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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Why Is Firefly So Good?

Is Joss Whedon some kind of genius? Or am I just in the right mood for a western scifi TV show?

Either way, Firefly is amazing. It was a short-lived scifi series that suffered an early demise back in 2002. In the future, there's no aliens, but there are still bullets, cattle rustlers, smugglers and plenty of bar fights. At least when you are Captain Malcolm Reynolds. After winding up on the losing side of a civil war, he winds up in the smuggling business, off on the edge of space with his crew in a ramshackle but beloved ship called Serenity.

Only 14 episodes ever got filmed, but let's be honest here. In 1 short season, Firefly managed to elicit a fan response that hasn't been seen since the grand-daddy of scifi shows, Star Trek. And there's a good reason for that.

First of all, this was a series with great writing. Each of the characters, though modeled on archetypes from the Old West, become real people with histories we're interested in. Why does the preacher claim to be a peaceful man but know how to handle a gun? What happened to the troubled River to make her so... psychotic? Will the Captain ever admit he's in love with Inara? As far as the writing is concerned, being on the edge of cancellation was probably quite helpful; forcing the writers to remove the "fluff" from the series. (I'm talking to you, Heroes).

There is a wonderful mix of drama and comedy. My husband's favorite line is when the Captain tells a seemingly frightened girl who thinks she's soon to be killed, "Don't you take that. If someone tries to kill you, you try to kill them right back!"

Not to mention the filming. In Firefly, as in old John Wayne movies, the producers make use of the wonderful zoom lens. Considered somewhat shoddy in most of cinematography today, the zoom lens gives us true sense of being in the scene. Since the zoom lens forces us to "focus" on a scene it is similar to if we were being jostled around on a spaceship, constantly trying to refocus our eyes on what surrounds us. In addition, most of the filming is done by hand which increased the intimate feel of the shots. In space, there are no sound effects, just (realistic) science.

The low-tech and high-tech themes collide as they face down other spaceships, the Feds, and horse-riding, gun-wielding baddies. Laser guns exist, but as the wielder of one such toy learns, when the low-battery light starts flashing, real bullets are mighty fine to have instead.

The interplay of familiar themes in a sort of futuristic, sort of old fashioned setting made for interesting TV-viewing. While they do have a spaceship, Serenity has a primitive feel to it, not polished and perfected and full of transporters and research labs. The crew are likewise not a perfectly cohesive fighting machine. Their loyalties are divided and at times its all the captain can do to keep them together to earn money.

The series, due to its early death, has an unfinished feeling to it. I'm certainly not the first nor will I be the last one to watch the series and wonder what would have happened if only this series hadn't been ahead of its time. Of course, there's always the possibility it could have ended up like Heroes, dragged on far past a good ending point, devoid of any logical connection between plotlines.

A few years back, I saw the movie that was later created as a follow-up to Firefly, called Serenity. At the time, I hadn't seen or heard of Firefly, so the movie didn't stick with me. I'm looking forward to going back and watching it, this time understanding the backstory.

After watching Firefly over the last few days (my excuse for not blogging) I feel like I could not write a whole thesis on why scifi and western genres are really overlapping, but for now I'm going to spare you. Just watch the series, you'll know what I mean.

11 comments:

Nymeth said...

wow, you are really really really making me want to watch it! I wonder if I could rent it...

Kim L said...

nymeth-I'm pretty sure you could rent it. We were going to get it from netflix, but ended up borrowing it from a friend instead. I bet the video store would have it too.

aaron said...

Firefly truly is a rare gem. There's such a genuine humanity to it that hasn't been seen on TV in such a long time. You genuinely like these people! The soundtrack is infectious and perfectly frames the action. And like all good westerns, the mix of music, scenery, character, and plot fills you with a sense of longing -- for what, it's almost impossible to put your finger on, but Firefly seems to both fill and create some sort of emptiness -- if that makes any sense at all!

Anyway, I'm glad you're enjoying it. We've loaned those DVDs to several others before and all have gotten hooked. It's too bad there's not more to be hooked on!

Chris said...

I'm so glad that you loved it as much as all of us other fans. There really hasn't been another show like it. It was so unique...it had an amazing cast (both the characters and the actors who played them) and I loved the way it was filmed. It's rare that you see a sci-fi story with so much heart in it. And I must admit that I'm still a Heroes fan ;) Though I agree that it doesn't come NEAR Firefly...doesn't even touch it...but seriously, what else is there to watch these days. I'm hoping they come back with something better and it doesn't get progressively worse.

Kim L said...

aaron-what a great description! I had trouble myself coming up with an adequate one. I'm glad we borrowed it from you!

chris-it is a unique show! I really liked Heroes, but I felt like it let me down. Maybe it was the writer's strike? Maybe it will get better next season!

Rhinoa said...

I love Firefly and really miss it. I was so annoyed with the film as it ended things for some characters without really explaining their back story (trying not to give anything away...). Bring back Firefly!!!

Kim L said...

rhinoa-agreed! I wish they did give more back story to them. Oh well, but like aaron said there is a graphic novel. Maybe that fills in some of the holes.

Trish said...

Interesting thesis idea. :) If I'm remembering correctly, the protagonist of William Gibson's Neuromancer thought himself a type of cowboy. I hate when good shows get cut--a few years back one of my favorite shows American Gothic got cut after just a few episodes but I recently saw an episode on the Sci Fi channel. I haven't heard of Firefly.

Kim L said...

trish-well if you haven't heard of it, I definitely recommend it. Its good TV!

Lucy said...

I only found Firefly last month but I adore it. There is an intimacy to it - the table scenes where everyone sits down to dinner could just go on and on for me, and there's an unpredicability to it - You know the characters and you care about the characters but you don't know how they're going to react.

And the relationships between the characters, fraught but deep. And the unique dialogue. And gorgeously forlorn title music...Oh God, I'm blathering...But I really do miss Firefly.

Kim L said...

lucy-I couldn't have said it better myself. Gosh but I liked that series.