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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Serenity: Collector's Edition (2005)

"Somebody has to speak for these people. You all got on this boat for different reasons, but you all come from the same place. So, no more running."
- Mal (Nathan Fillion)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: August 20, 2007

Stars: Nathan Fillion, Summer Glau, Gina Torres, Adam Baldwin, Morena Baccarin, Alan Tudyk, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Other Stars: Ron Glass, Nectar Rose, Hunter Ansley Wryn
Director: Joss Whedon

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, and some sexual references
Run Time: 01h:58m:56s
Release Date: August 21, 2007
UPC: 025195008938
Genre: sci-fi


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ B+A-A B

DVD Review

By now it's the stuff of legend, how a prematurely canceled sci-fi television series was resurrected as a $40 million dollar feature film, in large part on the strength of the fanbase (known affectionately as "browncoats") that bought mass quantities of the DVD season set and filled the web with sites demanding the show's return.

Firefly was the series, cut short after 11 episodes aired in 2003, and the story of how creator/writer/director Joss Whedon (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) eventually was given the opportunity to revisit his Old-West-meets-deep-space universe with the 2005 feature Serenity. Whedon's film is represented here by a nicely packaged two-disc Collector's Edition that carries a new DTS track, a new commentary, and approximately an hour or so of additional bonus materials, as well as what has already been issued on the previous release.

Serenity picks up well after the events of Firefly, and my only real beef is that for all of Whedon's best intentions to encapsulate the series for new viewers with a prologue, it just seems too rushed. I'm a firm believer that Serenity is optimally enjoyed after having taken in all of the backstories and subplots via the series. Not that it's all that intricate, but a couple of characters in the feature are involved in plot points that might not carry the same punch if you haven't seen the series. Add to that the fact that Firefly is simply a terrific show, filled with Whedon's fast-paced and witty dialogue, and a nice tilt on the future of the space frontier.

With Earth That Was (hey, that's us) overcrowded and all used up, Whedon uses deep space colonization as his tweak on the mythos of Old West settlers, pitting a colorful block of fringe-dwellers in a battle against the strong arm of the Alliance and the dreaded cannibalistic Reavers. An implied allegiance between the United States and China—the specifics all cleverly sidestepped—has resulted in a language that is littered with purposely hokey gunslinger phraseology and a smattering of Chinese expletives. It's an interesting blend, and Whedon does his best to not over-explain things, instead leaving it up to the viewer to connect some of the dots.

The plot here is a variation on the recurring theme of the series (only bigger, louder, and flashier), diving deeper into the character of River Tam (Summer Glau) the sometimes catatonic teen/sometimes fighting machine that is wanted by the dreaded Alliance, who have in the film sent a character known only as The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to "retrieve" her. River and her protective brother Simon (Sean Maher) had previously stowed away on the titular salvage ship, captained by gruff, look-out-for-myself Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) in the series Firefly, and their return finds them right back on Serenity, alongside the original crew, which includes Mal's second-in-charge Zoe (Gina Torres), her wisecracking "leaf on the wind" pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk), gun-happy muscle Jayne (Adam Baldwin), ridiculously cute mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite), and the alluring—make that very alluring—professional "companion" Inara (Morena Baccarin). Wise sage Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) is relegated to a glorified cameo, a point that Whedon makes more than a few jokes about in the new commentary on this release.

Whedon may have tried to make Serenity in part for those who have never seen Firefly, but the reality of the situation is that this is a "thank you" to the fans, to the browncoats. It's a larger-budgeted epilogue, an opportunity to elaborate upon and tie up certain plot points that the series never had the chance to properly do. It is likely that this is the last we'll see of these characters, and to revisit them again would probably just tarnish the whole impact of this particular project.

Whedon seems to have been able to cap this off nicely, and the inclusion of a DTS track and a stylish bit of packaging on this Collector's Edition somehow makes this seem less like a double dip and more like a final farewell.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is ported over from the original 2005 DVD release, but it's a strong one, especially for such a purposely dark film as Serenity. Whedon and D.P. Jack Green play a lot with shadows throughout, and the black levels on this transfer are generally up to the task. Some minor loss in detail during some of the darkest moments, but overall no problems. Color accuracy is also solid throughout, with even, balanced fleshtones.

Nice.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanish, Frenchno
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno
DTSEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: One of the big hooks for this Collector's Edition is the inclusion of a DTS track, as well as the previously issued Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Not that there was or is anything wrong with the 5.1 choice, because it is certainly an aggressive, immersive presentation. But DTS always seems to make a certain strata of DVD fans drool, and the track here more than delivers where it is expected to, providing deep, sonorous bass during the action moments. Differences between the 5.1 and DTS are admittedly slight, as both do provide clear voice quality and a wide spatial effect across the front channels.

2.0 dubs are provided in both Spanish and French.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
9 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
10 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Joss Whedon, Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, Summer Glau, Ron Glass
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: This two-disc set is housed in foldout hinged-box packaging. Glau, Fillion, and the ship Serenity are featured prominently on the front, while inside, small monochromatic images of each of the principle cast are included along the top edge of the unfolded case art. There's an insert card promoting a number of unusual collectible Serenity items for purchase, such as a blueprints set, travel posters, official papers, and a reissue of a sold-out fan club Alliance money pack.

Disc 1 carries the feature, and in terms of previously issued extras there's a solo commentary from Joss Whedon, a set of nine deleted scenes (14m:39s), an outtakes reel (06m:05s), and the Joss Whedon introduction (03m:55s) that was used during test screenings. Whedon's commentary is pretty full-bodied, delving quite a bit into the mechanics of filmmaking, while the screenings intro is a short and sweet nod to the fans whose faith in the series eventually brought about the film itself.

New material on Disc 1 includes a brand new commentary (which is also subtitled) from Whedon, this time teamed up with Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, Summer Glau, and Ron Glass. Lots of jokes being cracked, with Whedon—who admits to being "full of me"—mockingly comparing his own voluminous writing ability to that of Stephen King and Dostyevsky. The tone throughout this track is on the light side, and more fan-based than techie.

The new continues with a set of four extended scenes (06m:45s) presented in nonanamorphic widescreen, and the scenes feature Fanty and Mingo, Mal and Inara, Mal and Operative In Companion Training House and Mal and Inara Shuttle Improv. The shuttle improv sequence is likely the most interesting—shown with green screens still in place of the ship's windows—and has a text screen where Whedon explains he had the pair elaborate on some dialogue in case he needed to add the scene later.

Take A Walk On Serenity (04m:07s) has Whedon, Fillion, and Alan Tudyk offering up a tour of Serenity. It's a bit on the frothy side, with Whedon exclaiming proudly of the flight deck that "blinking lights mean science". The Green Clan (03m:08s) is Whedon's nod to the skill sets of director of photography Jack Green, who we're told "knows how film sees."

We'll Have A Fruity Oaty Good Time! (01m:39s) may be short, but in the Firefly/Serenity universe this mondo bizarro commercial is a true fan favorite. The segment—which was an Easter Egg on the original release so many may not even know it was there—opens with Whedon briefly explaining how he kept wanting things weirder and weirder (as well as giving props to The Simpson's Mr. Sparkle), and the piece ends with the commercial running in full.

Disc 2 is also a hodgepodge of old and new, with reissued material consisting of Future History: The Story Of Earth That Was (04m:33s), Re-Lighting The Firefly (09m:41s) and What's In A Firefly? (06m:33s), all presented in nonanamorphic widescreen. Future History and Re-Lighting are a nice bookend, spanning both the universe within the series and how the fanbase helped spawn the feature film. What's In A Firefly? delves more into the visual effects-driven realm of some of the film's key sequences.

New stuff begins with A Filmmaker's Journey (19m:54s), a nonanamorphic widescreen little-bit-of-everything segment that covers writing, filming, and stuntwork (watch Summer Glau kick some ass), with comments from the cast and plenty of on-location footage. No big revelations made here, but it's breezy and very watchable.

Sci-Fi: Inside Serenity (21m:46s) is a promo piece made for the Sci-Fi Channel, with Adam Baldwin as host, that cobbles together bits and pieces from other extras found here, so much of it is a rehash, though much more compact. The grainy black-and-white Session 416 (08m:01s) purports to allow us "learn the secrets of River's past," but odds are if you're a fan you've already seen these online. They were part of a viral marketing campaign to promote Serenity, and though they do theoretically feature some background on Glau's River Tam, the content is marginal, at best.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

The extras alone may not be enough to force a double-dip on this two-disc Collector's Edition, but the spiffy packaging and a new DTS track probably will.

I don't agree with Whedon that Serenity is quite the standalone experience he tried to make it, so if you haven't seen the series Firefly, make that your first stop. You'll thank me later.

Highly recommended.

 


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