I’ve just heard that some members of OU staff are screening the feature-length pilot of Joss Whedon’s show Firefly at the Ultimate Picture Palace on Saturday, back-to-back with the 2005 film “Serenity”. For those of you who haven’t heard of Firefly, shame on you; you can be partially forgiven since the series, thanks to its premature cancellation in the States, was never broadcasted on our shores. But the word-of-mouth success of the DVD set and the hype of the spin-off film Serenity should have caught you by now.

It is possibly unsurprising that the series did not get the required ratings in the distant lands of our American cousins: those expecting another fast-paced, sexed-up teenage vampire-slaying fest à la Buffy and Angel were in for a disappointment. Here was a smart, dare I say character-based, “western in space” in which all the principal protagonists were, shock horror, over 25 years old. And it certainly didn’t help, considering the emphasis on gradual character progression, that Fox aired the 12 episodes (of 14 filmed) in the wrong order, back in its first showing in 2002.

The premise runs thus: in the future, where most planets seem to be colonised by a cross-breed of Americans and Chinese, veteran (for the losing side) Captain Mal Reynolds and his 4-man crew are dodging the Federation which now controls the galaxy, and are forced to scavenge off shipwrecks in space in their creaky-but-reliable little ‘Firefly’ vessel, Serenity (you see the TVàfilm link? Genius). Having picked up a suspicious young doctor and his mysterious cargo, however, they suddenly find themselves on the run from the all-pervasive law.

“Serenity” is effectively the same, save for the fact that it is set after the series (or at least the 14 episodes filmed) and their enemy is a very specific one: a zealous hit-man known only as The Operative, whose one purpose is to track down and recapture Reynolds’ fugitives. Its history is unprecedentedly sweet; in the aftermath of Firefly’s cancellation, the loyal fans who had seen its potential cried out as one, and set about converting, via the power of DVD, all their friends, families, everyone they knew to the ‘Browncoats’, a devoted online community who would fight and fight hard for Firefly’s return. In June 2003, their call was answered, as Whedon, Nathan Fillion (who plays Mal) and Adam Baldwin (who plays resident idiot tough-nut, Jayne) confirmed on the official forum that they were working on a film which would satisfy fans’ desire for closure.

The film, which came to be known in-production as “the Big Damn Movie”, was very well-received, topping the box-office in the UK, and achieving an average rating of 81% on film review site Rotten Tomatoes. The showing, therefore, is an excellent chance to catch this supreme slice of sci-fi gold on the big screen once more: and trust me, it is worth it for the space-chase set-pieces, which are far better executed here than the over-CGI’d clutter of the Star Wars prequels.

However, it is the series that really shines: the film necessarily has a very different feel and pace to the episodes, which don’t need to worry so much about exposition. In the film you get none of the great every-day scenes which take place around the ship’s dinner table (for example) in the series, which let the play-off of the characters really shine: Mal’s paternal attitude to his crew tempered by his need of brutality to survive, versus Jayne’s lust for action and wealth, no matter what the cost for his companions; the strange, strained co-existence of the priest, Book, with the refined prostitute, Inara; or the awkward tension between the Captain’s old friendship with fellow-veteran Zoe and her beloved husband, Wash.

For fans too, therefore, seeing the pilot episode of the series on the big screen would be too shiny an opportunity to miss. Especially considering the screening is in aid of Equality Now, a charity supported by Whedon himself, this comes as a highly recommended event.

 

Firefly / Serenity Double Bill

Saturday 16th June, 12:30pm (Firefly pilot)

15:00pm (Serenity)

Ultimate Picture Palace,

Jeune Street, off Cowley Road