Can’t Take the Sky From Me

Can’t Take the Sky From Me

The cast of Joss Whedon's FireflyI finally got around to watching Firefly, Joss “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” Whedon’s short-lived Science Fiction Space Western series. I picked it up on a whim several months ago after hearing some buzz about it being cancelled before its time…a mere 9 episodes aired on Fox, at random times and in random order, before it disappeared. The complete series on DVD includes those 9 episodes plus several ones that have never been seen. With over a thousand reviews on Amazon and a solid 5-star ranking, I was hopeful that Firefly would offer a fix for my post-Farscape depression.

Obligatory Spaceship PicThe look of the show isn’t your typical SciFi fare. If you’re used to watching SF with obvious visual cues, you wouldn’t think Firefly was the sort of thing you’d like. On the surface, the show looks like a western, from the dress to the accents right on down to the revolvers and lever-action rifles. There are no aliens, just humans.

Superficially, comparisons that come to mind are Farscape, Cowboy Bebop and Enterprise. You’ve got the rag-tag crew on a ship that’s trying to keep below the radar of the oppressive bad guys. It has a similar rough-and-tumble aura…there’s no prime directive here to get in the way. What I like about the show is the cast of characters…there’s 9 of them, and it’s an ensemble representing, of all things, a family. Farscape’s cast, by comparison, has sharply-defined characters that seem to share the same space. Firefly’s cast feels more maleable, wearing on each other and exuding a surprising warmth that belies their criminal exterior. While watching, I suddenly understood how a friend of mine felt about running his company in a particular way…there’s a morality that goes with being part of a crew, and that’s important. It’s not the same as “doing the right thing”, which leads to some powerful moments in later episodes.

There are other interesting touches:

  • Everyone speaks Mandarin Chinese (albeit badly)…part of the premise is that the two major universal languages are English and Chinese. Apparently they get away with some interesting swearing this way.

  • There was a civil war and forced unification of the independent worlds under “The Alliance”…the captain was on the losing side, is sick of war, and keeps flying out a little farther into the Frontier.

  • The Cowboy aura permeates the show, from the expressions to the environments to the props. The inner worlds of the Alliance, however, are colder and more opulent in the mandarin sense.

  • There’s also a nice contrast in Alliance technology and ships…it’s kind of a blend between the Imperial architecture of Star Wars and Singapore.

  • I also like the theme song…it’s a ballad, like Enterprise, but it’s terser and reflects that independent Western desire to be free. The Enterprise theme song, is more of a Guns ‘n Roses gospel anthem.. I like it too, but it seems bloated and excessive by comparison:

            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.
    
  • There’s a lot of Buffyverse actor cross-polination, if you like that kind of thing. Captain Mal Reynolds was “Caleb” in the last season of Buffy, and Zoe was “Jasmine” in the second-to-last season of Angel. Yes, I’m a nerd.

  • The spaceship CG is different from the normal fare: it simulates hand-held cameras in places, with rack-focus and depth-of-field effects. They’ve also chosen to show the action without sound…when a scene is in space, it’s silent.

  • Kind of a nitpick, but the show seems to have avoided any real attempt at portraying realistic use of firearms. Maybe it’s to show how casual everyone is with guns, but it makes me wince when I see the allegedly experienced crew sweeping each other, fingers on the trigger, as they idly chat and gesture at each other. You’ll shoot your eye out!

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p>It’s an inspiring work that clearly means something to Whedon. There’s going to be a movie in 2005, which hopefully will re-kick off the series. I’m looking forward to it. It deserves to come back.

6 Comments

  1. Ged 15 years ago

    Dunno. I watched the first hour and a half of Firefly when it aired on Fox and gave up. Whedon took too much from other series for this one I think, and I really have no interest in seeing the “old west” in outer space, which is what it seemed like to me. Alot of people seem to like it however, so I’m sure there is something there, but the pilot just didn’t pull me in.

    Passed on the Battlestar Galactica on Sci-Fi because that show killed Farscape, but I guess I’m gonna have to go back and watch it, cause except for Enterprise there really isn’t any other science fiction on TV now. Bah!
    ——-

  2. Emily 15 years ago

    Mandarin as the language of the future? D’OH! Should have studied a little harder back at Taipei Language Institute! :)

    On the other hand, if it’s bad Mandarin that’s the language of the future, I guess I can get by. :)

  3. Dave 15 years ago

    The same thing happened to me when Firefly aired, but apparently the episodes weren’t presented in order thanks to the network executives who wanted more of a “bang” to the start. The Train Job was created to satisfy them. I sort of gave up on the show too after seeing just a few fragments of this and the next episode, because it looked derivative and kind of stupid.

    The real pilot, a two parter that introduced all the characters and their motivations, was actually the **last** show aired before the series was pulled. Watching from the beginning gave me a whole new appreciation of the show, and I’m glad I did.

  4. Dave 15 years ago

    Yup, we’re idiots! Mandarin is the language of the future! You don’t even need to say it right, apparently. The delivery was never that convincing, though apparently the insults were pretty interesting onces translated :-) I just back-linked a link to the site with the translations, so we can finally learn how to swear in chinese! My TLI teachers said there were “no bad words” in Chinese…liars!

  5. Gedeon 15 years ago

    Yet another reason to hate the Fox Network, great! Now I guess I’ll have to go back and watch them (in the correct order). Thanks Dave! This sounds exactly like what happened to Star Trek: TOS when NBC made Roddenberry air “Man Trap” as the first episode to the public instead of the real pilot. Stupid network executives!!!

  6. Dave 15 years ago

    Spineless network executives! Bah! Let me know what you think of the show when you watch it again. Before I saw it in the order, I wondered who the heck all these characters were, and why I should care. The backstory was essential for seeing them more as rip-offs of various SciFi characters…OH, there’s Joss’ version of Aeryn! And there’s a Han Solo knockoff! The glib pilot! Yadda yadda.

    This is a good creative lesson actually… you can have derivative-seeming characters, if your backstory and plotting is compelling enough.