Firefly The Complete Series – Collectors Edition
Producer: 20th Century Fox
Director: Joss Whedon
Release Date: April 10th, 2013
Price: $44.98 (Available Here)
Let’s be honest, you wouldn’t have even clicked the link if you didn’t know what this was. There’s something unique about those who like Firefly. That is if feeling a slight sense of superiority about peoples’ TV habits is unique. For better or worse, it has become an institution; a signpost for self appointed geeks and nerds to judge whether you’ve got taste or not. It’s the discerning person’s trash which is a much higher honour than it sounds. For good reason too, watching Mal and the gang being space cowboys all over my screen again is awesome.
Humanity in the 26th Century is still suffering from the same injustices that we experience today, albeit on sweet spaceships and terraformed planets. The ghettoised Rim planets lie the furthest from Core Worlds, the planets that were first terraformed after the exodus of Earth. The Core Worlds are now occupied by elites who are governed by the Alliance. Some of these Rim planets fought and lost for their independence in the Unification War which left outer planets as a vast frontier, reminiscent of the American West. Sergeant Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his Second in Command Zoe Alleyne Washburne (Gina Torres), bitter about the loss, set about surviving the post-war universe. They purchase a cargo ship, Firefly class, and fill it with their crew.
Firefly is Joss Whedon’s sci-fi love letter to pre-HBO television, back when you had to have your over arching narrative punched up by the weekly romp and spicy dialogue to keep viewers hooked. In a lot of ways it has more in common with Sam Ramii’s Xena than it does with Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica. There’s the zany costumes that give every setting an overblown sense of character, big themes tackled every episode and charm emerging from the interaction of the regular cast. Only Firefly’s cast is huge, so they don’t just milk them for charm to chew up time.
Casting, as frequently noted in the special features, is one of Firefly’s greatest feats. You can feel a comradery befitting a space crew on the run from the law emerging from each interaction. It hurts so much more when you see them act in their own interests against the rest of the crew because of it. While Nathan Fillion gets the most praise for his performance, Adam Baldwin is the cast’s strongest performer. His character, Jayne, is easily worth the price of admission with broadest emotional range of any of the characters. Jayne may seem like a neanderthal but he definitely feels the weight of his choices and can empathise deeply. Kaylee (Jewel Staite) is compassionate and care free, breathing a lot of good will into heavy material. Really I could keep going because each role is so lived in. It feels like Joss typecast each actor perfectly for the part as I certainly couldn’t imagine any other actors in any role.
Deftly executed narrative arcs demonstrate that this show had planned on being on the air for at least 5 seasons. You can tell half way through the series that Book, the ship’s pastor, had a seriously messed up past. Why does a preacher know kung-fu? What made him so pensive? Alas, we’ll never know more than these glimpses as his fate was sealed in the Serenity film. Serenity the film is pretty much 5 seasons of cliff hangers stitched together in two hours, which no only doesn’t do the material justice, it leaves out a lot of material which each of these characters really needed.
On an episode to episode level, Joss has refined the hour long (or 45 minute long) story structure. Drama is balanced with humour, and little of it is light and fluffy. ‘Shindig’ is great episode for this reason. Not a single moment is wasted. Choices like including a sword duel not only develop the world aesthetically, but also help to display how each character tries to define honour, with a direct impact on how they then relate to each other.
All the technical elements of creating a television show shine here. Hand held cameras are used extensively to both boost the realism and add action to each shot. Even in the shots that are complete 3D you can see fast zooms with the focus struggling to keep up. Other than cleverly hiding the obviousness of the CGI, the camera effects consistencies maintains the wild aesthetic that permeates the show. A laissesz faire attitude to editing and framing also helps bolster the action adventure element. Considering most of the quality content is on the page when it comes to Joss it was probably the perfect approach.
The lighting is used to ensure that you don’t take anything too seriously. Each scene has its own colour, as does each location. They’re big, bold colours too. It would have been too easy for this show to get lost in a brown on brown palate, thankfully we’re spared that kind of hackneyed effort. Costumes draw on 19th Century tropes, working as hard to articulate the class and social role each character fills as the performances of the actors. Although at times it feels like Joss’ understanding of Chinese would be better described as ‘Oriental.’
Greg Edmonson’s score utilises all the cultural influences the show leans on to create a rich emotional timbre. The rollicking of pirate shanties is blended with traditional Chinese folk music with a heavy dash of country to give it that frontier feel. The sound track reeks of professionalism. A few of the movements will be stuck in your head for weeks after hearing them. Firefly’s theme song is one that will go down in the history books as one of the most emotive introductions a show can have.
I’m going to guess that most of you have already seen Firefly, probably more than once. If so then the extras are going to be what you’re really interested. Unfortunately there’s nothing new here but the tin. That being said, there are tonnes of great special features, some of which can revisited more than once. Outside of the regular outtakes and left over bits of film that FOX could smash together in the package there is a lot of fan service here. Each episode has its own commentary track which are amazing. Bringing the cast of the show back together is emotional for everyone at some point in these features. These commentaries only allow for the happy ones thankfully. Each group of actors who get to commentate specific episodes all have a crack at singing the theme which is quite charming.
The Making of Firefly is a particularly well constructed behind the scenes tape. Better than many you’ll find on other DVDs. Essentially it’s just head shots of major crew and cast talking through the significant features of the show cut with clips. Whether it was how they pieced together the aesthetic or why they chose to swear in Chinese, simply hearing their process work out each decision is mesmerising. Who knew someone completely unaffiliated with the production aspect of a show could feel so deeply invested in its outcome – even after it had been cancelled? It feels like cheating winning over an audience like that. I get the feeling crafting that emotion so deftly through the special features is one of the reasons fans still support Firefly, they’re always made to feel as if they made all of this happen.
The Firefly Reunion is a bit self indulgent. Joss, Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk seem to know this but it feels like nobody told Ron Glass and as a result he’s ignored for most of the conversation. Most of the material is just Joss, Nathan and Alan horsing around, which is fun to watch. Still, I could have the same experience if I invited 3 friends around, completely blocked one of them and got the rest to talk about Firefly. If you can’t get enough of the charm the cast had in the other features then you’ll probably enjoy this but really, it’s pretty much just Joss skeeting on your face for an hour.
Serenity, the 10th Character, is great. 50 percent technical with explanations of set design and structuring character development within the space and 50 behind the scenes, this feature is short but insightful. If anything this feature demonstrates how Joss crammed detail into everything. With Serenity being the set piece for so many different sequences it deserved the amount of attention that was obviously poured into it.
Do we need more Firefly in our lives? Probably, but with nothing new to add to what fans already own, it’s hard to justify the ten out of ten capsules I want to give this. Sure, it’s a classic. You’ll never catch me denying that but this package is clearly aimed at the fans and it’s more than likely that they’ve already seen all this stuff. It’s possible you just want to have it on Blu-Ray and that’s more than enough reason to get this. Plus there’s the tin, it’s a collector’s edition tin at that too.
As for the show itself, I hardly need to tell you that it’s amazing. Simply coming back and watching it again is like coming home. Every performance is sincere, bringing to life our generation’s most iconic characters. The stories are massive and encompass so much without getting lost in the high and mighty self reverence sci-fi is known to indulge in. For fans, give Firefly another go, you know you won’t regret it and for those who aren’t already indoctrinated – give yourself over to this show.
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