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Serenity (2005) artwork

Serenity (2005)

28th January 2006

Set five hundred years in the future the rebel crew of Serenity, a small and ageing transport spaceship, attempt to survive in the wild west of a different kind. It's the wild west of space, and being in possession of an escaped psychic super-weapon, the military are very keen of having it returned.
Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Science Fiction, Action/Adventure, War/Western, Fantasy
2
1 Hour 56 Minutes

Five hundred years in the future, the Earth that was could no longer sustain the human population and a new solar system was found with dozens of planets and hundreds of moons. It seemed the ideal place away from the overcrowded Earth and so the decades of terraforming began in order to turn the planets into new Earth like planets. The main central planets formed the Alliance which was ruled by an interplanetary parliament and it became the beacon of the new civilisation. However, and not unlike the wild west of old, the outer planets were lawless and refused to come under Alliance control. The war that ensued was devastating and the resistance on the outer planets was brutally quashed.

The Alliance's victory over the Independents was suppose to ensure a safer universe, but the actions of the oppressive Parliament means that there are always going to be ragtag groups that refuse to sit down and comply. One of these groups is captained by Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds and along with his transport ship Serenity he'll take on any job that will pay, even if it's not exactly legal - and that would be most of his jobs. His loyal crew includes his second in command and trusted ally, Zoë, her exceptional pilot husband, Wash, mechanic Kaylee and the muscle, and person most likely to start a fight, Jayne (and no, it's a he and not a she). The crew are also accompanied by two fugitives - a mysterious teenage girl called River, and her brother Simon, who as a doctor, certainly comes in handy at times.

The true extents of River's amazing powers are shown when the feared cannibalistic Reavers attack the same settlement the crew are robbing (see, I told you their jobs weren't exactly legal). As unbeknownst to the crew of Serenity, they having been hiding the psychic super-weapon of the Alliance and she has just stumbled upon a secret that no one is supposed to know about. Dispatching their most cold and vicious assassin, the Alliance will stop at nothing to see her returned and for the secret to be hidden again forever. So it looks like Mal and the crew are in for yet another bumpy ride.

The picture is bright and colourful with a good level of detail throughout. Flesh tones are also good and there's no problem with colour bleeding or outlining. Certain scenes in the film do use high levels of contrast to distinguish between different planets and situations, but even then the colour balance manages to remain near perfect with no problems with either artifacting or outlining. Even when the action heads indoors or into the blackness of space the transfer remains excellent with only a few hints of grain.

However, there are a few problems, and some of the special effects do look at bit obviously superimposed on the print at times (OK, so I'm being a bit picky here - especially when it's all make believe). Never the less, the effects do redeem themselves later on in the film and they manage to produce something that can quite easily be classed as one of the best space battle sequences ever set to celluloid. But if you compare the comparably low budget against some of the more popular science fiction films of late, you can't really grumble too much. Better than Star Wars? See for yourself...

The only downside to the check disc provided for review here was that there was a Property of Universal Pictures International banner burnt into the picture throughout the entire film. Whilst it's rather annoying, and very hard to accept the transfer as being on par with the final consumer version, I guess that it's something that small time reviewers will have to put up with, especially if we're to continue receiving preview discs ahead of them hitting the shops. Put it this way, I'd rather put up with the banner rather than having no disc to review at all.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 384 Kbps soundtrack is good, but I felt that it could have been better. However, given the amount of extras along with the the audio commentary, I guess a DTS soundtrack was always going to be out of the question. Perhaps the restricted bandwidth played a part in it too. Never the less, a slight warning. Since the film starts a bit of the quiet side you end up cranking up the volume only for all hell to break loose when we cut to Serenity entering the atmosphere of a planet. Blimey, if you ever needed a test for your subwoofer (or annoy the neighbours) then you'll get one here.

Whilst the dialogue can be occasionally hard to pick out in the centre channel, the rest of the channels are kept heartily occupied by explosions, gun fire (not too many laser cannons in this world) and the roar of a spacecraft heading from front to rear. And are you fed up of watching space battles with the ever present collection of loud explosions that somehow manage to travel through the vacuum of space? Well not here, as Joss Whedon's battles, and exterior shots of various space craft, are silent with only a dramatic musical score to heighten the tension. However, switch to the interior and you'll find it full of the ambient effects of creaks, groans as bits of the ship fall off. You could argue it's a bit geeky to pick up on this, but the score and the effects really do make a big impact on the visuals too.

The menu system is pleasantly animated and scored whilst the extras are contained on their own menu. However, as tends to be the case with Universal releases these days, dwell too long on a menu and it will timeout before eventually restarting the film. Extras wise, there's a good collection on offer, although rumours abound that a special edition loaded with extras is available in Australia. Does this mean that a director's cut will be in the offering at a later date? Never the less, the extras we do have will keep fans of both the television series and the film more than happy.

The main extra would have to be the rather excellent Audio Commentary from Writer/Director Joss Whedon. His enthusiasm, and ever so slight self doubting over the entire project, is clearly evident and it's a great listen. One bonus with being the writer and director is that he can touch on every part of the film from the characters right down to the special effects in the film. Even though it contains the usual back slapping moments, the fact that the cast members are an even more important part of Serenity than other films makes it justified. All in all, it's a great listen and quite possibly it's something that fans of the film may want to listen to again and again.

Possibly worthwhile a viewing before starting to watch the film, the four minute Joss Whedon Introduction is the same introduction which accompanied the special preview screens of the film. As usual, Joss is his jovial self and there's plenty of tongue-in-cheek references about the lack of viewers for his television series Firefly - although he does fail to mention the rather handsome fan base for the series thanks to the DVD release. Also included are fifteen minutes worth of Deleted Scenes (essentially scene extensions) with an optional audio commentary. To be honest, given Whedon's love for the project it would have be a real major omission if no commentary had be available. However, with all the scenes essentially removed for pacing purposes will there be a director's cut available in the future?

In the interesting, but rather short, four minute Future History - The Story Of Earth That Was featurette, Joss talks about how he came up with the idea of the original idea behind the Firefly story. Continuing with a similar theme, the ten minute Re-Lighting The Firefly featurette traces the story of how the cancelled television show gained such a cult following that it was given new hope by becoming a major film. Both the cast, and especially Joss, seem to be genuinely overwhelmed by the support and the size of the fan base and Joss is more than happy to recall the amazing reception he received at a convention. The six minute What's In A Firefly? featurette looks at the special effects used in the film. Naturally, CGI and a copious amount of green screen plays a major part in the film, but there's also some good old fashioned effects to get results they wanted.

The rather amusing twenty minute, and exclusive to the region two edition, A Filmmakers Journey featurette spends most of its time behind-the-scenes and on the set with plenty of comments from the cast and crew. Nathan Fillion reveals himself to be the main on set fun maker whilst the highlight of the featurette is a look at Summer Glau's training for the various fight scenes. Fortunately, her past dancing skills came in extremely useful and the fight choreographer spends most of his time being amazed at just how quickly and seamlessly Summer manages to perform the various actions. Even the crew are on hand to provide a bit of light relief as judges with score cards. Finally, the six minutes worth of Outtakes are the usual collection of people fluffing their lines or basically just messing about (or rather Fillion messing about!). I can go either way with outtakes and they can be something to love or hate, however, in this case you'll love them as it's quite clear that the cast (and director) enjoyed themselves making this film. What a great way to make a living!

Much to the distain of the fans, Joss Whedon's television series Firefly was cancelled by the television executives at Twentieth Century Fox with more than half of the series yet to be broadcast. However, the series found its salvation on the shiny format that is DVD but, unlike the equally incensed fans of the cancelled Family Guy, there was to be no reprieve. But all hope was not lost as an estimated $40 million dollars was found for a big screen outing. With the current crew of Star Trek now safely back in space dock it would seem that someone is hedging a few bets on there being a few more Serenity expeditions to the cinema.

Serenity is a rather unusual type of film. Not only is it an acclaimed series (take that hard on the nose Fox executives!) that passes with ease to the big screen, but it can do so without people having to know about the television series. Sure, it helps, but like the Star Trek theatrical releases you could easily manage without. And with that big screen outing, and a cast only use to a television series or various bit part film rolls, they may as well go out with all guns blazing and over act themselves silly in the hope of making an impression. The result is something completely outrageous with plenty of laugh out loud one liners and something rather lacking these days - an all important plot. It's also the film that the newer Star Wars films really should have been.

There will be the usual collection of people who'll hate this film and the genre in general, but this DVD is sure to find a place great deal many homes. In fact, I'm sure the DVD sales will manage to exceed the rather modest worldwide theatrical takings - it's future really depends on it too! And with the story still left well open, it will hopefully encourage another film and perhaps even the resurrection of the television series. And when viewers of the BBC's film programme Film 2005 voted it their favourite film of the year (although - even as a big fan - I probably wouldn't have gone as far as that), you know you can't be going too far wrong. Highly recommended.

  • Feature Commentary - Writer/Director Joss Whedon shares all there is to know about the making of this sci-fi action adventure movie
  • Joss Whedon Introduction - Joss' original introduction to screening audiences
  • Deleted Scenes With Commentary By Director Joss Whedon
  • Extended Lilac Entrance
  • Extended Kaylee & Jayne
  • Inara and Sheydra
  • Operative Tracks Mal
  • Extended River and Simon/Haven opening
  • Escape from companion training house
  • Mal & Inara shuttle chase
  • Mal & Inara quiet moment
  • Extended Mal operative coda
  • Future History - The Story Of Earth That Was : Instant history lesson of the "last" 500 years
  • What's In A Firefly - See how Zoic visual effects studios helped bring Joss' unique vision to the big screen
  • Re-Lighting The Firefly - This featurette traces the story of how a cancelled television show gained a cult following to become a major film
  • A Filmmakers Journey - Journey with Joss from Script to screen
  • Outtakes
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