"People don't appreciate the substance of things" is a line from the final episode of the TV series Firefly, one that was never aired. I can't help feeling that it was director Joss Whedon's way of telling Fox how stupid they were for cancelling the show. But with the release of the follow-up film Serenity this week, all would seem to be right again, and Fox's presence banished. The question that must be asked however, is can one appreciate the substance of Serenity in the wake of Firefly, or for that matter, without its influence?
I cannot answer the latter part. I first watched Firefly back in April, and fell immediately in love with its rich universe, deep characters and snappy dialogue. Obviously the film cannot achieve anywhere near this amount of detail as it lasts little longer than a couple of episodes, so anyone who didn't watch Firefly won't attain the same level of understanding. More to the point, two characters – Inara and Book – appear only in small doses, and their roles are not explained at all. As well as this, Simon's portrayal has changed completely, and the film intro will cause Firefly fans much confusion. Who is this master of disguise indeed?
So maybe I can answer after all. Yes, you can appreciate it if you haven't seen Firefly, but you can't appreciate it as much. If you have watched the series, I fear you will be left feeling a bit disappointed. Serenity was never going to be as good as Firefly, for the reason stated above, but knowing this doesn't stop me thinking that it could still have been a bit better. While there is much in the way of wise-cracking, the banter which drew us into Firefly is a bit on the sparse side. The first 40 minutes were more about action sequences than storytelling - forgivable as a means of attracting a wider audience, but out of place in the context of the series. Equally there is the issue of sound in space. The series had none, as is physically correct, but it appeared (erratically) in Serenity. Once again this was included to make the film more exciting, so I see the reason even if I'd have preferred the silence. Finally, the delivery of the plot point around which the film revolved - the completion of the River storyline - seemed to me to be a bit bland. My thought process at the time was simply "oh", rather than "wow, I never expected that!"
The final worry is that this might be the end. As the film came to a close I was left with a feeling of emptiness, wondering where it can go from here. I only hope that Joss is up to the task of creating new stories as excellent as the old ones (which I'm sure he is), and that he gets that chance. I may have been overly harsh here, but only because I do appreciate the substance of things, and the substance of Firefly is more impressive than that of Serenity. But that is in no way saying that Serenity is bad. It is, in fact, the best sci-fi film I've seen in years.