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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Action > Western > Fantasy > Serenity (Universal Widescreen DVD)

Serenity  (Widescreen)


Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: A     Film: A



Not many failed television shows go on to become feature-length motion pictures, and it would be very difficult to find one that does it as well as Joss Whedon’s Serenity.  Whedon (creator of TV hits Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Serenity’s sleeper small-screen alter-ego, Firefly) succeeds admirably in bringing his brand of character-driven, gritty science fiction to the big screen.  Made with a miniscule budget by current standards, Serenity doesn’t show it.  Instead, Whedon and his talented crew show us a world rendered in loving detail.  Serenity is the name of the spaceship in which Whedon’s characters tool around the universe (or ‘Verse, as the characters like to refer to it).  Unlike the more grandiose sci-fi vision of Star Wars, Whedon’s world is small by comparison, really only a solar system with several dozen planets and several hundred habitable moons to go with them.


On the run from the agents of the Orwellian Alliance, the prime authority in Whedon’s ‘Verse, Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his crew must discover the mystery locked inside the head of the psychic fugitive, River, a one-time captive of the Alliance.  Cleverly mixing the tropes of wild-west and sci-fi, Whedon and company blend these ingredients into a rollicking ride that remains true to its television roots but provides plenty of hooks for folks coming to it for the first time.


The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image was shot in Super 35 and is heavily digital, but for its low budget, still looks as good as many more expensive films in the genre that offer the same visual combination.  However, Video Black is not as good as it could be throughout.  The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is stronger than usual, although in some spots character dialog trails off, lost in the background music or general action of the scene.  This is partially a function of Whedon’s tendency to write “real” dialog, where people often mumble or leave sentences or thoughts unfinished.  This minor problem was less noticeable in the theater version of the film.  DTS was rumored for this release originally, but did not happen at the last minute.  However, you can hear how rich and thick this sound and sound mix is, so it is the only major weak point of this release.


The extras featured in this package are impressive, and include deleted and extended scenes, a short piece on the history of the ‘Verse, a short piece on the revival of Firefly into Serenity, and Joss Whedon’s clever introduction to the film when it was pre-screened before its wider release.  Especially fun is the cast’s reaction to the absolute crush of fans at the San Diego Comic Con.  It is pleasing to see that the actors playing characters that you know and love are also genuinely nice people.


And the performances in Serenity are amazing.  Nathan Fillion plays the roguish Malcolm Reynolds, a haunted veteran of a lost war, and a champion of the underdog. Gina Torres and Alan Tudyk reprise their roles as the loving couple Zoe and Wash.  Morena Baccarin is luminous as Inara, the Companion—a high-priced, socially accepted escort, and a smoldering love interest to the troubled Mal Reynolds.  Adam Baldwin (My Bodyguard, Full Metal Jacket) provides high-energy as the sociopathic gunman Jayne, a man whose only cause is seemingly himself, but whose loyalty can sometimes be surprising.  Jewel Staite’s Kaylee is the heart of the ship, providing both the technical knowledge to keep it running and the youthful hopefulness that lightens the hearts of its crew.  Summer Glau nearly manages to steal the show as the psychic fugitive, River, a girl possessed by dark secrets and the physical skills of a living weapon.  Sean Maher plays Simon, her brother, and a doctor of great skill.  It is his sacrifice of his career, which allowed River to escape the Alliance. Finally, Ron Glass plays preacher Shepherd Book, a one-time member of the crew who has settled down on a dusty backwater to tend his flock.  Glass is simply awesome in this role, and his lack of screen time is one of few quibbles one can find with the story of this film.


This wonderful core cast, combined with Whedon’s unique vision, makes Serenity a must-have addition to any sci-fi fan’s DVD collection.  One can only hope that moderate success the film found at the box office and strong sales of this DVD package will lend strength and support to the next installment of the Firefly/Serenity franchise.



-   Scott Pyle


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