"[Firefly] was ignored and abandoned, and the story should end there; but it doesn't, because the people who made the show and the people who saw the show fell in love with it a little bit too much to let it go, too much to lay down arms when the battle looked pretty much lost. In Hollywood, people like that are called unrealistic, quixotic, obsessive. In my world, they're called Browncoats." - Joss Whedon
In September of 2005, a little-film-that-could named Serenity [review] opened in theaters across the country to largely rave reviews and glowing praise from Firefly fans and newcomers alike. It was the end result of tireless effort from countless individuals, defying all odds to turn an unknown and immediately cancelled television series into a major motion picture that was more than just a discarded bone for the fans, but a bona fide kickass film with intelligence and heart and depth and purpose and a wide-reaching appeal that anyone could enjoy. This doesn't happen, and yet it did. Done the Impossible seeks to show us how.
N.B. This documentary discusses certain key plot elements of the film Serenity. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend you do. It is a wonderful film, and it should be seen before watching this DVD.
When I first heard about this DVD, I didn't really know what to expect. It is fan-made, fan-produced, and stars -- you guessed it -- fans. There are so many ways in which this could go horribly wrong, and yet it doesn't. Done the Impossible tells a coherent and surprisingly high-quality 79-minute tale of the rise and fall and rebirth of Firefly, Serenity, and the Browncoat movement. It is clearly made for the fans (and this review may be largely irrelevant since I'm sure nearly all of them already own it or will soon), but through interviews with the cast and crew and countless fans, it paints a fairly clear and organized picture of this particular fan movement and should be accessible to viewers who are somewhat new to the 'Verse as well.
The piece is hosted by Adam Baldwin who stars as Jayne Cobb in the franchise. Savvy with the Internet, and frequently engaging with fans behind the scenes, Baldwin has remained one of the biggest cheer leaders for this slice of fandom, and it is entirely appropriate that he serve as host for the documentary. He appears from time to time to introduce certain segments or provide some perspective on events that took place in the story's timeline. While some of the writing for his segments is a tad clunky at times, he does an excellent job presenting it, and adds a level of warmth and humor to overall project.
Much of this documentary is composed of interview footage, but periodically it pauses to show us some of the wonderful creativity of the Browncoats involved, with artwork and costumes and songs that express their devotion to the 'Verse. Some of it is better than others, but a lot of it is really quite good, and it is a reminder that the people who watch these shows and get so caught up in a love for them are not necessarily the 30-year-old virgins living in their parents' basements whom Shatner mocked on Saturday Night Live. They're unique and talented individuals with something to share with the world, and fandom for something meaningful gives them the outlet to do so.
Adding a level of weight to the piece is the inclusion of some key individuals in the genre, most notably author Orson Scott Card. While I don't agree with all of his opinions on what makes a good television show and what doesn't, the man has proven to be a brilliant author, and when he speaks about things of this nature, you cannot help but sit up and listen. It is one thing to have Joe Fan and Jane Flan tell you how great the franchise is, but when a Hugo and Nebula award winner says so with such conviction, it carries weight and might make a newcomer take it a bit more seriously. Hearing from him is one of the more interesting aspects of the production.
What you find in the interview footage with the fans is that these people absolutely adored the show Firefly and would do anything to see it continue in any form. What they have done to this point is very impressive and worthy of praise, but it is not unprecedented, and while most of them exhibit a reasonable perspective on the situation, there are a few interview segments where I felt the individuals were a little too impressed with themselves and didn't give fair respect to those who came before. Beyond the legend of Trek, I remember when fans found success bombarding WB with Tobasco bottles in their effort to save Roswell and the incredibly organized and multi-tiered advertising campaign 'Scapers waged to bring back Farscape, targeting specific ad revenue, marching on SFC's headquarters, and holding rallies all over the world. And it's not limited to science fiction. Fans of the brilliant Once & Again raised tens of thousands of dollars and one-upped the classic "Ad in Variety" concept with a massive billboard in West Hollywood for all to see. This is what great fans do, and it is wonderful. I don't intend to soapbox here, but when I hear someone talking about how one show's fans are better than another show's fans, it irks me. They're all great, and anyone who fights to keep quality entertainment from being lost admit the cacophony of uninspired formulaic bores is worthy of note. That said, I must be clear that this is a minor complaint with only a few interviews, and the overwhelming majority of those who appear in this film are reasonable and respectful. Having met many Browncoats over the years myself, including numerous individuals from this film, I can confirm that they are a great group, and they certainly have my respect.
I think what makes this story unique, though, isn't that there are great and devoted fans. As noted, many shows have had this level of fan support, campaigning for content, enjoying each other's company, and working for charity. What is interesting about the Browncoats is that it's more than just fans watching from home. It's the writers and producers and actors and musicians and effects experts and everyone involved with the project. Their love for the work they've done cannot be ignored, and it oozes all over the convention floors and message boards and this documentary. When you see an interview or a panel with someone from this show, and he or she really gets honest about the feelings inside, you realize that it's as important to those who actually created the work as it is to those who watch it. It is more than just another job, but something truly special that is meaningful in their lives. The fans are a huge part of it, pestering executives, flaunting their buying power, and giving emotional support to those fighting the battle on the inside, but at the end of the day, Serenity exists because people like Joss Whedon and Mary Parent refused to let it die, and while this film is mostly about the fans, it does a decent job presenting just how this cancelled television series actually became a film in terms of the real business behind it, and kudos to them for interviewing Mary Parent, one of the unsung heroes of this tale. I would have liked to see even more of this, but Done the Impossible is about the fans, and it is understandable that they are the primary focus.
On the whole, Done the Impossible is a relatively entertaining documentary about the fan movement for one of television's great tragedies and its subsequent rebirth. There are times when it is a bit too wink-wink for the casual viewer, but I think that someone who has seen the film and is not already entrenched in the community will likely enjoy watching it. It is organized and coherent and gets its points across without dragging on for too long. 79 minutes is about the perfect length, and I have to commend the editors for doing a surprisingly effective job with the structure. It isn't Trekkies, but it's pretty good.
Done the Impossible is presented on a single DVD in a standard case. The video is a 16x9 widescreen presentation with anamorphic enhancement. Considering the nature of the documentary, there are numerous lighting problems and inconsistencies in the video quality, but for a low-budget fan-made piece, it looks as good as one could hope. English 2.0 audio is offered, and it sounds fine. It certainly isn't remarkable in any way, but there really isn't any need for it to be much more than it is. English subtitles are available as well.
WHISTLES & BELLS:
Devoted fans should be forced to produce all DVDs. This release is so clearly a labor of love, and the devotion shines through with an incredible array of special features and a great menu structure for accessing them. From the opening fake warning message on the DVD, it is obvious that the producers gave everything to this project and tried their best to make it worthy, with numerous clever touches, right down to the shadows on the scrolling DVD credits. If only the big studios would do the same. First off, there is an Audio Commentary with the film's producers: Brian Wiser, Jared Nelson, Jason Heppler, Jeremy Neish, and Tony Hadlock. When they make an effort to provide genuine commentary, it is quite good, and they do that for most of the track. There is some good insight into their process here and a great respect for their subject matter. Unfortunately, there are times when it's just a bunch of guys in a room talking about random stuff, and the commentary suffers from it. Be careful not to have your audio turned up too high, because when these guys start guffawing into their microphones, it can generate some painful distortion. For the most part, though, it makes for a good listen.
There is an Interactive Timeline that chronicles the entire story in small dated tidbits, and like most everything else on the DVD, it contains audio segments narrated by Jewel Staite (Kaylee Frye) as well as video clips for certain sections. Be aware that there are a couple of places where it looks like there is a link to some video, but it isn't actually available. Also narrated by Jewel is a section called About DVD-ROM that provides a video instruction for how to access additional features via DVD-ROM, with separate versions for Mac and PC users. Aside from the annoying way they keep trumpeting Mac superiority on this DVD, this is a really cool inclusion for novice computer users. A scrolling-text feature called What is Firefly that talks about the concept of the show and the ship itself is also narrated by Jewel. She really does a good job with this stuff.
'Verse Dictionary is a very thorough and detailed text-based section that talks about terminology from both the show and the fandom, Equality Now (7:14) is a short video on the fans' dedication to the charity followed by an official 30-second ad for the cause, and Tribute to Lux (8:37) is a tribute to the much beloved Browncoat Lux Lucre. This latter featurette is very moving and indicative of just how close fandom can bring people together from all over the world. An entire section of the DVD is devoted to the Sponsors who helped bring it to life, and users can navigate through them and get URLs and information on their products and services. A section called Music is devoted to the fan artists who contributed background music for the documentary. 7 of them are featured here, with textual biographies, one of their songs playing in the background, and even a music video from the Bedlam Bards and Emerald Rose.
Finally (for the main DVD, that is), there is a Trivia Quiz with Easy, Medium, and Hard levels. The questions are random, and the "Hard" level is pretty difficult. Of note, some DVD players may struggle processing the randomizer in this section. If your DVD keeps locking up, you may need to try another player. If you get 10 out of 10 questions right on the "Hard" level (I'm embarrassed to say that I did), you reach the first Easter Egg on the disc. I won't spoil what it is, simply because it is so absolutely hilarious and unlike anything I've ever seen. I was in the audience at Dragon*Con 2005 [report] where Jewel discussed this, but I never could have imagined its full impact until seeing it here.
There are 3 other Easter Eggs on the DVD, and they're disguised well enough that I hesitate to ruin them by detailing exactly how to get to them here. I guess you could just go look it up somewhere else, though, so I may as well tell you. If you really don't want to know, skip the rest of this paragraph and the next one. Egg #2 can be accessed from the DVD Credits section by pressing the up arrow on the Bonus Menu button. This is by far the most creative, most hilarious, most downright geeky Easter Egg access I have ever seen, and I'm still laughing at it as I type this. If you can get past this, not only will you get 30 lives, but you'll see a video of some outtakes and additional material (9:27) that didn't make it into the final product. This piece is edited very, very well, and it is absolutely hilarious.
Egg #3 can be found while watching the documentary itself. When you see the image of Thor pop up, click on him. You'll be treated to a beautiful segment (6:04) that chronicles his historic moment in Firefly fandom. Egg #4 is a trailer for the documentary (1:45) and can be reached by hitting the right arrow from the Main Menu button on the Bonus Features menu.
On the DVD-ROM is something called IVEX (Interactive Viewing Experience) that, if it works correctly, provides an incredible amount of additional material, including the full interviews, a scrolling script that accompanies the video, and search functions if you want to find dialogue from a star or a friend. It would be spectacular if it worked, but unfortunately, it frequently crashes on my PC. The producers have indicated that they are working on a patch to fix this problem. Considering how cutting-edge this DVD is and the fact that it's being produced by fans, I'm willing to cut them some slack in this area. Let's face it, most DVD-ROM content on DVDs is useless fluff. At least they're trying, and the DVD is really quite impressive in every other way.
Update: The DVD creators have released a patch for PC users (still in beta) that, in my case at least, seems to have solved all the problems with IVEX. It can be found at www.donetheimposssible.com or from this direct link. This makes the DVD even better and adds hours upon hours of bonus material, with the potential for more at a later date.
The story of Firefly and Serenity is a remarkable one, and the devoted fans played a huge role in it. Done the Impossible is a solid documentary that tells the story of those fans through their own words and gives some perspective to how all of this came about. With a good running time, it is largely entertaining, and while Browncoats will almost certainly love it to death, newbies will likely enjoy it as well. The true gem of this DVD, though, is the disc itself. It is beautifully organized, with so much animation and detail, and it is clear that someone put a lot of thought and effort and love into this project. If I could get all the features to work, I could be even more enthusiastic than I already am, but it's still a good documentary on a fantastic DVD, and I Highly Recommend it.