Monday, September 14, 2015

Serenity Re-Watch: My Oh My!

Have you heard about the Firefly reboot Friday nights on Ovation HD TV? Squeeeee! I'm so excited to see this great series return to television. I'll be recording it, fer shure! If you've never seen it and you're a writer or fan of SF/R, you really ought to give it a look.

Oddly, just before I saw the advertisement about the return of Firefly, I did a re-watch of the companion motion picture, Serenity. And, oh yeah--I discovered all over again why creator/writer/director Joss Whedon is so freakin' brilliant.

To illustrate, there's THIS...

What's so great about it? Well...everything.

In just a few seconds, Whedon explores a range of the viewer's emotions, delivers information, and punches it all up with incredible dramatic impact while forging a bond to the characters.

So how does he do that?

Well, he surprises. Often. And usually delightfully.

Nothing is cliche' or expected in this Whedon's universe. The characters speak a fractured brand of English with a liberal dose of Chinese. You can catch the drift, but I conjure they don't talk 21st century lingo. You have to pay attention. And just when you're focusing on one element, bam! You're hit with something else that widens your eyes.

This is how the master first hooked me into watching this series. One of the first images I glimpsed is still imprinted in my mind.

It was of a starship swooping in. A starship running wild horses.

A starship running freakin' wild horses. Surprise!

I'd NEVER seen that done in a Sci-Fi show, and of course it set the whole tone for this amazing new genre he'd created--the Space Western. And it's logical. Mankind settles and terraforms a new solar system. The civilized inner planets are governed closely by the Alliance, but the outer planets are a wild and wooly frontier left to fend for themselves, where primitive means of survival must be employed. Hence, horses. To plow and hitch to wagons. And wild horses. And a situation where a starship might spook said band of horses while attempting to land on one of these outlier rustic planets. It isn't just for show. It all makes perfect sense.

As does Mal's contempt for the Alliance. But that's a whole 'nother topic.

But back to the clip. I found an equal dose of magic in how this scene unfolded. It wasn't the opening scene of the movie, that was actually a sort of cinematic prologue of how Simon wrested River from the Alliance's grasp. (I'm not going to go into the details of why in case someone reading this hasn't seen either the series or movie as yet.) I realized the series had never explored this in any level of detail, so I was mesmerized by how it all went down.

Then we segue to this scene, which is the true introduction (or re-introduction for those who were already fans) of the main characters.

The focus begins on Serenity's symbol--which is Serenity in Chinese painted on the aging craft's hull--accompanied by slow, soft violins. The mood is set, a peaceful, lulling sense of quiet is instilled by a melancholy overture of a ship adrift in the emptiness of space.

Then...suddenly...movement of the directional thrusters...and with it, another change. The unexpected angling and roar of the engines as the ship seems to light up. The tempo picks up and the music gets louder. Excitement. Drama. A surprise...the first glimpse of the planet below as Serenity enters the atmosphere and the heat begins to flare along her heat shields.

This is followed by an artful fly-by to accentuate the power and motion of the ship's descent. We take an erratic path up the hull to the bow of the ship, and inside, through the front view port, we see that?...yes! It's Captain Malcolm Reynolds, watching from the bridge as his ship begins its descent.

Then another mood change as we duck inside Serenity to experience the exchange between Mal and his pilot, "Wash." Immediately we know that all is not well, the ship is barely airworthy and in serious trouble, but the tension is laced with a generous dose of wry humor.

Wash: "...this landing is going to get pretty interesting."

Mal: "Define 'interesting.'"

Wash: "Oh God, oh God, we're all gonna die?"

Mal: [grabbing microphone] "This is the Captain. We have a little problem with our entry sequence, so we may experience some slight turbulence and then...explode."

The captain and pilot discuss options in a crazy quilt dialogue, talking over each other, around each other, and finally to each other.

Mal: "Well, just...get us on the ground."

Wash: "That part is going to happen pretty definitely."

This simple bit of dialogue tells the viewer volumes about the characters, the situation and the setting, in a way that is meant to both thoroughly entertain established fans and hook those new to the Firefly universe. IMHO, it does both remarkably well.

What happens next?

The Captain leaves the bridge and meets Jayne, the mercenary, who says, "We're gonna explode? I don't wanna explode!"

All this is delivered in 1 minute and 32 seconds. The clip ends there, but the uber-coolness of this intro/re-intro does not.

Captain Mal walks through his ship--in one long, continuous, unbroken shot (the set was intentionally built to make this possible) and we meet, or reacquaint ourselves, with each of the stellar characters that inhabit the Serenity and learn a little bit about them or re-learn who they are. A belligerent Jayne, a calming Zoe, a reassuring Kaylee and finally, a very angry Simon, and with each new exchange, and each buck and shudder of the floundering ship, the crew dynamics and personality quirks add layers of emotional texture to the scene.

Though I've seen the series and motion picture many times before, I plan to do the re-watch with a keener eye in an attempt to study what techniques Mr. Whedon uses to create such utterly flawed, yet lovable and memorable characters, and how he crafts each scene and situation.

He's the King of What Happens Next. Because it's never what you expect.

Here's a Firefly tribute that captures that iconic wild horses scene I mentioned above. (Because it has copyrighted materials, it won't play via embedded mode.)

If you're interested in knowing more about the backbone of the story and characters, this clip, in Joss Whedon's own words, lays out the premise beautifully.

For those of you who are already fans or Firefly and/or Serenity, let me know your favorite line of dialogue or who takes the prize as your favorite character.

I know, I know. So much shinyness, so little time.

Have a great week.


  1. 'I am a leaf on the wind. Watch me soar!'
    I can't classify myself as a fan (short for fanatic). I only saw Firefly maybe three years back when hubs bought me the blu-ray, though I'd seen the film. But I guess Firefly did for you what seeing the opening sequence of Star Wars: A New Hope on TV for the first time ever did for me. I'd written fantasy until then. Star Wars changed my whole perception of what I was really looking for and really wanted to write. A life changing experience. :)

    1. Oh yeah, totally iconic dialogue, Pippa. But after I smile, it makes me a little sad. (You know what I mean?)

      The opening sequence of Firefly moves me because it's fun, funny and adventurous. That opening scene of the very first Stars Wars though? That was just WOW!

    2. Yeah, I know. But that's part of what I like about it. That's a great epitaph.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, Angelia. And delivered as only Zoe can deliver it, that line slayed me!

  3. Great post Laurie! Jayne is absolutely my favorite. Part villain, part oaf, and a part hero. Jayne is proof that lacking a sense of humor can be funny too. It is all in the timing. 'I don't wanna explode.' is the best line in that Serenity re-entry scene.

    1. I love Jayne as an anti-hero. He comes off as so gruff and rough around the edges, but then we see these rare glimpses of a guy with a big heart.

      Absolutely loved the Jaynestown episode. How about you?

    2. Oh yes, Jaynestown was great! Maybe my favorite.


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