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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Firefly: The Complete Series

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#1 of 34 Cameron Yee

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Posted November 15 2008 - 11:37 AM

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The Complete Series

Release Date: Available now (original release date November 11, 2008)
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Packaging/Materials: Three-disc Blu-Ray case
Year: 2002
Rating: N/A
Running Time: 11h05m
MSRP: $89.98

MAIN FEATURESPECIAL FEATURES
Video1080p 16x9 1.78:1May be in standard definition
AudioDTS HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: German 5.1, Spanish 2.1, French 2.1Audio standards may vary
SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish, DutchNone


The Season: 4.5/5
Joss Whedon's "Firefly" was a science fiction TV series that had an all-too-brief run in 2002 on the Fox Network, which aired only 11 episodes before pulling the plug. Fans protested - passionately - and their cries of dissatisfaction and disappointment were actually heard. Fox didn't put the series back on, but amazingly Universal gave Whedon the chance to continue the story in a feature film, "Serenity." Though box office returns were not quite sufficient to justify a sequel, there's much to be said about the show's fan-based, grass roots support that helped turn a short-run, cancelled TV show into a major motion picture. Keep in mind this didn't have the kind of obvious, mainstream bankability as "Sex and the City," which speaks as much to the studio for taking the chance as to fans who made it aware of the opportunity (for the whole story check out the documentary, "Relighting the Firefly" on the "Serenity" DVD).

So what's the big deal about "Firefly"? For those familiar with Whedon's work, it's always about the quality of characters. True, the science fiction is flavored a bit differently with western themes and conventions, eschewing the slick and the high tech qualities we're used to seeing. Not to mention the infusion of Chinese culture into everything the characters see and touch makes for an original, if not prescient, look at the future. But it's really the crew of Serenity, the Firefly-class space vessel to which the series title refers, that grabs hold. Foremost is Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), disaffected idealist and captain of Serenity's smuggling operation. In the pilot episode a pair of characters remark on his complexity - terse and stubborn, but self-sacrificingly protective of his crew, a general and a mother bear rolled up in one. It's an intriguing set of contradictions and the first of many that will both endanger and protect, yet ultimately unify, those on board. The core members of which include husband-and-wife / pilot-and-first-mate, Wash and Zoe (Alan Tudyk and Gina Torres), brittle and self-interested gun hand Jayne (Adam Baldwin), innocent and optimistic mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite), and the elegant prostitute Inara (Morena Baccarin). Rounding things out, first as passengers, then as crew, are the gentle (but mysteriously combat-adept) Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) and Simon and River Tam (Sean Maher and Summer Glau), siblings on the run from a government that had River locked up in a secret facility for "tests." Ultimately it's River's plight that takes Serenity on a course none expected or asked for, though it's not until the feature film that all is revealed about her past. Up until then, the 14 episodes of the series constitute an entertaining fusion of western adventure and dark conspiracy thriller with compelling drama and gut-busting humor. It's surprising that a show with so many flavors and influences doesn't suffer from a sort of schizophrenia, but all of it works - so well, that there are few who don't immediately fall under its charms. Though prematurely discontinued, old and new fans alike should be thrilled that the show continues to live, first on DVD and now on high definition Blu-Ray Disc.

The Blu-Ray release of "Firefly" includes all 14 episodes produced for the series, three of which never aired. The episodes include:
  • Serenity Parts 1 and 2
  • The Train Job
  • Bushwhacked
  • Shindig
  • Safe
  • Our Mrs. Reynolds
  • Jaynestown
  • Out of Gas
  • Ariel
  • War Stories
  • Trash
  • The Message
  • Heart of Gold
  • Objects in Space
Video Quality: 3.5/5
The picture is accurately framed at 1.78:1, encoded in AVC and largely free of blemishes. Typical of many TV shows, the pilot episode exhibits some atypical qualities compared to the rest of those in the series, usually a result of budget constraints and the propositional nature of the production. As such, it still shows a decent amount of detail in skin and object surface texture, good overall contrast and black level (though some slight black crush is not uncommon) and fairly consistent flesh tones and color. The most obvious problem with the first episode's image comes from the lower resolution CGI effects, which stand out for their lack of equivalent detail compared to the background plates as well as some obvious noise and artifacting in areas with fine detail. Subsequent episodes show marked improvement in overall sharpness, brightness and shadow detail, though (noticeably improved) CGI continues to stand out for its lower resolution, black levels are still subject to crushing, and there's some softness to the picture every now and then. Grain structure also appears intact with no obvious signs of undue manipulation. Overall it's a good looking transfer with only occasional problems and owners of the DVD should be happy with the noticeable upgrade in image quality.


Audio Quality: 4/5
As with the video quality, the pilot episode's audio mix is non-representative of the other episodes, but the difference serves as a nice illustration of the improvements. Presented in DTS HD Master Audio, the first episode mix has nice atmospheric and directional effects in the surrounds and support for the score, but following episodes sound just a bit more expansive and enveloping with great overall detail. LFE across the series is used rather sparingly but is decently deep and clean when present and dialogue is consistently clear and intelligible. Owners of the DVD, which only had Dolby Surround as an option, should be pleased by the increase in overall clarity and immersiveness of the new lossless track.


Special Features: 4/5

The special features are spread across all three discs. Items from the DVD release have been ported over with the addition of a roundtable discussion and a new commentary for "Our Mrs. Reynolds" with Whedon, Fillion, Tudyk and Glass. Though video content is mostly routine, the strength of the special features package lies in its eight audio commentaries, half of which feature the always-engaging Whedon.

[DISC ONE]

Disc One includes commentary tracks for episodes "Serenity," "The Train Job," and "Shindig." Whedon fans will know from experience to select ones with him involved and as usual he doesn't disappoint, providing a humorous and insightful set of tracks for the first two episodes, with help from Fillion and Executive Producer Tim Minear. The third track has a more electic mix of participants with writer Jane Espenson, Baccarin and Costume Designer Shawna Trpcic, who lend it their respective experiences.

"Here's How It Was: The Making of Firefly" (28m39s): Cast and Crew reflect on the creation of the series.

Trailers: Includes a 2m29s preview of Whedon's upcoming Fox TV series, "Dollhouse" and an 18s promo for the "Buffy" and "Angel" DVDs.


[DISC TWO]

Disc Two includes commentary tracks for episodes "Our Mrs. Reynolds" and "Out of Gas." The new-to-Blu-Ray commentary for the former, featuring Whedon, Fillion, Tudyk and Glass, mirrors the reminiscent and jokey quality of the "Firefly Reunion" session. The second features Minear and Director David Solomon, who turn in an interesting, technical track.

Firefly Reunion: Lunch with Joss, Nathan, Alan and Ron (24m03s): New for the Blu-Ray release, Whedon, Fillion, Tudyk and Glass reminisce about the show over a meal set up on a soundstage. Though the staging is awkward, the four cover some nice ground, paying more attention to those episodes that don't have a commentary track and of course cracking a lot of jokes. The only thing missing is the rest of the cast.


[DISC THREE]

Disc Three includes commentary tracks for episodes "War Stories," "The Message," and "Objects in Space." In the latter Whedon turns in a stellar track with some great ingsights, personal observations and recollections. The preceding commentaries feature Tudyk bantering with Fillion and Staite, respectively. Both tracks are of the "hang out" style, but have some nice recollections and anecdotes, especially for fans.

Deleted Scenes: Four scenes from episodes "Serenity," "Our Mrs. Reynolds" and "Objects in Space."

"Serenity: The 10th Character" (9m45s) A look at the Firefly-class spacecraft, from its design to its overall importance in character interaction and story development.

Alan Tudyk's Audition (1m04s): Tudyk's earliest submitted audition tape.

"Joss Sings the Firefly Theme" (1m16s): Whedon's take on the song he wrote for the show.

"Joss Tours the Set" (1m23s): Whedon gives a quick once-over of the Serenity set, apparently shot for some kind of TV promotional spot.

Gag Reel (2m40s): Created for the cast and crew Christmas party, which wound up being the "wrap party" for the series when the show got cancelled.


Recap

The Season: 4.5/5
Video Quality: 3.5/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 4/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4/5

A compelling and entertaining, but short-lived, TV show gets all-around good treatment on Blu-Ray, offering improved audio and video quality from the DVD release and carrying over all its special features, including two new items. For first time purchasers the Blu-Ray edition is the obvious choice and the most ardent fans will likely want to make the upgrade. The more casually interested will find a double dip harder to justify, but the set is still recommended if they can find a good deal.
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#2 of 34 Phil Carter

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Posted November 17 2008 - 02:34 AM

Hooray! You can't take the sky from me! Thanks for a great review, Cameron. Looks like this will definitely be one of my first Blu purchases.

cheers,
Phil
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#3 of 34 Jari

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Posted November 17 2008 - 07:28 AM

Thanks for the review Cameron! I have to get this! But not with the current price. Hoping Amazon will drop it soon.

#4 of 34 Cameron Yee

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Posted November 17 2008 - 07:43 AM

There's always the Deep Discount 25% off...
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#5 of 34 Todd Erwin

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Posted November 18 2008 - 05:07 AM

My favorite episode has to be the previously unaired "Trash." I found that one to be hilarious!!

#6 of 34 Sam Davatchi

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Posted November 18 2008 - 05:17 AM

So the effects are rendered in SD?

#7 of 34 Wayne_j

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Posted November 18 2008 - 05:46 AM

Yes, since this series was never intended to be played in HD, they rendered the effects in SD to save money.

#8 of 34 Sam Davatchi

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Posted November 18 2008 - 11:12 PM

Then the DVD set is enough for me. No need for fake HD! My scaler already does that! Posted Image
Do they say on the box that the main feature is not entirely in HD? They should inform the buyer.

#9 of 34 Dave Scarpa

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Posted November 19 2008 - 12:12 AM

I've seen the series on UHD and the live action stuff looks better but not enough to justify the Price as I bought the DVD set for $14.99 and it looks fine upconverted. In fact I'm finding the Blu ray sets of TV stuff to be outrageously priced. I picked up season 5 and 6 of Smallville this week on Sale for $14.99 ea. I had stopped buying them at S4 waiting for the Hi Def versions, I had gotten S5 on HD-DVD for Xmas one year, but the price of the Blu ray sets are outrageous the same S6 on Blu at Best Buy is $99.95. I can probably find it for $59.95 somewhere but that's still way too much considering the DVD set can be had for $15 bucks. So for alot of TV product DVD is still they way I'm going, plus then I can reencode it for My Apple TV and Portables.
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#10 of 34 ManW_TheUncool

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Posted November 21 2008 - 04:16 AM

Loved what I saw from disc 1 via my Blockbuster rental. Yeah, the FX can look pretty lame at times -- though not always to the same degree -- but it looks like a great (albeit abbreviated) series.

Too bad they canceled it so soon. OTOH, that does help me justify buying it instead of just renting it -- I'm very reluctant to buy long running series since quality tends to go south (or at least become spotty) long before the end, and then, I'm torn w/ whether to complete the set, etc. And since it's just one season (plus the movie), even the higher price for the BD isn't quite so bad -- certainly, ~$40 from the current DDD sale for 3 discs isn't that bad considering I don't own the DVD.

And thanks for the review, Cameron.

_Man_
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#11 of 34 Bryan X

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Posted September 06 2009 - 05:02 AM

Just picked up Firefly on BD.  I had never seen an episode of Firefly and had only seen Serenity on HD-DVD.  I thought Serenity was "OK".  Serenity was good enough to at least interest me in seeing Firefly at some point, but the hight price of the BD kept me putting off the purchase.

I am SO GLAD I finally bought the Firefly BD.  I've only watched the first 4 episodes, but I am IMPRESSED!  Great show!  I'm kind of glad I didn't see Firefly before it was cancelled, because I would have just been crushed at it's non-renewal.  Seems like that happens with the few TV shows I do like.  I'm cursed.

I can't wait to watch the rest of the episodes.  Firefly will definately make me go back and watch Serenity.  I may enjoy it more after seeing the TV series.

#12 of 34 ManW_TheUncool

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Posted September 06 2009 - 10:00 AM

Hey, Bryan.

Welcome to the club -- I too never saw it until the BD set came out (though I did watch it first before picking up the moderately disappointing, but still worthwhile enough, Serenity on BD).

BTW, have you seen the Dollhouse yet?  That new Whedon series is definitely worth a spin also -- and the BD set includes a couple interesting unaired episodes -- the original pilot and an epitaph episode (supposedly as contingency plan for possible series cancellation).  Since it's aired on the regular Fox network and hasn't been cancelled (at least for now), I'll probably just hold off on buying it for now.  I'm not big on buying TV series on disc, but this one (like Firefly) is worthy of purchase so far -- and if the series jumps the shark in its 2nd season (or whatever else goes wrong), I might still buy season 1 and just take the epitaph episode as a serviceable series finale.

_Man_

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"Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things..." (St. Paul)

#13 of 34 Bryan X

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Posted September 07 2009 - 02:08 AM

Hey Man,

I watched the first episode of Dollhouse when it premiered.  At the time, I couldn't get into it, so I haven't seen any episodes since.  In fact, I don't think I even made it throught the entire premiere.  With your recommendation, I'll have to catch a few episodes on Fox online and give it another chance.

#14 of 34 David_B_K

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Posted September 07 2009 - 03:01 AM


Quote:
Posted by Bryan X: I can't wait to watch the rest of the episodes.  Firefly will definately make me go back and watch Serenity.  I may enjoy it more after seeing the TV series.

I was lucky in that I did not see Serenity until I'd seen all of Firefly on DVD. I don't know if the movie would have made a whole lot of sense without already knowing the characters from the TV show. After watching the show, the movie really packs a wallop and ties up a lot of loosed ends. You'll probably like the movie a lot more, now.


#15 of 34 PatW

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Posted September 07 2009 - 03:43 AM



Quote:
Originally Posted by Bryan X View Post

I watched the first episode of Dollhouse when it premiered.  At the time, I couldn't get into it, so I haven't seen any episodes since.  In fact, I don't think I even made it throught the entire premiere.  With your recommendation, I'll have to catch a few episodes on Fox online and give it another chance.
Unlike Firefly which I loved from the start, the first few episodes of Dollhouse weren't that great. The series slowly started to build and by the end......well let me just say, that I can't wait for Season 2. Try giving it another chance. It might surprise you.



#16 of 34 Bryan X

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Posted September 07 2009 - 03:50 AM



Quote:
Originally Posted by David_B_K View Post

I don't know if the movie would have made a whole lot of sense without already knowing the characters from the TV show. After watching the show, the movie really packs a wallop and ties up a lot of loosed ends.
 

That's what I'm hoping.  I saw a lot of potential in the movie, but without ever seeing any of Firefly, the movie seemed like something was missing.  I'll probably wait until I watch all the TV episodes before going back to the movie, though.

#17 of 34 hampsteadbandit

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Posted September 07 2009 - 04:59 AM

I watched the first episode of Dollhouse when it premiered.  At the time, I couldn't get into it, so I haven't seen any episodes since.

definitely give Dollhouse some time - the first few episodes were "so, so" and I almost gave up watching the series

then suddenly the show kicked into gear, and things started happening, and it quickly became a very watchable, addictive show

I'm glad I stuck with it, and agree with a previous poster, that Season 2 is on my hit list ;)


#18 of 34 ManW_TheUncool

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Posted September 07 2009 - 02:57 PM

Yeah, Dollhouse does have a slow start, but I wouldn't exactly call the first few episodes "so, so" though.  It just takes its time building up the story arc and developing the characters along the way while following a certain format (most of the time) for each episode -- and they also seem to do somethings to play on that format of storytelling too in the later episodes as the story arc builds toward climax and various things get revealed.

If you're going to catch up on Fox's online site, you might still want to rent the last disc for the interesting (though not necessarily "must see") original pilot plus the epitaph episode -- the epitaph is definitely worth seeing after seeing season 1 though (or perhaps after whenever Fox eventually decides to terminate the series perhaps).

_Man_

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#19 of 34 BIP

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Posted September 10 2009 - 02:49 AM



Dollhouse is ok up 'til episode 6, then it really shifts into higher gear... /img/vbsmilies/htf/smile.gif

I got it on Blu and it really takes off from episode 6, although. Glad there'll be a 2nd season.

Cheers


#20 of 34 Nicholas Martin

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Posted September 10 2009 - 03:50 AM

Wasn't Dollhouse reviewed here? 

What about the existing season 1 thread in the TV forum? 

Makes little sense to be going on about Dollhouse in a Firefly review thread.