Saturday, 1 October 2005


The new movie Serenity just came out. A lot of people may not be aware that the movie is based on a TV series that ran all too briefly on Fox. That series was Firefly, a science fiction show created by Joss Whedon (the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. The series was set in 2517. Earth had long ago been depleted of its resources and as a result humanity colonised space. It is also set not long after the Unification War, a conflict which resulted when the Alliance sought to unite all of the colonised worlds under one government. The Alliance succeeded, although the results of unification were not particularly beneficial. Many of the various colonies are still very much a frontier, with little to no law. While this allows inhabitants of those planets a bit more freedom than they would have in the worlds where the Alliance exercises its power, they also lack many of the modern day amenities. As a result, many of Earth's colonies are in the same situation as that of the Wild West of the United States.

Among the many "Browncoats" who fought against the Alliance in the Unification War were Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his first mate Zoe Warren (Gina Torres). The two command the spaceship Serenity (hence the movie's name), a Firefly class transport vessel. Like Reynolds and Warren, the rest of the crew of Serenity are also outcasts and nonconformitsts. Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) was a preacher not quite like any other. And Inara Serra (Morena Baccarin) was a Companion (think of a very high class call girl). Episodes of the series centred on the various jobs accepted by the crew of Serenity and their efforts to avoid the forces of the Alliance.

On the surface, Firefly might not sound that different from such space operas as Star Trek and Farscape, but the series does show some marked differences from other sci-fi shows. First, the show featured no unusual aliens. If there were any other intelligent species in space, humanity had yet to encounter them. Second, the show felt very much like a Western--in some ways more like a Western than a sci-fi show. It treated the far reaches of space like the Old West, where lawlessness often prevailed. Third, character interaction is more central to Firefly than technology, science, or even action. It was largely a character driven series. Fourth, its visual style was decidely different. It often used scenes done in CGI which duplicated the movement of handheld cameras. Some scenes were actually shot using handheld cameras. Most markedly, the space scenes had no sound whatsoever. While this is scientificaly correct (there is no sound in space), it is quite different than the average sci-fi show in which every single explosion can be heard.

While Firefly received good notices and developed a loyal following, it was given very little support from Fox. The series was scheduled on Friday night where very few genre shows survive. Rather than move the series to a better time slot, Fox simply cancelled the show after a few episodes. Fortunately, Joss Whedon realised that his creation still had a hope of success and set to work on the feature film known as Serenity. It is difficult to say whether Serenity will be a hit or whether it will result in a revival of the series. Regardless, Firefly won't soon be forgotten.

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