Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Once Upon A Time In Cold Space!

The cult show Firefly has long been on my get-it-if-I-find-it-at-the-right-price list, and a several days ago that happened. I picked up the dvd collection of the fourteen episode series for a nice price and brought it home to enjoy. I'd seen the show through pretty much once watching it on the Science Channel during some marathon or other, so I'm pretty familiar with the characters and the mileau it establishes. It proved to be extremely entertaining this time through also, helped some by the commentaries which give some background to how the show was developed and what it hoped to accomplish. The series was infamously cancelled by Fox but succeeded wonderfully on dvd, enough so to result in a movie. More on that later.  

Briefly we have a western set in outer space in the relatively far but not unrecognizable future. The Earth has been abandoned and mankind lives in a single solar system loaded with inhabitable planets and moons thanks to vigorous terraforming. The inner planets or "The Core System" are the domain of the main society run by The Alliance, the government which is a odd future blend of the United States and China. The outer planets are the frontiers on which this saga unfolds as we follow a single small smuggling/trading ship dubbed "Serenity". That ship is of a class called "Firefly", hence the name of the series.

Serenity is owned and operated by Captain Malcom ("Mal") Reynolds and his longtime war buddy Zoe Washburn. The pilot is Zoe's husband known as "Wash" and the engineer is a girl prodigy named Kaylee. Also on board is a hired gun named Jayne Cobb and a high-society prostitute named Anara. These folks are joined by passengers, a preacher with a past named "Book" and a sibling pair, Dr.Simon and River Tam. River has secret, she was kidnapped by the Alliance and her considerable brain was operated on giving her some significant mental and physical gifts. The Alliance wants her back, and so the whole group end up on the run, more than usual, setting up the premise of the show.

It's a Joss Whedon show, so needless to say there is a lot of clever banter, which to my mind gets somewhat tiresome after a bit. The strength of the premise overcomes some of the weaknesses in delivery, which were the consequence sometimes of time and money restrictions, the classic television problem. Oddly I found that often my favorite bits were those they cobbled together at the last moment, suggesting that the series might just be a bit overwrought in concept. That's my final analysis alas. The series is entertaining enough, but the weight of the back story quickly builds to a point which overloads the whole.

The biggest strength of the show is its attempt to blend Western imagery with Sci-fi imagery, creating a neat and entertaining synthesis. The fast draw with ray guns is huge fun, as are the occasional appearances of actual horses. There are some tasty villains and our heroes themselves range a bit in moral clarity. Fans of the show fell in love with those characters and demanded they return after the abrupt disappearance. 

That fan support and the producers' hard work resulted in the movie Serenity which picks up the story developed in Firefly and brings it to a satisfying conclusion. Without spoiling it for those who might not have run across it, the mystery of River Tam is that she holds a secret the Alliance fears will undermine their legitimacy as a government and send a merciless operative to get her back and end her threat. Also there are space savages called "Reavers" who rape and pillage across the edge of the system. These are brutal cannibals who seem bereft of human feeling. It's to be noted there are not aliens in these stories, only humans which are plenty thank you.

This movie is a resourceful finale to a series which had significant promise and being a finite presentation with a somewhat bigger budget is able to overcome some of the weaknesses inherent in the series. The biggest mark against any Whedon project is the high degree of snark which permeates a script, and while it overwhelms episodes of the series, it seems more under control in this film.

I'm glad I was able to at long last put this story completely under my belt. It's a worthwhile saga, though not a perfect one. I give it a strong recommendation.

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  1. Every time I've rewatched it I've found new reasons to be impressed. It's a really great series.

    1. Like most Whedon efforts it's really smart, and I do like the characters. But I'm afraid that Whedon's just a bit too cute by half and that comes through the dialogue sometimes. The visuals of the space ship chase in the pilot episode are outstanding, very exciting.

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