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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: Serenity (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED)



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#1 of 262 Steve Tannehill

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Posted December 14 2005 - 04:57 PM

Posted Image
Serenity
Studio: Universal Studios Home Video
Year: 2005 (2005 Release)
Rated: PG-13
Aspect Ratio: 2.35x1, enhanced for 16x9 displays
Audio: English DD 5.1; French DD 5.1; Commentary
Captions/Subtitles: English SDH; French and Spanish Subtitles
Time: 1:58:53
Disc Format: SS/DL (DVD-9)
Layer Switch: TBD
Case Style: Keep Case

"Earth that was could no longer sustain our numbers, we were so many. We found a new solar system, dozens of planets, and hundreds of moons, each one terraformed--a process taking decades--to support human life; to be new Earths. The central planets formed the Alliance. Ruled by an interplanetary Parliament, the Alliance was a beacon of civilization. The savage outer planets were not so enlightened, and refused Alliance control. The war was devastating. But the Alliance's victory over the Independents ensured a safer universe. And now, everyone can enjoy the comfort and enlightenment of true civilization."

The Feature:
Yeah, right. Excuse me while I change into my Browncoat. Posted Image

Early in Serenity, we meet River Tam (Summer Glau), a gifted young girl who is held by the government in a secret training facility. It would appear that River is to be a human weapon; the fact that she is psychic makes her an even more ideal candidate. But her brother Simon (Sean Maher) does not think so, and he rescues her from the facility.

Unfortunately for River (and anyone associated with her), she was exposed to high-ranking members of Parliament, or perhaps I should say that members of Parliament were exposed to her psychic abilities. Now, no one knows what she knows--and since the "training" process left her unstable, no one wants to risk their secrets becoming public knowledge. So the Parliament charters an Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an amoral but focused assassin, to hunt River down, and to take her out at any cost.

Serenity is a follow-up to the TV series Firefly, which did not last a full season during its thoroughly botched 2002 run on the Fox network. Writer / director Joss Whedon ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel") swore that he would not rest until he found another venue for the show. As one of the characters in Serenity says, "You can't stop the signal."

It helped that Firefly was released on DVD and sold well. It also helped that a producer at Universal Studios was a fan. The movie got a green light. That was especially good news for fans of the show--dubbed Browncoats--because it gave an opportunity to tie up loose ends and to hopefully bring more people in to the Serenity 'verse. (And the more the merrier... more movies or shows could result!)

In the original Firefly series, we got to know Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), who fought and lost in the Battle of the Valley of Serenity, and named his Firefly-class spaceship after that valley. First Mate Zoe (Gina Torres) fought beside Mal, and is married to pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk). The ship's "companion" Inara (Morena Baccarin) is sometimes the ship's calling card, so to speak, and has a love-hate relationship with Mal. Jayne (Adam Baldwin) is the ship's enforcer, with a bad attitude, and lots of weapons. Mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite) is a lot cuter than Star Trek's Scotty. She shares a strong friendship with Inara, and pines over one of the ship's passengers... Simon is the older and protective brother to River, and they initially purchase transit on Serenity to escape the Alliance. Lastly, Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) is a kindly preacher who leaves his abbey and shares his wisdom with the crew. He also has a bit of a past...

The beauty of Serenity is that you do not have to see Firefly to pick up the backstory. Joss Whedon's screenplay skillfully avoids this with a line here and a look there, without a redundant feeling for those who know the series, but with an eye on making certain that newcomers understand the characters and their motivations. I know several people who saw the movie cold (without any knowledge of Firefly) and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Once we meet The Operative, Serenity moves into high gear. On the surface, Mal and his crew are smugglers and guns for hire, living on the fringe of the 'verse. But even that is an oversimplification. In a sense, they are still Independents fighting against the Alliance. Although the Alliance is not always the target, if they are grazed in the process, Mal considers it a plus. As odd as this may sound, there is a sense of ethics involved. These are not just two-dimensional science fiction western stereotypes.

The heist this time is the security payroll at a remote outpost, but it is interrupted by the appearance of the Reavers--a terrifying race of cannibalistic men whose brutality is even worse than their looks. These creatures mutilate themselves, tie dead people to their space ships, and paint their ships in blood. Eeeewww.

After a narrow escape from the Reavers, Mal and crew deliver the goods, but something triggers River to go ballistic. It is then a race against time to avoid capture by the Operative and to uncover exactly what River knows that is so critical.

Serenity packs plenty of action and comedy into a science fiction story that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It is the one movie I afforded time to see twice in theaters this year, and I am pleased to offer fellow Browncoats and new recruits an early look at next week's DVD release!

The Feature: 5 / 5
Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image


Video:
Even though this was a marked screener (with "Property of NBC Universal" among other things superimposed over the image) the picture quality is promising, especially for a movie with fast-moving science fiction action. I will review the final product and update accordingly. The movie is 2.35x1 widescreen, and it is enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Stay tuned.

Video: ? / 5


Sound:
Wow. My only complaint when I saw Serenity theatrically for the second time was that it was too darned loud. At last, I can control the volume at my usual reference level. Now, it sounds even better. This Dolby Digital 5.1 track is, in a word, awesome. Is it subtle? Not a chance! I have finally found another movie that makes me glad I invested in a THX Ultra 2 receiver, dual subwoofers, and matching tower speakers all around. There are battle sequences of 360-degree sound, with sound effects that made me drool (I love the laser blasts that accompany the EMP). The LFE track is well-utilized throughout the movie. The rear channels are engaged often with effects and music. Thumbs, speakers, decibels, and blood pressure way, way up!

Sound: 5 / 5
Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image


Extras:
The Serenity DVD comes with a variety of supplements, including:
[*]A feature-length commentary with writer / director Joss Whedon. This was unavailable for preview.
[*]Deleted and Extended Scenes (14:37) - these are 4x3 footage, mono sound, with editing counters in the letterbox bands. Some of the scenes have unfinished effects. While the scenes are interesting, I think most would have slowed the movie down. Honestly, though, I would not have minded!
[*]Outtakes (6:02) - this brief selection of bloopers is funny but profane. Parents beware.
[*]Future History: The Story of Earth that Was (4:30) - Joss Whedon explains his motivations behind Serenity, how he was inspired by the book "The Killer Angels" to think about civil war, life on the frontier, and the Millennium Falcon. There are brief clips from both Firefly and Serenity, talk about the merge of China and America (thus forming The Alliance), and how we love a sense of loss in American fiction.
[*]What's in a Firefly (6:30) - this is a look at the making of the movie, including an interesting segment on the mule skiff chase, and Rhythm and Hues' contributions to the film.
[*]Re-Lighting the Firefly (9:39) - Whedon and the cast discuss Firefly and how Whedon's perseverance led to Serenity. There is footage of ComicCon and adoring fans. I've seen bits of this footage before, I believe, on the Best Buy bonus disc that came with the British version of Battlestar Galactica.
[*]Finally, we get to see Joss Whedon's Introduction (3:52) that accompanied Serenity in early preview screenings. This is cool.

As a fan, I want more! Where are the trailers? The TV spots? The audience footage from the early sneak peeks? There is more footage out there, to be sure. Of course, it may not have fit on the DVD without compromising video or sound quality.

Extras: 4 / 5
Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image


In Conclusion:
Serenity is a nice introduction for people who have never seen Firefly and a fitting conclusion for those who have. It ties up the majority of the loose ends left behind in that series, and (rumor has it) leaves the door open for a future life on cable TV.

You can't stop the signal!

Posted Image


Overall Rating: 4.5 / 5
Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

Highly Recommended

Release Date: December 20, 2005




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#2 of 262 Eric_R.

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Posted December 14 2005 - 05:06 PM

Thanks for the review. I watched the entire series recently and missed seeing the movie only by a few weeks. Can't wait to see this soon.

#3 of 262 Adam Lenhardt

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Posted December 14 2005 - 05:22 PM

One thing I don't understand about watermarked review copies is, what's the point? It's not like y'all are film reviewers. You're reviewing primarily the content of the DVD. If it's not the content of the DVD, why bother sending a review copy?

#4 of 262 TonyD

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Posted December 14 2005 - 05:42 PM

so i can watch this before seeing the series.
if yes i'll be able to do that before this weekend.

i'd rather not have to wait to watch the series first but will, if it works better that way.

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#5 of 262 Patrick Sun

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Posted December 14 2005 - 05:51 PM

You'll get more out of it if you watch the Firefly box set first, and then watch Serenity.
"Jee-sus, it's like Iwo Jima out there" - Roger Sterling on "Mad Men"
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#6 of 262 Ravi K

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Posted December 14 2005 - 06:10 PM

Possible double-dip on this title?
 

#7 of 262 CraigF

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Posted December 14 2005 - 06:43 PM

Quote:
I have finally found another movie that makes me glad I invested in a THX Ultra 2 receiver, dual subwoofers, and matching tower speakers all around.


Yeah? Well, wait'll you hear some good dts sound. THX processing actually ruins some sound quality, you know. Not saying you had it in a THX mode, but be careful.

Thanks for the review. Have had this pre-ordered for quite some time. Glad it's good!

Agree that it seems really tacky to send reviewers a copy such as you got. They are essentially blatantly saying they don't trust you. Even if the HW missive "any PR is good PR" is still true, how do they expect you to do the best possible job? Yeah, I know, piracy is the big thing, piracy is the cause of all their problems, reviewers are well-known notorious pirates with big DVD stampers in their basements...

#8 of 262 Steve Tannehill

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Posted December 14 2005 - 06:58 PM

Quote:
One thing I don't understand about watermarked review copies is, what's the point? It's not like y'all are film reviewers.


Perhaps I should remove the Feature section, then. Posted Image

The watermarking is for security purposes.

Quote:
You're reviewing primarily the content of the DVD. If it's not the content of the DVD, why bother sending a review copy?


So a review will be posted prior to street date. I generally do not receive final product until after street date (the KK Production Diaries being a recent exception).

The only content I could not review on this disc was the commentary. How many people are going to avoid this disc based on the commentary track?

The only content I was unwilling to rate was the video. As I said, I will do so once I see the finished product.

Meanwhile, I hope what is remaining in this review proves useful.

- Steve

#9 of 262 jim.vaccaro

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Posted December 14 2005 - 08:55 PM

One thing I don't understand about watermarked review copies is, what's the point? It's not like y'all are film reviewers. You're reviewing primarily the content of the DVD. If it's not the content of the DVD, why bother sending a review copy?


I must respectfully agree. While I appreciate your efforts to get out info to us quickly, video quality is very important to me. It's disappointing to see that "?" there instead of a number. I'd rather wait for the actual retail DVD review, myself...but perhaps I'm in the minority.

#10 of 262 CraigF

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Posted December 14 2005 - 09:09 PM

Well, unless Steve got the shaft with his review disc, only one other review of the six I've read have even bothered to mention that their review disc was watermarked. At least he's being honest. I find it hard to believe the watermark would not bother anybody's viewing experience, it would drive me nuts. So IMO Posted Image Posted Image for his tolerance, I likely couldn't do it...Posted Image

#11 of 262 Christian Preischl

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Posted December 14 2005 - 10:06 PM

As much as it pains me, I'll have to wait until February to get it because that's when the Australian DVD gets released.

It'll have these extras:

DISC 1
- Deleted Scenes
- Outtakes
- Future History: That Story of Earth That Was
- What's In A Firefly
- Re-lighting The Firefly
- Joss Whedon Introduction
- Feature Commentary
- Easter Egg - We'll Have A Fruity Oaty Good Time
- A Filmmakers Journey: Journey with Joss from Script to Screen (this will be on all international DVDs but not the US version)

DISC 2 (at present, this disc is exclusive to Australia and Benelux - Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg - only but other international territories may decide to release the 2nd disc as well)
- Joss Whedon Q&A Session filmed at FOX Studios in Sydney
- Extended Scenes
- Take a Walk on Serenity: Cast & Crew take us on a special tour of the Serenity ship
- The Green Clan: Feature on Cinematographer Jack Green and his team

Source: www.serenitymovie.com.au

Chris

#12 of 262 Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 14 2005 - 10:17 PM

I for one am highly bothered by Universal
putting these watermarks on their review
copies for the fact that people who take
considerable time to review these films
should be rewarded with a viewable copy
that they can keep.

These review copies certainly aren't being
distributed far enough in advance of street
date for there to be any major concerns by
the studio.

Now, I am uncertain reading the above comments,
but if the studio follows up with a final
street copy afterwards I can just about forgive
them other than the fact that watermarks mar
the ability to judge overall video quality.

Sorry to go off-topic with this, but I felt
it was something worth addressing since I
know the studios read these threads.

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#13 of 262 Lou Sytsma

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Posted December 14 2005 - 11:08 PM

Sorry to hear about the watermarking. Great review Steve and thanks. Can't wait to have this sit beside my TV boxset.
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#14 of 262 Paul_Scott

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Posted December 14 2005 - 11:11 PM

Quote:
You'll get more out of it if you watch the Firefly box set first, and then watch Serenity.


oh, do i infinitely agree here. please watch the series first.
i was talking with another recent convert after we both saw the film separately - we had watched the series for the first time back this summer- and both of us couldn't understand how anyone could really appreciate the film without having forged any relationships with the characters previously.
this really played out like a series finale to me.

also, while i thought the film clearly lacked the eye popping spectacle and production values of films like Sith and Kong, the 'beats' of the film came across with more impact for me and i was more invested in the characters and their dilemmas here than in the other two mentioned.

i wouldn't consider myself a browncoat. i enjoyed the series, but had plenty of nitpicks with it- some of which are still carried over to the film, but on the whole i enjoyed the film as a sit back and relax, proficient popcorn escape. to put it another way, there were never any creative choices in the film that yanked me out of it, something thats happened multiple times in the two films previously mentioned.

its a good solid B movie, told well enough to lift it to an A-, but its real value for me was as a capper for the show.

#15 of 262 Stephen Orr

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Posted December 14 2005 - 11:12 PM

Back to the Serenity DVD, thanks for the early review, other Steve! I saw Serenity back in May with fellow browncoats who braved Fandango to get tickets. I took my wife, who was a casual viewer of Firefly, and she had a great time. My son, who's in college in Texas, has regular Firefly marathons to recruit more browncoats, and has singled handed influenced dozens of boxset sales.

This is one title that I will be buying multiple copies of (one for me, others for gifts!)

#16 of 262 PeterTHX

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Posted December 14 2005 - 11:28 PM

Quote:
Yeah? Well, wait'll you hear some good dts sound. THX processing actually ruins some sound quality, you know. Not saying you had it in a THX mode, but be careful.


What in the world are you talking about?
For one thing THX processing can be applied to DTS tracks as well.

For another thing, THX is not just processing. It is a set of standards that anything certified has to reach. To get a THX Ultra 2 certification you pretty much have to be the best possible component. It's a MINIMUM level a component has to perform in order to be certified, and then be able to license the THX processing modes: which I find VERY helpful with DTS..a lot of tracks would be unlistenable for me were it not for the Re-EQ funtion. I find many DTS tracks fatiguing. I have very sensitive hearing. What some people find "bright and punchy" I find shrill.

#17 of 262 Scott Kimball

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Posted December 14 2005 - 11:31 PM

I'm also disappointed in Universal's watermarking and their not including the commentary for review... but I appreciate what you were able to write about, Steve.

The extras seem a little thin, but I'm still salivating over this.

TonyD: Watch the series first!
While you don't need it to understand the action, viewing the series first will put a lot of things in better context. You will gain much from the backstory of the characters. Standing on its own, Serenity is a decent action / scifi film. As a cap to the series, it's an incredible finale to a story rich in details.

-Scott

#18 of 262 Marko Berg

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Posted December 14 2005 - 11:57 PM

Quote:
Possible double-dip on this title?


Based on Chris's info regarding the limited-release two-disc set, I'd say it's a definite double-dip. We'll see a two-disc Ultimate Edition with the extras missing from the initial R1 release, possibly with DTS. Posted Image

#19 of 262 Brendon

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Posted December 15 2005 - 12:35 AM

Steve,

Thanks for the review! After adoring the series first and the film theatrically, this was a no brainer of a pre-order.

Sad to hear that the watermarking and lack of commentary impeded the "review-ability" of the title, but knowing the extras will be good warms the heart.

After Joss' commentaries for the Buffy, Angel & Firefly DVD sets, I suspect that his musings for Serenity will be worth the price of admission alone.

Shiny.

Brendon

#20 of 262 Jason_V

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Posted December 15 2005 - 03:07 AM

My sister and her boyfriend swear by this movie and the series. I'm wanting to watch the show first and then the movie...hopefully someone will have the two on sale next week.

As for the missing commentary and the watermark: what's the point in sending out the disc if the picture has been damaged in some way, shape for form and supplements are missing? I can understand Oscar screeners because there are documented cases of those turning up in odd places. But to put words over the image? It doesn't make sense.

Provided there's a sale on both next week, I'm picking them up.


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