So, it’s like a… Space Western?
Having never seen this show, this was the question posed to me by my wife halfway through the pilot episode. Honestly, I wasn’t sure myself. It certainly appeared to be a space western, but the characters were randomly speaking in Chinese. It was drama, yet it was dark humor. This was a truly odd program indeed.
By the third episode, however, we were both hooked. The genius of this show is that it was a typical sci-fi show with one major twist; sitcom-quality…humor. Let’s face it… the view of your typical sci-fi geek has always been that they could be either smart or funny… not both. Deep Space Nine had the occasional comedic moment, and Buffy could be smart on occasion, but no show has ever been really good at doing both. Not until Firefly, that is.
Of course, I’m discussing this show in the past tense, because Fox saw the situation a little differently. Granted, the learning curve for this show is huge. I was still not sure what I thought about the program even after the two-hour premiere episode. Everything about the environment these stories take place in is just so different from what television viewers are used to… even by science fiction standards. This was a really hard show for me to understand and to get into, but once I finally did, I was hooked.
So let’s talk about Fox. If ever there was a show that didn’t get a fair chance, this is it. The show was shuffled through many different time slots, making it quite difficult for even the most hardcore of fans to see every episode. What’s worse, the episodes were actually broadcast out of order! How thoroughly absurd. The broadcast schedule was so screwed up that the two-hour premiere episode was actually aired the week following the series finale. Completely preposterous. Who knows what other great programs may have been lost to corporate ignorance? Family Guy, anyone?
The audio quality here is absolutely perfect… for TV. There is a very narrow frequency range on this soundtrack, which is a real shame. Voices, music and sound effects all seem to step over each-other, instead of being spread out across the audio spectrum. Likewise, the low-end effects are not as powerful as they should be. Gunshots and explosions, for example, don’t have the punctuation that they should. Also, the lever dialog is not always as clear as I would like for it to be.
Having said that, the soundtrack gets the job done in a fair manner. It’s not that there is anything necessarily wrong with the audio, but it’s certainly nothing special, either.
Video quality, however, is much better. All episodes were originally filmed in a widescreen format, which is what is presented here. The picture is ultra-clear, and the black levels are deep. There are no blemishes to be found anywhere on this set, and the same can be said for color bleed and cloudiness. Tones are consistently sharp and vibrant, even though the show takes place in many wildly different environments.
Special mention should be made with regards to the camera work and editing of the show. It seems that Joss Whedon has taken a page from Fox’s popular program Twenty Four when it comes to the look of this program. At first, I was disappointed with the poor framing and awkward camera angles utilized by the cameramen, but after watching a few episodes, I really came to admire the “live” feel of the story’s presentation. Even the excellent CG department got into the act, sometimes animating sequences with shaky virtual cameras and varying degrees of focus. Whedon took a great risk by stepping over the generally accepted boundaries of how a sci-fi television program should look, and the entertainment world is the better for it.
The quality of the special features are mixed. The 7 episode commentaries are simply some of the best that I have heard for a television series. Just like the show, they are entertaining, informative, insightful, and very, very funny. In fact, I enjoyed them almost as much as the show itself.
Likewise, the 30-minute Here’s How it Was: The Making of Firefly featurette was also very well done. While probably not being quite as frank as they would like, the cast and crew get a chance to address some of the major issues with the show’s tumultuous run, and it’s subsequent demise. Creative disagreements with the network brass and reasons that the show was aired out-of-order are addressed here in an honest manner. There is some filler, but most of the piece is filled with quality information. It is also fun to hear what was planned for the show’s future, had it been allowed to continue.
Four deleted scenes are also included, with a brief explanation as to why they were not included in the regular broadcast versions. As would be expected, most of the onus lies with the network on these issues as well
Other extras on this set include, Serenety: the 10th Character, Alan Tudyk’s Audition, a short Gag Reel, Joss Tours the Set and Joss Sings the Firefly Theme. These bits are almost all filler, with very little worthwhile information added.
Here is your chance to finally check out this fantastic series the way that it was originally intended to be seen. Science Fiction fans should definitely invest some time with this title, especially to prepare for the upcoming spin-off film that is currently in production. Shame on Fox for not giving this series the time to develop that it so rightly deserved.
Special Features List
- 7 Commentaries With Various Members of the Cast and Crew
- 4 Deleted Scenes
- Gag Reel
- “Here’s How it Was: The Making of Firefly”
- “Serenity: The 10th Character”
- “Alan Tudyk’s Audition”
- “Joss Tours the Set”
- “Joss Sings the Firefly Theme”