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Reviewed March 30th, 2004 by Brian White


“They’re putting Firefly out on DVD. You’ve gotta see it!’’ That was a friend of mine before Christmas, trying to sell me on a failed television show. I must admit that my enthusiasm was somewhat limited. Science Fiction on television has become so stale lately. I’m not a fan of Joss Whedon’s other shows, so I really had no reason to be interested in Firefly. Worst of all, it got canned by the network before the whole season was even made. Whoo hoo.

I made myself sit down to watch the two-hour pilot, thinking I’d fall asleep. What I saw just blew me away. It is certainly my favorite Sci Fi TV show since TNG to be sure. I wish that Enterprise could be this good.

Firefly tells the story of a crew of nine on a “Firefly” class space ship. The ship itself is called Serenity. This universe is one where a corrupt alliance has taken over most of the planets, leaving those on the fringe to fend for themselves. Firefly’s captain, Malcolm Reynolds, fought the Alliance in a war. The defeat of his Independents has removed all of his hope and faith. Bitter, he makes a living however he can. Firefly’s crew takes any job they can get, which usually is contrary to Alliance law.

Everyone in this universe is human, and there are two predominant Earth cultures remaining: American and Chinese. Everybody swears in Chinese. Even more interesting is the show’s main aesthetic, which combines science fiction and westerns. Despite being set 500 years in the future, most of the planets visited seem stuck in the 1800s. Now don’t let that cheesy Battlestar Galactica cowboy episode taint your view. It’s actually done very well. Technology is downplayed. On the other hand, Alliance planets, ships and facilities are all what you expect from the high-tech future.

Firefly is a cleverly written show. It is a program about people who need each other, whether they know it or not. This crew is a family. You care about them. Also, you’ll laugh out loud at much of the dialog, and the twists and turns. Also, the characters have depth, and secrets. Firefly is in no way stale.

So what’s the deal with the cancellation and DVD release? Fox suits made the brilliant decision to not air the fantastic 2-hour pilot, instead throwing fans into a regular episode. While this episode is written to introduce fans to the series, the pilot makes much more sense. Not getting the huge ratings right off the bat that Fox expected to justify the budget, the show was relegated to the ghetto that is Friday night, to die a quick death. Whedon apparently fought to have the 14 episode DVD set released (including three never-aired eps), and it has sold very well. Now a feature film has received the green light. Maybe the film will serve as pilot number two and we’ll be seeing Firefly on the small screen again soon.

What would Sci Fi be without special effects? This show is blessed with some of the best visuals seen on either the big or small screen. You can begin to see why Fox wanted to kill this thing when confronted by the breath-taking visuals. This must have been very expensive. Also, a very cool “handheld” aesthetic always accompanies our heroes, so the special effects shots of the spaceships mimic this to great effect.

The video on this set is 16x9 (1.78:1 anamorphic), which is nice. It appears to have been filmed with High Definition cameras as well. Some of the shots are inexplicably grainy, while others suggest high definition source. At certain times, the image is a little grainy due to a film effect.

Unfortunately, the audio is only in Dolby Digital Surround, which is the same as Pro-Logic. The sound is mixed well across the front channels, but this show would have benefited greatly from 5.1. I can hardly wait for the feature DVD.

For special features, you get a great featurette about the making of the show. What is interesting, is that unlike many feature film DVDs, where the material is created at the time of production, rather than after the film’s impact, here you see the actors and creators reflect on the frustration of such a great artistic success being so mishandled by the network. There are also very informative commentaries tracks on several episodes with both cast and the creative team. Throughout the extras, you see and hear the regret of a cast and crew that knew they were in the middle of something special, which was crushed before its time. Deleted scenes and a gag reel are also included.

For the price of this four-disc set, you really can’t go wrong. Highly recommended.


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