Firefly-Complete Season Collection (2002)

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Released 2-Aug-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-Filmmakers And Cast - Seven Episodes
Featurette-Making Of-Here's How It Was - The Making Of Firefly
Featurette-Serenity: The Tenth Character
Deleted Scenes-4
Featurette-Alan Tudyk's Audition
Outtakes-Gag reel
Featurette-Joss Sings The Firefly Theme
Featurette-Joss Tours The Set
Easter Egg-Adam Baldwin's Tribute
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 625:49
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Multi Disc Set (4)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Joss Whedon
Tim Minear
Vern Gillum
David Solomon
Studio
Distributor
Mutant Enemy
Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Nathan Fillion
Gina Torres
Alan Tudyk
Morena Baccarin
Jewel Staite
Adam Baldwin
Sean Maher
Summer Glau
Ron Glass
Case ?
RPI $69.95 Music Greg Edmonson
Joss Whedon


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
English Audio Commentary
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

Take my love, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
I don't care, I'm still free
You can't take the sky from me

Take me out, to the black
Tell em I ain't comin' back
Burn the land, and boil the sea
You can't take the sky from me

There's no place, I can be
Since I found Serenity
You can't take the sky from me

    Joss Whedon, the modern genius of series television, was asked for another series. He was already involved with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, but Fox wanted another series. Joss got together with Tim Minear, and they outlined a new show called Firefly. They got a budget for a pilot, and made a double-length pilot episode. The network didn't like it: it was too slow to get going, and it actually took its time introducing the characters and providing them with background and personalities (such a terrible thing to do!). So on a Friday the network told them that they had to produce a script for a new first episode, and that they had to produce it by Monday. Joss and Tim acceded to this ridiculous request, and produced the script. They shot it, and the series went to air. Turns out that the network still didn't understand the show, and it got cancelled about half-way through its first season despite lots of support from eager fans, including a letter and postcard campaign and a full page advertisement placed in all the trade papers.

    So what was Firefly about? Why did it rouse passionate support? And why didn't the network support it? I can only answer the first two of those questions.

    Firefly is a realisation of an idea that Gene Roddenberry expounded when outlining the original Star Trek, when he spoke of "Wagon Train among the stars"; in my opinion, this a better realisation of that idea than Star Trek. I suspect that Joss came up with the idea independently, though, and he certainly took it in directions which I'm sure Gene would not have countenanced. Gene's was a very bright and moral future, with mostly law-abiding citizens. Joss's future is not bright and shiny, definitely not populated with mostly law-abiding citizens, and not happily ever after — which will surprise none of Joss's many fans. Firefly is set a few years after a major civil war, a bloody war in which a great many people died. The official government is The Alliance, which is apparently an alliance between the governments that evolved from the US and China superpowers as they spread across the stars (hence the mix of English and Chinese that people speak). The Alliance exercises tight control over the core systems, with their control diminishing as one moves out to the frontiers. The frontiers resemble the Old West of the US, where most people go armed, and where the law is somewhat tenuous unless there's a marshal in town (although for "marshal" read "large Alliance warship" — the Alliance starships don't look anything like Starfleet, but they are the only bright shiny things around...).

    I've heard people question why the frontier in Firefly looks so much like the Old West, but it does make sense. For example, when establishing a new colony with limited resources, it makes sense to use horses rather than tractors: tractors don't reproduce; horses can be carried as frozen embryos, and they pretty much do their own assembly into fully working parts. Wooden housing makes sense, because it can be manufactured using low-tech tools from local resources. With relatively little law around, the idea that people go armed is likely to appeal to a culture that sprang (even partly) from US roots, and once some people are going armed, others will too. In many ways, it's a fairly logical progression from the same kinds of sources that produced the original Old West.

    One of the actors remarks, in one of the extras, that they never had to bleep any of the language. Considering that some of the characters are fairly rough folk, that would be a bit surprising, but the writers got around it in a novel way: all the swearing is done in Chinese. They do use Chinese sometimes for other things, but swearing is a main part. Not speaking Chinese, I cannot tell how well they speak it, but I suspect it is probably fairly badly. However, they had a full-time translator working on the show, and apparently every phrase was properly translated from English to Mandarin Chinese, rendered phonetically, then mispronounced by the actors.

    They also went to some trouble to modify English a little, indicating the development of the language with the passage of time. The most obvious part was the inclusion of chunks of Chinese, but the use of "shiny" to mean "good" was a nice touch.

    The culture we see is a stew of all manner of bits and pieces, drawing from cultures past and present on Earth. Inara's costumes, for example, appear inspired by India, but with Middle Eastern influences, while Mal's outfits look much more Old West. We see Russian influences, Chinese (in Serenity we see a group who look like Tong warriors), old Europe, even a touch of Renaissance, plus some material from the year after next. And everything looks used, looks lived-in, looks real, much more so than the original Star Trek or even ST:TNG.

    The title, Firefly, refers to a particular class of starship, a small freighter, roughly equivalent to a "tramp steamer". The Firefly class is old, but reliable, and can be kept running almost forever by a competent mechanic — the Volkswagen Beetle of starship freighters, if you like. We follow one particular Firefly, called Serenity (a name that connotes peace and tranquillity, until you learn that it is the name of a very bloody battle in the civil war, one in which half a million people died). As the show opens, the people aboard Serenity are:

    During the pilot episode, some other people are taken aboard, and some of them stay. Note that we get to see the episodes in the order they were intended to be seen (not the order in which they were screened by the network — the network chose to screen the pilot last, and didn't screen three of the episodes at all)

    The episodes, in the order we see them, are:

Title Director Writer/s Time  
Serenity Joss Whedon Joss Whedon 83:11 The original pilot episode, which introduces new faces on Serenity
The Train Job Joss Whedon Joss Whedon
Tim Minear
41:05 Taking something off a hovertrain while it's travelling at full speed
Bushwhacked Tim Minear Tim Minear 42:09 Serenity stumbles across a vessel that appears to be abandoned
Shindig Vern Gillum Jane Espenson 42:13 Mal tries to fit into high society, Inara's world, and only makes one dreadful mistake
Safe Michael Grossman Drew Z Greenberg 41:02 We learn more about the history of the passengers, some of it comforting, some perplexing
Our Mrs Reynolds Vondie Curtis- Hall Joss Whedon 42:11 Mal got married last night? Shame he doesn't remember it...
Jaynestown Marita Grabiak Ben Edlund 42:12 Jayne is apprehensive at returning to Canton — he pulled off a theft there some time back
Out of Gas David Solomon Tim Minear 42:12 Part of Serenity breaks irreparably, knocking out life support. We learn how the crew came together
Ariel Allan Kroeker Jose Molina 41:06 Robbing a core world hospital for medicines should be easy...
War Stories James Contner Cheryl Cain 41:10 Wash's jealousy of the closeness between Mal and Zoe comes to a head at a bad time
Trash Vern Gillum Ben Edlund
Jose Molina
41:57 They come up with a novel way of sneaking a valuable object out of a house
The Message Tim Minear Joss Whedon
Tim Minear
42:18 A friend from the war years calls upon Mal and Zoe for a favour: to see that his body gets home
Heart of Gold Thomas J Wright Brett Matthews 40:45 The crew is asked to help a brothel defend itself
Objects in Space Joss Whedon Joss Whedon 42:18 A philosophical bounty hunter has come to take one of their passengers

    That's all the episodes there are, sad to say.

    There are big differences between Firefly and Star Trek. The Firefly universe has not yet encountered intelligent alien life; there are only humans. And they don't have food replicators, transporters, or phasers. That means that ordinary people are often eating synthetic food, so real food is highly treasured. The only way to land large cargo is to land Serenity (for small cargo they can use the second shuttle). And although there are interesting variations, small arms are generally recognisable firearms, mostly using bullets. Mal's sidearm of choice is a form of revolver. Zoe favours shotguns, either full-length or sawn-off (her personal sidearm looks to be a sawn-off). Jayne's favourite gun (among many) is a large and nasty-looking assault weapon. We get to see a wide variety of other weapons, including Winchester-style rifles, and even something that looks just like a Desert Eagle.

    It is good to see that apparently incidental characters can reappear — this is a universe where people move around, so we don't get a different guest star every week. Speaking of guest stars, it's interesting to hear, during the commentaries, that a number of actors who have appeared as guest stars have appeared on all three Joss Whedon creations (they refer to them as "hat-trick" actors) — I noticed one of them in the pilot episode Serenity, because he played an important role in Anne (the first episode of Buffy Season Three). It's not just guest stars who have appeared in the other shows. We first saw Summer Glau (who plays River) as the ballerina in Waiting in the Wings (episode 13 of Angel Season Three). And two of the leads in Firefly had rather larger parts: Nathan Fillion played Caleb (Buffy Season Seven) while Gina Torres played Jasmine (Angel Season Four), both of them major characters over several episodes.

    This is not a show for children, for several reasons. Even though we don't know what they are saying, it's quite obvious that people swear a fair bit. There's some nudity, although most of it is from the rear —  we see several women's backs, and a full rear view of Nathan Fillion. There's quite a bit of talk about prostitution, and other "adult concepts". But it's the occasional brutality that would be the main reason: there is torture, there are grisly gunshot wounds, and there's some fairly callous disregard for the sanctity of life (including deliberately putting someone through an engine). The show is rated M, and that sounds about right.

    I like the way that many of these episodes refer in passing to the events of an immediately preceding episode. This isn't a serial, but it's more than a series. Although networks dislike that (means they are obliged to screen the episodes in the correct order), it's good for fans, because it gives increased involvement in the show. It also makes watching the DVD sets more involving (just one more episode...). The longer story arcs are common to Joss Whedon shows. I really want to know:

    Having watched these episodes, I'm convinced that canceling Firefly was a huge mistake. I hope Joss's dreams come to pass, and we see Firefly reborn in another medium — it has been suggested that we'll see a feature film called Serenity. We can hope. In the meantime, these episodes are well worth enjoying in their own right, even if we don't see resolution to many of the on-going threads.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    The DVDs are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and are 16x9 enhanced. This show was meant to be shown widescreen, but Fox chose to screen it in 1.33:1. This set of DVDs is in the aspect ratio intended by the creators / directors. In a sense, this set is the first chance to see the show in the way it was meant to be seen. That's rather cool.

    Joss Whedon had a very particular style in mind for this show when he laid out the creative framework. This was meant to be gritty, grimy, caught-in-the-middle stuff — all the camerawork is handheld, and focus and framing are not intended to be perfect — in a kind of mockumentary style; oh, and using zoom (apparently a feature deprecated today, but not uncommon in older Western series). The exception was any work aboard an Alliance cruiser, where they went to dolly work and perfect focus — this was intended to show the difference between the Alliance and the frontier. Note also that wherever possible the scenes were shot using practical lights — lights that were built into the sets — rather like the approach used in Alien. Indeed, just as on Alien, the sets were built so they joined together just as they would on the real ship — this made it possible to follow actors as they moved from room to room.

    Zoom has been avoided in a lot of science fiction, because it makes it hard to insert the CGI elements. The technology to make it work well has only recently been developed, and Joss and his team were excited to be the first show to incorporate it. Unfortunately, while they were waiting for their show to air, Star Wars II appeared, complete with a zoom shot...

    The picture looks good, but the style deliberately downgrades it a bit. It's mostly sharp and clear, but there are shots that start out of focus (we must assume deliberately). Shadow detail is generally rather good, although there are some rather dark shots (it couldn't be Joss Whedon without some really dark shots!) that have limited shadow detail. Film grain is usually quite acceptable, ranging from none to light; the big exception is Out of Gas, where the deep flashback shots were deliberately shot on colour reversal film that is quite grainy (it's effective at making clear which shots are deep flashback), and the war footage in Serenity (and to a lesser extent, The Message) which is medium grainy — only the war footage is irritating, but it's not bad. There is, as far as I can tell, absolutely no low-level noise.

    Colour is rendered well. The palette has been set by production design so that regular scenes are populated with relatively dull tones, and we must visit the wealthy or powerful to see richer colours (Inara's shuttle is filled with rich deep colour, as are scenes in Shindig and Trash). Colours are deliberately distorted on occasion — the deep flashbacks in Out of Gas are only the most extreme example.

    There are, as far as I can tell, no unintentional film artefacts. There are artefacts inserted deliberately in things like bridge displays, but nothing on the main picture. It is possible that much of the ship was shot on digital video, I don't know for sure. Indeed, there are three frames at 34:50 in The Train Job that look like they might contain small digital tape dropouts.

    Aliasing is surprisingly rare. There's some moiré, most noticeably at 19:55 in Safe. There are no MPEG artefacts.

    There are English for the Hearing Impaired subtitles, plus subtitles for any commentary. I watched all of the English subtitles, and they are rather good: easy to read, well-timed, and mostly rather accurate (with the usual level of abbreviation). I spotted a number of errors, such as at the line "Grab any supplies" that became the subtitle "Gravity supplies" (16:55 in Serenity), and "drunks are so cute" which became the unfortunate subtitle "drugs are so cute" (2:53 in The Train Job). Perhaps the most excusable was "waved" (used in this show for long-distance communications) becoming "waived" in Heart of Gold.

    All four discs are single-sided, dual layer, with simple but attractive labels (almost identical to the R1 labels). No episodes have a layer change, because the discs have been arranged so that each episode is wholly contained in a single layer. Disc One has the double-length pilot on one layer, and two episodes on the other; Discs Two and Three have two episodes per layer, and Disc Four has two episodes on one layer, and one episode and the extras on the other.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The soundtrack is only presented in English. Several episodes have a second audio track containing a commentary. I listened to all of the audio. All of the audio is Dolby Digital 2.0, marked as surround encoded, at 192kbps.

    The dialogue is fairly clear and relatively easy to understand when they are speaking English, even with the dialect; I don't understand Chinese, so I cannot comment on the comprehensibility of the Mandarin phrases. I didn't spot any slips in audio sync.

    The score is the work of Greg Edmonson, and it is quite an impressive effort. He has greatly assisted Joss's vision of a blend of cultures by combining them in the music. Mention must be made that he is not responsible for the theme song — that sprang from Joss Whedon's mind. In one of the commentaries Joss mentions that he wrote it before the first script, and it helped him solidify the image of the universe in which the show is set.

    This being a 2.0 soundtrack, there is no LFE track to drive the subwoofer. That's OK, there's plenty of bass in the mains (if you have bass management enabled you'll likely see some of that bass sent to the subwoofer). If you enable Prologic decoding, the dialogue generally appears in the centre channel, but there's nothing of any significance in the surrounds.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    I like commentaries, especially on Joss Whedon shows (regular readers may already know this). Here we get really spoiled — there are commentaries on half the episodes!

Menu

    The main menu on every disc is a list of the episodes. Where there are four items on the list they are arranged to make it reasonably clear that you choose the topmost item (which is on the left), then the one below it, then the one to its right, and then the one below that — not the clearest layout, but better than it might be. Each episode has its own menu from which you can choose language selection (this is where you'll find the commentaries, so it's important) or scene selection. I can imagine someone missing out on the commentaries, so I'm not too impressed with this layout.

Commentary: Serenity — Joss Whedon and Nathan Fillion

    A good commentary, as most Joss Whedon commentaries are. Joss is bitter about the network not showing this episode first, and that's completely reasonable. It's quite clear that he and Nathan Fillion had an excellent working relationship.

Commentary: The Train Job — Joss Whedon and Tim Minear

    Given that these two are the co-creators, co-executive producers, and co-writers of this episode, and Joss directed it, there really couldn't be any two people better suited to comment on it. This commentary is full of information, plus the occasional throw-away line, including their assertion that Morena Baccarin is a homely gal, and it's amazing what the makeup people can achieve.

Commentary: Shindig — Jane Espenson, Morena Baccarin, and Shawna Trpcic

    Jane is an experienced writer, having worked for four years on Buffy and occasionally on Angel. Morena plays Inara. Shawna is the costume designer, and this, of all the episodes, is the perfect one for her to talk about, given the wide variety of costumes that appear.

Commentary: Out of Gas — Tim Minear and David Solomon

    A more conventional commentary, featuring the writer and the director of a decidedly unconventional episode. They reveal lots of interesting things, including the items that (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Gina Torres was missing for a while during this episode (she was off getting married to Laurence Fishburne), and the fact that Ron Glass, who plays Shepherd Book (a Christian preacher), is Buddhist.

Commentary: War Stories — Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion

    Given this, of all the episodes, is probably the one in which Wash (Alan Tudyk) gets the most lines, it's appropriate that he appear in this commentary. He and Nathan have quite a bit to say, including his repeated assertion that he is as tall as Gina Torres, and it's only the camera angles that make her look taller.

Commentary: The Message — Alan Tudyk and Jewel Staite

    I'm not quite sure why these two (who play Wash and Kaylee) ended up commenting on this episode — it focuses more on Mal and Zoe — but they have plenty to say, and it's quite interesting.

Commentary: Objects in Space — Joss Whedon

    This is a somewhat different commentary from Joss Whedon. It's probably the most open I've heard him be, including explaining about his teen years, his religious beliefs, and his exposure to existentialism. It's also about how this episode, which is strange and graceful, came into being — it's a strange little story, but makes perfect sense.

    If you listen to no other commentary on this set, listen to this one. I doubt you'll regret it.

Featurette: Here's How it Was — the making of Firefly (28:40)

    Not a conventional making of. For once we get a making of that is not full of self-congratulation and sycophancy. This is really quite interesting.

Featurette: Serenity: the 10th character (9:46)

    A good look at the ship, and how it affected the story, plus a look at designs and the sets.

Deleted Scenes

Alan Tudyk's Audition (1:05)

    This is amusing, featuring Alan playing with his dinosaurs.

Gag Reel (2:42)

    Not too bad, and features one shot we'd heard about in the commentary on Out of Gas.

Joss Sings the Firefly Theme (1:17)

    The version that convinces you that they were right to hire Sonny Rhodes to sing the theme on the show...

Joss Tours the Set (1:24)

    A quick skip through the set that's not especially interesting, but worth watching to see it end with the wrong Firefly logo.

Easter Egg: Hero of Canton (2:38)

    This Easter egg can be found (if you dare!) by (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) going up from the Gag Reel entry on the second page of the Special Features menu, then pressing Enter. It features Adam Baldwin singing (badly) the folk song from Jaynestown. Note that this is not the way you get to the (same) Easter egg on the R1 version.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This box-set is already released in Region 1. I had my copy pre-ordered. It was especially notable as the first series I'd seen to come in "thinpack" packaging — these are similar to regular DVD cases, same width, same height, but only half as thick, so the four cases only occupy the space that two normal cases would take. I don't know if the Region 4 version will come in the same cases — I hope so, because it is convenient.

    The Region 4 and Region 1 offerings have the same episodes, in the same order, with the same commentaries, the same menus, and the same extras. The labels are almost the same (ours are a bit more orange, theirs are a bit more yellow). The only real difference is that the R4 is only in English, while the R1 offers English, French and Spanish sound, and English and Spanish subtitles (but misses out on the subtitles for the commentaries).

    This one is definitely a draw on features. I prefer the Region 4, mainly because I think the picture looks a tiny bit better (it's a small difference, and I'm not sure it ain't wishful thinking).

Summary

    An intriguing and exciting series that barely got started, presented well on four well-made DVDs.

    The video quality is very good considering that it is in a particular style.

    The audio quality is very good.

    The extras are extensive, and include lots of good commentaries and three episodes that were never aired — there's not much else we could ask for.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Saturday, July 31, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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Comments (Add)
Great show - movie on the way -
The Movie - Craggles (Behold the mighty bio!!)
The Movie -
shiny! - orangecat (my kingdom for a decent bio)
To Orangecat -
Audio dropouts - IgorWopatropski
Missing scene? -
Missing scene? - No - Wrothy
Thanks, Wrothy -
The film...wow! - REPLY POSTED
RE: The film...wow! - IgorWopatropski REPLY POSTED
Hope -
Early Whedon - Neil
Definitely getting this.. - REPLY POSTED
Definitely getting this.. (reply to reply) -
Was the Firefly DVD set ever released in NZ? -
Was the Firefly DVD set ever released in NZ? (Reply) - Mopy (read my bio)
Was the Firefly DVD set ever released in NZ? (thanks) -