"You know what the first rule of flying is?... Love. You can learn all the math in the 'verse, but you take a boat in the air that you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as the turn of the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she ought to fall down, tells you she's hurting before she keens. Makes her a home."
Its financial failure shouldn't be taken as any sort of indication of the movie's quality. In fact, the tiny handful of people who actually saw it in the theater mostly liked it. Picking up a few months after the point where the TV series ended (or just stopped, really, since there wasn't any sort of proper ending), the movie brings us back into the adventures of charming scoundrel Capt. Malcolm Reynolds and his ragtag band of rebels as they carouse through outer space like old fashioned Western outlaws, always on the run from the oppressive Alliance authorities. Still harboring the fugitive Dr. Simon Tam and his mysterious, mentally unbalanced sister River, the crew of the ship Serenity must now face a new threat, a relentless Alliance agent known only as The Operative, whose pursuit will finally drive them to discover the dark secrets held in River's scrambled brain.
Opening with a short prologue sequence that recaps the bare essentials of the concept and then immediately jumping ahead past the end of the TV series, the movie is adeptly structured to function equally well for viewers who've seen the show and those who haven't. Knowledge of the series will help to flesh out some of the character development, but it really isn't essential to follow the plot. Unfortunately, this was probably the weak point in Universal's marketing campaign. Lacking any major stars (when Chiwetel Ejiofor is the biggest name in your cast, you've got a tough sell ahead), the movie was pushed heavily on Whedon's reputation alone, and clearly the trailers and TV spots didn't appeal to anyone other than existing Firefly fans, who were just not a large enough group to make the film a financial success.
To be honest, I had mixed feelings about Firefly when it aired, and most of those carried over to the Serenity movie. As a huge fan of Whedon's Buffy and Angel TV series, I had high hopes for Firefly but wound up feeling that its uneasy mix of sci-fi and Western genres was a little undercooked. Maybe it just needed time to grow (Whedon's strength is in long-form storytelling), but at the time it was cancelled I didn't miss it all that much. Giving it a second chance, I thought the show played a lot better on DVD than on broadcast. I liked the characters and dialogue, yet I still never felt it was the groundbreaking masterwork that will forever change the direction of science fiction the way many of its ardent fans (so-called "Browncoats") did. By the same token, I liked the Serenity movie but just wasn't overwhelmed by it. It has a nice mix of humor, action, and deeper character moments, but plays more like a very good TV series finale than like a true feature film. That certainly didn't help its theatrical prospects, though I have to admit that it's nice to finally bring some closure to the storylines left hanging in the series. I can't think of anything specific that I disliked or wish had been handled differently, but I just didn't love the movie, and I really wanted to.
The tin holds a standard keepcase inside. Both use the movie's international poster art, which is a little less awful than the PhotoShop montage found on the Region 1 DVD case, but makes the movie look like a cheesy low-budget '80s fantasy picture, perhaps a sequel to Ice Pirates or Krull. I'm not overly fond of either artwork, honestly.
Australian law now requires every DVD to contain a gigantic ratings certificate on the front cover. Universal has at least been kind enough to make their case art reversible, with the same artwork minus the certificate on the flip-side.
Disc 1 of the Double Disc Edition is coded for playback in Regions 2 or 4, both in the PAL video format, and Disc 2 is coded for Region 4 only. Either will require compatible hardware to operate.
The biggest problem with the Serenity transfer is that it's just too damn dark. The movie has intentionally contrasty photography, and mention is made in the audio commentary of a couple of shots where the actors were deliberately underlit, but even so the transfer goes too far. Bright outdoor scenes look fine, but dark scenes (and there are many) have poor shadow detail and visibility. I don't remember the movie looking this murky in the theater.
PAL speedup on the Australian DVD is unfortunately noticeable in the actors' voices, however.
The disc also contains an alternate Hungarian dub track (seriously!) in Dolby Digital 5.1. A wide variety of subtitles have been provided: English, Finnish, Icelandic, Danish, Hebrew, Norwegian, Dutch, Hungarian, and Swedish. Clearly, this DVD was authored for distribution in multiple countries.
The audio and subtitle options are different on Disc 2. The supplements found there are available in English, French, or Dutch 2.0 audio, with subtitles in those same language options.
The bonus features on Disc 1 of the Double Disc Edition are mostly identical to the Region 1 DVD release. The 4-minute Joss Whedon Introduction was filmed for one of the movie's advance test screenings and lets the director explain his passion for the project. The highlight of the disc, as expected, is the audio commentary by Whedon. Fans of his previous works know how good Whedon's commentaries are, and this is no exception. Topics covered include his Mission Statement for the film and how his vision of the future was conceptualized. The talk is technical at times but never boring.
Six minutes of outtakes feature lots of cursing by the cast. Eleven deleted scenes with optional commentary run 15 minutes. Many of them are scene extensions rather than whole new scenes. Much footage of Inara was excised from the film. A few of these scenes would have worked had they been retained.
Following this are several featurettes. Future History: The Story of Earth That Was is a 5-minute recap of the Firefly TV series backstory. What's in a Firefly is a 7-minute look at the visual effects. The 10-minute Re-Lighting the Firefly talks about how a cancelled TV series could spawn a feature film, and lavishes much praise on the fan-base for supporting the project.
The Fruity Oaty Good Time easter egg from the Region 1 DVD is here as well, found by pressing Left from the "Play" option on the main menu and selecting the highlighted triangle on the right-hand side of the screen. This thing really defies description, but is strangely addictive.
Not found in Region 1 is the 20-minute A Filmmaker's Journey, which spends most of its time showing how happy everyone was to be working together again. The remaining new features are all found on Disc 2. The bulk of that disc is dedicated to the 55-minute Question and Answer Session that was taped after the advance screening in Sydney, Australia. Whedon is very gracious and witty, and answers just about any question the fans could think to ask him, until one of them requests that he do the Dance of Joy. At this early stage prior to the movie's release there was much hope for a sequel, which clearly will never happen now.
Four new extended scenes are presented in anamorphic widescreen; they show us some footage that was mentioned in Whedon's audio commentary but not seen on Disc 1. The Take a Walk on Serenity featurette is a 4-minute tour of the set, and is reminiscent of a similar feature in the Firefly DVD box set. Finally, a 3-minute piece called The Green Clan focuses on cinematographer Jack Green.
No ROM supplements have been included.
Although I didn't love Serenity as much as I'd hoped, the movie is still a fine, very entertaining sci-fi adventure. For most viewers, the Region 1 DVD should suffice, but bigger fans will want to seek out the international release which has more bonus features and different packaging, and comes recommended.