Joss Whedon's star-crossed TV space-western Firefly comes full circle this week with the DVD release of its feature film follow-up, Serenity. Thanks to devoted fans, the poorly marketed and quickly cancelled series did so well in its DVD release that Universal gave Whedon a green light to bring his crew of ragged, wisecracking space outlaws to the big screen. And now, just months after leaving the theaters, they're shrunk onto a shiny little disk you can watch at home on your TV - where, incidentally, you can also catch the original series in rotation on the SciFi Channel.
And Whedon - who declares he's not interested in making things people will like, only things they'll love - has served up another lovefest. The film has all the story, drama, and character development a fan of the show could want as well as enough action, humor, and special effects to entertain neophytes. The cast, whose closest thing to a star is Ron Glass of Barney Miller fame, is charming and talented; though good-looking, they seem real enough to convince as fringe members of society. The dialogue is taut and witty, the direction fast-paced without being too busy, the action thrilling and the computer effects seamlessly integrated with the live-action photography.
On the surface, the Serenity universe could hardly be more different from the world Whedon created for his two earlier (and far more successful) TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off Angel, which aired for seven and five years respectively. Like Serenity, those shows focussed on scrappy teams of adventurers, but the Buffyverse was infested with supernatural creatures and dominated by mystical powers, demons, magic, religious iconography, gothic romanticism, and a past that reached powerfully into the present. The Serenity "'verse," by contrast, is dusty and messy, peopled by thieves, prostitutes, suck-ups, disgruntled veterans, and garden variety assholes, and it's all about now: today's heist, tomorrow's bar fight, next week's adventure. And although as with most futuristic epics there is a backstory, it exists mostly to explain what made our heroes outlaws.