Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Serenity Pilot Is Superior to Serenity the Movie Due to Its Ability to Portray Slices of Life

1 July 2007

I am fine with the result of the recent SFX Magazine poll of 3000 science fiction fans, cited by the BBC, designating Serenity the best science fiction movie ever made. It goes without saying that Serenity’s ability to depict ordinary life in a future setting places it at a higher level than George Lucas’ higher budget Star Wars series, which must rely on such devices as “the Force” in order to draw us into his mythical imagined world.

However, on careful consideration, I thought it worth mentioning that the pilot episode for the Firefly television series, also entitled “Serenity,” is in fact superior to Serenity the movie, and thus, in my opinion, the best piece of dramatized science fiction so far created.

I wish only to comment briefly at this time on the distinction between the two eponymous works.

Serenity the pilot portrays numerous slices of life in the daily experiences of the crew of the space-faring vessel of the same name. There are hints at bigger issues and grander schemes operating in the background, but the pilot episode is mostly about what it might be like to live on a spaceship and to survive at the edges of the human galactic diaspora 500 years in the future.

Serenity the movie focuses on the grand conflict between the totalitarian “Alliance” and a few free people now scattered throughout our corner of the galaxy. There is relentless pursuit by a genocidal Alliance antagonist, with heavy and continuing casualties resulting from the ruthlessness of the Alliance, and an ultimate discovery of the Alliance’s deepest secret following a brutal battle with the dreaded and self-deforming Reavers in the former heart of human interplanetary civilization.

In the pilot episode, we witness a space salvage operation, double and triple-crossing transactions concerning the salvage from this operation, the taking on of the passengers who ultimately form the heart of Firefly’s cast, early hints as to the mysterious status of River Tam, an encounter with an Alliance undercover agent, a first encounter with the brutal Reavers, and powerful character development through illustration of the characters’ responses to relentlessly trying and testing circumstances. As we come to know the characters and to witness how they live through both small and major events, we develop a bond with each of them.

In Serenity the movie, there are continued hints at daily life, but the focus is more at the level of the grand conflict with the Alliance. It is an engaging dramatic device, but to my taste, the slices of life in the pilot are ultimately more satisfying than the grand and costly conflict portrayed in the movie.

I love both Serenity the movie and Serenity the pilot, don't get me wrong, but after some rewatching, I feel confident in suggesting that the pilot stands at a higher level of accomplishment than the movie, which, though more expensively produced, is considerably more plot and theme driven and far more loss-absorbed than the pilot

I have commented previously that the supreme accomplishment of Robert Heinlein’s science fiction writing (never yet satisfactorily transferred to the screen), is in Heinlein's ability to draw us into daily life in an imagined future.

Credit Joss Whedon for his work on both “Serenity” episodes and the Firefly series. Mr. Whedon is in my view the first to accomplish on film what Heinlein achieved in literature, and this is a noteworthy development.


Mr. Whedon commented on August 3, 2007 that strong sales for the soon-to-be-released special edition DVD of Serenity could possibly spark a sequel to a very well-received movie. He does not indicate any communication on the matter with Universal Studios, but he argues that the original project is now in the black, and that a successful special edition launch would cement Serentiy the movie as a successful commercial venture. Under these conditions, Mr. Whedon felt that the studio could possibly rethink a sequel.

He also indicated that the special edition DVD includes truly new special features, including an all-new commentary, as well as an expanded "making of" featurette and the well-received River Tam sessions, produced for the internet in advance of the movie.

I will add that a sequel to the movie is more hopeful than a sequel to the television series, given Mr. Whedon's positive relationship with Universal Studios, versus his more difficult relationship with Fox Network, the producers of Firefly.


  1. Do your part to keep Serenity alive and maybe one day Fox will bring it back. Keep up the posts on the subject.

  2. Maybe one day we can be sponsors for the program!

  3. I wanted to share some of the dialogue from the FireflyFans site:

    LaurenceHunt Sunday, July 08, 2007 - 04:23

    Your comment helps me clarify the idea. Basically, the strength of the Firefly series is that it doesn't need the big special effects - and I think Star Wars did, for example. The big effects are fun, but they are really secondary to the story, which is about character development against the background of a world changed by the passage of time and the evolution of human history and technology. Really, even the Alliance vs. Browncoats idea is secondary. Joss is making us think about what life could be like if we have to abandon our mother planet, but have the vitality to start all over again perhaps dozens or hundreds of times on that many planets and moons in some corner of the galaxy somewhere (never really specified). Again, the pilot is more about the answer to this question than is the movie, which is taken up with bigger ideas. The big ideas are interesting, but the portrayals of the texture of life in the pilot are more interesting still.

    BlueEyedBrigadier Saturday, July 07, 2007 - 19:17

    Really says something when a 2 hour TV episode (2-parter, natch) beats out it's movie counterpart that runs for roughly the same length of time. Though the movie's story did benefit from the larger operating budget for doing stuff like the Hover Mule chase and flight through the Alliance-Reaver battle;)


    msg Monday, July 02, 2007 - 06:09

    Hear hear!!!

  4. I think I might agree with you. The show was about all the characters and their stories, and more relaxed. The movie seemed more obviously science fiction and not about as many characters.

    I think the movie was the best they could do with only having a couple of hours in which to tell the story.

  5. Thanks for adding those thoughts.

    I know Whedon wanted the movie to have the tragic dimensions of life as it is, though perhaps at the time his perspective was impacted by the cancellation of the Firefly series, which was his favourite story. The deaths of central characters was certainly a way of telling us that the story of the series couldn't continue.

    On top of that, the studios press the writer to fill up the story with action sequences, on the assumption that the audience will lose interest if the focus is on narrative alone.

    Certainly Fox tipped everything off balance by refusing to present the series in the order in which it was originally intended. Universal was far more accommodating, though I think still locked into the idea that "action" is necessary to win audiences.

    I guess ultimately Serenity the Pilot was about beginnings, and the movie was about endings. But whatever rationalization one offers, the pilot developed the characters in a way that the movie was less able to do (with the obvious exception of the revelation of River's identity).