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
Running Time: 11h05m
|MAIN FEATURE||SPECIAL FEATURES|
|Video||1080p 16x9 1.78:1||May be in standard definition|
|Audio||DTS HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: German 5.1, Spanish 2.1, French 2.1||Audio standards may vary|
|Subtitles||English, Spanish, Dutch||None|
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
- Our Mrs. Reynolds
- Out of Gas
- War Stories
- 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 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 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 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.
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.