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Firefly Complete Series

Stars: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Adam Baldwin; Release Date: October 19, 2004

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Firefly & Serenity: Comparing the book to the movie

  • Feb 27, 2011
Up until about half a year ago or so, I'd managed to avoid Firefly.  Sure I'd heard lots of fans saying great things about it and I was certainly aware of all of the attention Joss Whedon was attracting (brilliant, down-trodden savior of all that is meaningful on TV), but I had this little problem believing any of it.  I'd been enticed into watching a couple of episodes of Buffy and wrote it and Whedon off as trash.  Funny, sometimes high-concept (over the top) trash, but still trash. Sorry Buffy fans.

I'm probably wrong about Buffy, but the second strike against it is that I'm not into vampires or fantasy, so even if I'd stuck around enough episodes of that show to catch Joss's deftness with character, I still wouldn't have put the show on the must watch list.  (I have no 'must watch' list for television.  I went seven years without an idiot box and consequently have gotten out of the habit.)

So, when I saw that Firefly was 'by the same guy who did Buffy', I figured some day I'd catch an episode or two, but I wasn't going to waste any time making that happen. Given the source and the title of the show, I figured it just had to be some SciFi send-up of a teenaged girl kicking alien monster butt - an SF re-tread of Buffy.  And to tell the truth that concept (except for the possibility of pleated school girl skirts in space) kind of left me yawning.

Then the show became available online and I decided to give it a shot.

I was intrigued from the get go.  This guy Whedon sure has created some interesting characters.  To say the man has balls is like thinking human when the reality is elephant.  Who else would start off a show with the defeat and near-death of two of his primary characters?  Who else would begin the pilot episode with a highly complex, expensive and very emotionally charged battle scene and then dump the whole frenetic, explosively paced thing for the mundanity of a freighter going about its business?

That's like opening a hero movie with the climactic end scenes.  And then retro-flashing to the back story. Brilliant.

I watched all of the episodes on line and was thoroughly pleased. The characters were great, especially Mal and Jayne. There wasn't a one among the crew - Zoe, Kaylee, Wash, Inara, Book, River or Simon who didn't have something to offer.

Mal is nearly perfect in his conflicts - betrayed and vowing to never let it happen again, yet still reliant on a crew of misfits and inspiring deep loyalty.  He wants to be mean and get even, but he's too nice/good a guy to really put his heart into it. The portrayal though doesn't overwhelm the story - it's written into the way the character goes about doing his thing.  And the same is true for everyone else.

Of course I do have a few quibbles:  what kind of solar system has multiple planets and hundreds of moons that can all be terraformed? No one is supposed to have FTL here, so how the heck did they get to this place from 'Earth-that-was'?  What's the economy like that such a small ship could make a living? (That this type of ship was designed and built presupposes economic viability without resorting to illegal activities.)  But those minorities fade into the background in the face of the characters and the story lines.

Having enjoyed the show, I decided that I needed to see the movie Serenity and absolutely put it on my 'must watch' list.

While waiting to acquire a copy of the movie I happened upon a chance to pick up the novelization at a library sale.  I then decided to conduct a little experiment, seeing as how I'm such a huge advocate of 'the book is better than the movie' type thinking. True, this wasn't a perfect experiment - the movie came first in this case and it really ought to go the other way around - but it still might be fun.  So I read the book all the way through to the final scenes (I put it down when Serenity and crew return to Mr. Universe's world) and then I watched the film.

To begin, the novelization must have been written from a working script as there are a few scenes in the book not presented on the screen - most notably one involving Cuban cigars.  That's actually a bonus rather than a problem, because we get a small glimpse into the movie-making process here. The scene involved Jayne and Book and may have been dropped as being a bit out of character for Jayne.  Or just for time or pacing.  We also miss out on seeing a battle scene with Book, which is a bit disappointing.

My main problem with the book was the author's choice of presenting the crew's manner of speaking - their vernacular and slang.  In an attempt to convey emotional content, the broken words, broken sentence structure and slang is carried beyond the dialogue.  Rather than putting you in the mood, it detracts and reads like something written by an inner-city illiterate.

The emotional content - particularly when compared directly to the movie - comes across as flat; back story and motivations are presented in the novel, they're just not as immediate as watching the actor's expressions or hearing their tones.

Reading the book and watching the movie were actually two entirely different experiences.  The fact that the storyline tracked so well between them is unusual - even for a novelization. (Compare Alien by Alan Dean Foster to the movie, for example.)  I found it very revealing (of Whedon's abilities) that my full knowledge of the plot in advance of watching did not detract from my enjoyment of the film at all.

What had left me cold while reading the book was suddenly alive in the faces of the actors.

That's not to be saying that the book was bad.  As I said, the presentation of the characters and particularly their dialogue was a bit stilted - but that is something that I was probably overly sensitive to from having watched the television show.  I know how Mal sounds and looks and what I was reading was a slightly off, slightly pale reflection of Mal.  Recognizable, just not completely alive.  If you picked up this book sans knowledge of the show, your conclusion would most likely be 'not bad - not great, but not terrible either, maybe I'll catch the movie some day'.

There were also quite a few visual in-jokes scattered through the film that were not picked up on in the novel.  A crashed shuttle shows its registry numbers as C57D - the same name as the cruiser from Forbidden Planet.  At one point the 'landing party' are shown wearing red, yellow and blue colored t-shirts, resembling nothing so much as a party just beamed down from the Enterprise.  Quite a few of the scenes are derivative of other movies, presented in homage. I'm sure there are others that I'll pick up on when I watch the film again.

I'm glad I had this chance to experience both forms of the story side-by-side. It was very revealing of the advantages and limitations of the different media.? I'd give the book 2 walking sticks and the movie 4 walking sticks.? In this particular case, the move outshines the literary form, which is probably as it should be, considering that the intended media was visual.

Having done this direct comparison, I can say that it confirmed my belief that one of the next big things coming down the pike will be (or should be) an original story that is conceived of and delivered as a multi-media blitz.

From the ground up, a movie is written in conjunction with a television series, the original novel is written in lockstep and the follow-on book series is plotted out while the graphic novel is drawn, the animated version is being storyboarded, the interactive game is being designed and melded with the social-networking site even as the audio book and podcast version of the radio play are being recorded and the top ten pop songs are being mixed in the studio.

A mantra of marketing is to never let anything get between the message and the consumer.  The fact that some people prefer one media over another is a huge impediment, a major objection to a sale. Having to 'wait' for one?preferred version or another to reach the consumer is another major objection.  By the time the product they are looking?for hits the market, they've already moved on to other things.

But if someone can figure out a way to effectively deliver a property in all those media simultaneously, in a manner that allows them to be merged seamlessly with each other while still being workable as stand-alones - well then, they'll be teaching Lucas a thing or two about modern day merchandising, won't they?

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More Firefly - The Complete Series reviews
review by . December 16, 2010
   I very much enjoyed this series.  The basic premise is that of a dystopian Western in Space, where a totalitarian government has an iron grip on the most developed planets, and the less developed are left to fend for themselves.  These outer worlds are relatively undeveloped and most of the technology seems like a mix of 19th-20th century, and near future technology.  This is a series where horse-riding cowboys with assault rifles and space ships are found in close proximity.  …
Quick Tip by . April 23, 2011
   Here is Firefly from before Star Trek, 1962      LOL
review by . May 21, 2010
I would reccommend this to any fans of science fiction as well as fans of Joss Whedon   Firefly is, in 3 words, cowboys in space. And in one word: awesome.   The characters are by far the best part of this series. They are well developed and incredibly rich. Even Jayne, who you love to hate, is always consistently Jayne. We begin to feel like we intimately know these characters and grow to love them. A wonderful series, well worth your time.        …
Quick Tip by . October 01, 2010
How did they manage to cross sci fi with westerns, and then do all the swearing in Chinese! Great series. Wish it had lasted longer.
review by . May 21, 2010
Firefly Frickin' Rocks the Roots of Steampunk
Firefly is quinessential steampunk. Even better, it's western steampunk combined with spacepunk: the wild west- in space!  Firefly presents an elaborate, brassy atmoshpere, packs a punchy script with dark, quirky humor, and pays its dues to classic westerns- shoot outs in the desert, bar fights and gambling. Plus, it's full of powerful female characters, who include an independent (and zen) sex worker, a drop-dead gorgeous leiutenant who can shoot a rifle while leaping sideways through the …
review by . May 09, 2010
I have not seen most of Firefly.  Most of what I saw didn't attract me.  The Western Sci-fi combo just didn't turn me on.      But one episode I encountered was really good, Objects In Space.  But it occurred entirely on the ship and the Western motif did not enter into it.      River is acting weird and they are wondering if she is a danger to the crew but a bounty hunter gets on board trying to kidnap River but her psychic powers make that …
Quick Tip by . June 15, 2010
a great show that was cancelled too soon.
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About this movie


Joss Whedon follows up his hugely successful BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER series for Fox with FIREFLY, an action-packed fusion of the science-fiction and western genres. Set five hundred years in the future, FIREFLY depicts a troubled world after a massive universal civil war. The resulting power party, the Alliance, control everyone and everything, except for Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and the crew of his spaceship, Serenity. As the Alliance continues to wreak havoc on the world, Malcolm does what he can to restore order to his surroundings.
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Release Date: 2002
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Premiere Date: September 20, 2002
Genre: Science Fiction
Original Air Date: September 20, 2002 - December 20, 2002
DVD Release Date: December 9, 2003
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"Objects in Space"
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