Studio: Universal Studios Home Video
Year: 2005 (2005 Release)
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
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."
Yeah, right. Excuse me while I change into my Browncoat.
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
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
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
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
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.
Overall Rating: 4.5 / 5
Release Date: December 20, 2005
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