I aimed for!

Katie Shew said...

This is so true. I really agree with a lot of what you said. I first heard about the movie before I heard about the tv show. All I remember thinking was wow there is something here, and I need to look into this further, I could tell it was good but felt like I was missing something. So I did my research, found out about the show, watched it and then re-watched the movie, I remember liking the movie more once I was attached to the characters and was in love with the tv show.

Johnny Walker said...

Hi Kate, thanks for your kind comment. It sounds like we had very much the same experience. The film led me to the series, which in turn made me fall in love with the universe, and ultimately the film.

What happened with the show still breaks my heart... But I still retain hope for more, rightly or wrongly :)

Anonymous said...

I searched for a good BSG viewing order on the web and got a great Serenity analysis as a bonus (I just finished firefly when I started BSG)!

Thanks for the insights, it really helped me appreciating it even more.

Storm said...

British, adorable, funny, AND a nerd as well? I think I married the wrong man. ;)

Spot on, as you lot say. I LOVE "Firefly" with my whole heart, but I utterly despise that stupid film. I know a lot of people who saw it without seeing the show first and said "No wonder it was cancelled-- Joss WHEDON made this??".

Book's death was sad, but had a point. Wash's was JUST TO MESS US UP. Totally pointless, except to break my heart. This is why I generally ignore the film's existence and forget that I even own it; if I don't acknowledge it, then Wash is still alive and loving Zoe and everyone is still off having Wacky/Scary Space Adventures. The Real World sucks enough, with enough people dying for no good damn reason; I watch this sort of stuff to try to forget about it, not cry like I've lost yet *another* close friend.

You need to blog more, fool; your articles and insights are quite interesting. I know you're trying to concentrate on Writing The Funny right now (having stalked you here from Levine's blog), but nerdstuff needs more apt, thought-out criticism like you provide here.

Cheers, thanks a lot,


toaster said...

great article - me, i saw the series and then disliked the movie even more, although like u point out, i did understand a bit better what whedon was trying to do.

i think a combination of it being his first time directing something for the big screen, first time for a lot of the actors being on the big screen, and probably incredible pressure and control from the producers changed the original pretty solid script to what we have today as the final product.

Anonymous said...

Whedon really misses the point about Wash. That we are upset by the character's death doesn't somehow prove that it was the right decision. Rather, we're upset because Wash was the happiest, most positive character in the series, and his death was utterly pointless. It didn't advance the narrative. There was no heroic sacrifice. It didn't reveal anything new about the character. It was just, "Oh, you like Wash? Here's a harpoon through the chest."

In short, Whedon took something significant away and gave nothing in return. That'll piss your audience off every time.

Johnny Walker said...

I think those who like Whedon's decision would argue that Wash's death served to make the stakes high. As a viewer I already felt the stakes were high, I think, and Wash's death just depressed me -- which I don't think was what Whedon was hoping for.

That all said, his death was made under duress. The film wasn't going to get Greenlit unless Book and Wash had good reasons not to be around in the sequels (although they would have made an appearance for sure).

It is what it is, sadly, but I hope that Whedon gets another chance in the future. (It's my secret hope that Whedon agreed to do Avengers 2 in return for assistance in getting more Firefly made -- a hopelessly naive hope, admittedly.)

Elton said...

I enjoyed the article and agree with some of the points, but then no movie is perfect. I think it is worth pointing out the marketing again though. I was a fan of Firefly and I barely knew this movie was coming out.
As for Wash's death being pointless, I suspect that is part of the point. Joss Whedon often has deaths that seem pointless in his works, because that's what real life is like. It's not always fun, but why should death be fun. It's supposed to hurt and make you angry because that's what death does.

Anonymous said...

I heard about the tv show but never saw it. I remember seeing trailers for the film on tv and thought "I have to see it!". I did go see it at the cinema and I absolutely loved it! That much so I had to get the series on dvd and I loved it also. It had so much potential and wish the story could have continued.

Anonymous said...

Stupid question but why in the world would the movie only get greenlit if Book and Wash couldn't be in the possible sequel?

Johnny Walker said...

It wouldn't have been a problem if they'd signed to do more movies from the outset, but it's likely the studio didn't want to paint themselves into a corner: If the film was a hit, those two actors could negotiate much bigger pay for the sequels, making the whole endeavour less attractive to the studio.

By killing them off, it meant a sequel could be made with or without the actors, putting the studio into a much stronger position when it came to negotiating with them.

Remember: We're talking millions here. If the film was a huge success and everyone wanting a sequel expected to see Book and Wash, their agent could demand anything they wanted. (Imagine if The Empire Strikes Back didn't feature Harrison Ford! The audience in 1981 would have been extremely upset, damaging ticket sales.)

As the entire project was risky, I imagine the only way the studio could justify such a long shot was if they could say that it could pay off several times over if the first film did well.

That's my guess, anyway. All we know for sure is that it did.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I am now puzzled why the actors portraying Wash and Book wouldn't sign a contract agreeing to appear in a sequel. I like the performances from both of them but have trouble thinking their schedules were too busy for a sequel if it blew up into Star Wars part II.

Johnny Walker said...

Actors often get advice not to be locked into something. Tudyk might have had to turn down bigger roles if they decided to make a sequel -- also there's no guarantee they would have waited for Star Wars money to green light a sequel. If it had done OK, they might have decided to make a straight to DVD/TV movie.

And, if the film had done REALLY well, then the actors wouldn't see any of that money. It's just business. They did what was best for them.

Anonymous said...

I saw the movie before I ever watched the series. From my point of view, the problem was that it drops the viewer into a world they aren't familiar with, when a lot of the enjoyment really comes from context. That point was really made clear to me as I just watched the series for a second time and capped it off by rewatching the movie. The movie works so much better as a finale to the series! Otherwise there is so much nuance and character interaction that you don't get. I remember watching the movie the first time thinking, "who are these guys? Why are they speaking Chinese? What's up with this girl who is meek and vulnerable one moment and then kicking ass the next?" It seemed contrived and awkward when the entire story wasn't delivered in parts over the span of a series. So basically, it works great when you are already a fan, but if you are new to the series (ostensibly the target audience), it isn't as much of a hook as it needed to be.

Also, I hated that Wash died, and I agree that it was pointless. I'm not a fan of that, and it was a negative point for me as well as the other viewers.

Unknown said...

The first time I saw this movie was way before I heard of the tv show and a lot of the scenes confused me but now I watched it and came back to the movie to watch it again and it all made sense. I was so sad to hear that the show was not saved by the movie.

Greg Rothauser said...

I completely disagree with everyone who says Wash's death was pointless. Far from it, in my mind. After Wash dies, Simon gets shot, Zoe is wounded, Reavers are closing in, and Mal is fighting an opponent we've seen him be completely ineffectual against earlier. Wash's death meant that I seriously thought they might all die.

Generally in movies, despite the danger, you know that the good guys will prevail and all will be well. In Serenity, for the first time I can remember, I thought Joss might have the message get out, but the crew all sacrifice themselves to make it happen. That doubt, fear and uncertainty made the climax of the movie incredibly intense for me.

And that was because Wash died. I say "Well done" to Joss Whedon.

steve said...

Re: The Reavers - I think the fact that everyone is scared and the fact that Mal, the good guy, kills someone just to spare them from having to die at Rever hands, sets the tone of fear.

Re: The bar fight - people are trying to escape, and almost every bar fight in every western (this is, after all, a space western) has one punch escalating into an all-out brawl. The fact that there's a badass killing machine there is probably why everyone is going after her instead of each other. But, it's a bar. In a western. Fleeing isn't really what's expected, is it?

Re: The ending - I think the down ending is the real life, there are real losses. But the heroes still "won" in the overall sense, the same as in SW or the Matrix, both of which the larger impact was also felt by unknown masses. It's just not a traditional happy actually see what this crew went through to get there.

jeffjanoda said...

I saw the movie first. Rented it. Yes, back when there were places that did that. Was so damned intrigued, I researched it and found out there was a series!! Converted my daughter, my son and several friends into Browncoats. Point: The movie worked. In a big way. A brilliant achievement. It made a fan of many people who may never have heard of this amazing TV show.
I miss Firefly. I miss what it had to say about what is good in us and what is bad in us, the mark of all great fiction. I miss caring about its characters (though I have never stopped). I miss its story. It will never be forgotten.

Unknown said...

I have a bit of wisdom that only comes with age (I'm 58). It has been my experience that entertainment executives (including those long since dead and those yet to ascend to that throne) care more about their power than they do about the show and its fans. Don't think for a moment an exec is a glamorous job. Their kissing lips are firmly attached to the sponsor's backside. However, that is not their only humiliation. Upper-class wives and girlfriends spit venom at any show that encourages a dignified and wholesome paid prostitution - this was most likely the real reason Firefly was squashed. Some would say it was the money, but I've seen shows that ran for years that never turned a nickle all because some exec wives liked them. As I watched the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer I immediately notice the same old plot getting updated with another darling protagonist and ugly stupid looking (but not scary) antagonist. How many times has that kind of story been hashed out. Before the first episode was finished I already noticed holes in the story. Worst of all was the plot was predictable. I knew what was coming and yes I fell asleep before the first show ended.

Josh Whedon broke the rules of the executives and made something that was truly (gulp!) CREATIVE! Was there a great executive fear that Whedon will become the next Roddenberry or Lucas?

Finally there is friendship among the cast and crew. Execs hate that - it threatens their power. And yes, there are exec spies that spread trouble and tell lies to prevent bonding. Ask Matt Groening what he thinks of FOX.

If you want Firefly back don't talk to Fox at all. Send your letters of extortion to the sponsors. Cough up our show or we boycott your product. Give us back Firefly and we will be your loyal customer and punch the lights out of anyone buying your competitors.

Good fans of Firefly, heed the wisdom of age. Think of me as Shepard Book delivering to you a sermon about the realities of network programming.

Johnny Walker said...

The first season of BUFFY was indeed very predictable. They only really found their feet in Season 2.

As for Executive's wives/girlfriend's leading to the cancellation of Firefly -- its fate was decided by two women: First created and then canned by Gail Berman, and later resurrected by Mary Parent at Universal.

Unknown said...

I just got into Firefly this past month and watched all 14 episodes before buying Serenity, to which I just watched last night. IMO, the series blows away the movie and it's not even close. I REALLY REALLY wanted this to be an excellent movie but there were too many things I found wrong with it (Reavers notwithstanding).

To me, I feel that a lot of what I really liked on the series was not in the movie at all. For example, some of the best character-driven scenes in the episodes were when everyone was around the kitchen table and talking. In the movie, the only time they show that table at all is when they run through the kitchen.

I also didn't like (or understand) why in the movie suddenly Mal and Simon seem to really hate each other now. Mal didn't even dislike Simon this much in the series' pilot! One of the things I liked best about how Mal handled his crew was the fact that he cared about and protected them and you could really see / feel that in many instances throughout. I got almost none of that feeling while watching Serenity.

And since when did Kaylee get regulated to the 3rd string? She's a pretty major character on the show and in the movie she hardly got any lines and just kind of stood there a bunch. Which of course is nothing when compared to Inara, who had almost nothing to say at all and that was a shame.

Not saying that Mal didn't deserve the spotlight of course (the dude is awesome, without a doubt) but for such a fleshed-out ensemble it kind of sucked that 5 or 6 of them were almost always background noise in this movie.

P.S: I was waiting for Book to show up for what seemed like forever, and then they go and kill him off. WTF was that about?? That sucked too! (lol)

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Whedon ever considered adding a new crewmember - a surrogate for newcomers to the series. It would have created a nice vehicle for recapping necessary context and information from the series without feeling stilted or contrived (like trying to work full explanations and recaps into dialogue between characters that really should be speaking in shorthand -- it always comes off as awkward.)

HRocha said...

I saw the movie a couple of years before the series. I loved the movie when I saw it. I then saw the series and I love that as well. I have seen the movie and series over a dozen times each. Love It. So sad that it did not continue. I think the movie had to be different than the series, since it was aimed at a wider audience, not just those who had seen the series. I enjoyed the opening sequence quite a bit, I had never seen Chiwetel Ejiofor and his acting blew me away. I liked Mr Universe and his bot wife. I liked the reavers, and how badass they are. I liked Mingo and Fanty, wish we could have seen a bit more of them. I liked seeing Inara, but again, we did not see enough of her. I liked the final sequence, the battle and the River fight. I wish Book and Wash had not been killed, there could have been a sequel, but not after they were killed.

Unknown said...

When it aired on the Fox network, it did air out of order. Fox, as I recall, believed that "The Train Job" would be a better pilot than "Serenity," mainly as it contained more action scenes.

If you purchase the series on Blu-Ray/DVD, they are organized in the proper order:
Serenity (parts 1 & 2)
The Train Job
Our Mrs. Reynolds
Out of Gas
War Stories
The Message
Heart of Gold
Objects in Space

According to the List of Firefly episodes on the Firefly wiki talking about Fox canceling the show due to low ratings:

Fans attributed the low ratings in part to actions of the FOX Network — most notably the fact that FOX had aired the episodes out of chronological order, making the plot much more difficult to follow. For instance, the two-hour episode "Serenity" was intended to be the series' premiere episode, and therefore contained most of the character introductions and back-story. However, FOX decided that "Serenity" was unsuitable to open the series, and so the second episode, "The Train Job", was created to become the new pilot. In addition, Firefly was promoted as an action-comedy rather than the more serious character study it was intended to be. Episodes were occasionally preempted for sporting events.

The sequence in which the episodes originally aired varied by locality. In the United States and Canada, starting on September 20, 2002, FOX (and Global in Canada) broadcast the episodes on Fridays at 8:00 p.m. (except for the second hour of the pilot which was shown at 9:00 p.m.). The order was the following:
"The Train Job"
"Our Mrs. Reynolds"
"Out of Gas"
"War Stories"
"Objects in Space"

With "Trash", "The Message", and "Heart of Gold" unaired in the United States during the series original run (these episodes remained unaired in the United States until they were broadcast on the Sci Fi Channel in late 2005 shortly before Serenity premiered in cinemas). In addition, Canada's Space has been regularly airing the series in the originally intended order since September 8, 2003, including a marathon of the entire series on September 5, 2003. In a lead up to the Serenity movie release, starting on July 22, 2005, the Sci Fi Channel (United States) aired the show on Fridays at 7:00 p.m. Eastern/Pacific in their originally intended order. Following a marathon on January 6, 2006, Firefly was removed from the Sci Fi Channel line-up. Universal HD began airing the episodes in the intended order on September 24, 2006.

Also Joss Whedon didnt even want to make the movie. It was an impossible task to make a movie that both summed up the tv series and also moved the story forward for the fans that demanded this movie be made.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the article, I loved reading all the comments! I agree that the movie needs explanation if you haven't seen the series first. I didn't like the movie much,but both the movie and the tv series were well done.

Unknown said...

I found & bought Serenity dvd at Family Video. I loved everything about the movie. I just went with them & Joss Whedon on ‘their’ journey to put the finishing touches on the series. I binge watched the series on SYFY 4 yrs ago & it was cool to find the dvd to watch probably more than a couple times. I was disappointed about Wash dying so abruptly. No time for anyone to absorb it. Book was sad but did make a point. Life is messy & it moves on no matter what we want. RIP Firefly & Serenity. It was a blast.