Wednesday, June 1, 2016


Serenity (film)

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Serenity One Sheet.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoss Whedon
Produced byBarry Mendel
Written byJoss Whedon
StarringNathan Fillion
Alan Tudyk
Adam Baldwin
Summer Glau
Chiwetel Ejiofor
Music byDavid Newman
CinematographyJack Green
Edited byLisa Lassek
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release dates
  • August 22, 2005 (EIFF)
  • September 30, 2005
Running time
119 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$39 million[2]
Box office$38.9–40.1 million[2][3]
Serenity is a 2005 American space western film written and directed by Joss Whedon. It is a continuation of Whedon's short-lived 2002 Fox science fiction television series Firefly and stars the same cast, taking place after the events of the final episode. Set in 2517, Serenity is the story of the captain and crew of Serenity, a "Firefly-class" spaceship. The captain and first mate are veterans of the Unification War, having fought on the losing Independent side against the Alliance. Their lives of smuggling and cargo-running are interrupted by a psychic passenger who harbors a dangerous secret.
The film stars Nathan FillionAlan TudykAdam BaldwinSummer Glau and Chiwetel Ejiofor. It was released in North America on September 30, 2005 by Universal Pictures. The film received generally positive reviews, and won several awards, including theHugo Award for Best Dramatic PresentationPrometheus Special Award and the Nebula Award for Best Script.


In the 26th century, humanity has left an overpopulated Earth, colonizing many planets and moons. The central planets formed the Alliance and won a war against the outer planet Independents—those refusing to join the Alliance. River Tam is among the young people being coercively conditioned by Alliance scientists to be psychic assassins. She is rescued by her brother Simon. During her training, River inadvertently read the minds of several officers and might have learned top government secrets. Consequently, a top Alliance agent known only as the Operative is tasked with recapturing her.
The siblings have found refuge aboard the transport spaceship Serenity, captained by smuggler and Independent war veteran Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds. Despite Simon's objections, Mal brings River on a bank robbery where they are attacked by the savage and cannibalistic Reavers. They escape, but Simon decides he and River will leaveSerenity at the next port. Once there, however, a television commercial causes River to go berserk and attack numerous patrons of a bar, and Mal takes the siblings back aboard the ship. The crew contacts reclusive hacker Mr. Universe, who discovers within the commercial a subliminal message designed to trigger River's mental conditioning. He notes River whispered "Miranda" before attacking and warns them that someone else saw the footage.
Mal receives a call from Inara Serra, a former Serenity occupant, who invites him for a visit. Despite knowing it is a trap, Mal goes to rescue her. At Inara's place, the Operative confronts Mal, promising to let him go free if he turns over River. Mal refuses and escapes with Inara. River reveals that Miranda is a planet located beyond a region of space swarming with Reavers. The crew flies to the planet Haven to ponder their next move. They find Haven devastated and their old friend, Shepherd Book, is mortally wounded. The Operative contacts them, claiming responsibility for the killings. He promises to keep pursuing them and killing anyone who assists them until he captures River.
Despite the crew's objection, Mal orders disguising Serenity as a Reaver ship and travels to Miranda. On the planet, the crew find the colonists dead. A distress beacon leads them to a recording by the last surviving member of an Alliance survey team. She explains that an experimental chemical designed to suppress aggression was added into Miranda's air. Most residents became so docile they stopped functioning and allowed themselves to die. A small portion of the population had the opposite reaction and became exceedingly aggressive and violent, turning into Reavers.
Mal contacts Mr. Universe and asks him to widely broadcast the recording. However, the Operative has got to him first. The Operative mortally wounds him, destroys most of his transmitting equipment and prepares an ambush on Mr. Universe's planet. Mal suspects a trap, and travels to the planet to make sure the recording is broadcast. On the way, they provoke the Reaver fleet into pursuing them. While the Reaver fleet clashes with the waiting Alliance fleet, Serenity crash lands near the broadcast tower. Wash, Serenity's pilot, is killed when by Reavers after they crash land.
The crew make a last stand at the entrance against the Reavers to buy Mal time to broadcast the recording. Through a message recorded by Mr. Universe before his death, Mal learns of a backup transmitter. Sustaining heavy injuries, the crew retreats behind a set of blast doors that fail to properly close. A Reaver shoots through the opening and severely wounds Simon, prompting River to charge through the doors and close them as the Reavers drag her away. At the backup transmitter, Mal incapacitates the Operative and forces him to watch the broadcast recording. Mal returns to the crew, and the blast doors open to reveal that River killed the Reavers. Alliance troops reach the group, but the Operative orders them to stand down.
The Operative provides medical aid and resources to repair Serenity. The crew erects memorials for their fallen friends. Simon consummates his romantic relationship with mechanic Kaylee Frye, as an inquisitive River looks on from hiding. The Operative tells Mal the broadcast has weakened the Alliance government. While he will try to convince the Parliament that River and Simon are no longer threats, he cannot guarantee the Alliance will end their pursuit. Inara decides that she will remain with the crew, and Serenity takes off with River as Mal's co-pilot.


The nine returning Firefly cast members. Left: from left to right, top to bottom: Ron GlassSummer GlauAlan TudykSean MaherAdam BaldwinJewel StaiteMorena Baccarin, andNathan Fillion in 2005. Right: Gina Torres in 2008.
  • Nathan Fillion as Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds, a former sergeant (now captain of his privately owned ship) on the losing side of the Unification War, he struggles to survive free and independent of the Alliance.
  • Gina Torres as Zoe Washburne (née Alleyne): A former corporal who fought under Mal in the war, and Wash's wife. She is the second-in command of Serenity, and is fiercely loyal to Mal, whom she addresses as "sir".
  • Alan Tudyk as Hoban "Wash" Washburne: The pilot of the ship, and Zoe's husband. He often acts as a voice of reason on the ship.
  • Morena Baccarin as Inara Serra, a Companion who formerly rented one of Serenity's shuttles. In one of the Operative's traps, Mal is reunited with Inara at her training house, and the two escape back to Serenity.
  • Adam Baldwin as Jayne Cobb, a mercenary skilled with weapons, Jayne is often the "main gun" for jobs and is someone who can be depended on in a fight.[4] Jayne acts and seems dumb most of the time, but may be smarter than he lets on.[5] As Whedon states several times, he is the person that will ask the questions that no one else wants to.[6]
  • Jewel Staite as Kaywinnet Lee "Kaylee" Frye:[7][8] the ship's mechanic, has an intuitive, almost symbiotic, relationship with machines and is, consequently, something of a mechanical wizard. She is also notable for a persistently bright and sunny disposition, and her crush on Simon Tam.
  • Sean Maher as Simon Tam, River's loving older brother who helped rescue her from the Alliance. He and River are taken in by the crew of Serenity. A trauma surgeon before the rescue, he serves as a doctor to the crew. His life is defined by his sister's needs.[5]
  • Summer Glau as River Tam, a 17-year-old psychic genius. She and her brother are taken in by the crew of Serenity after he rescues her from an Alliance Academy where she was subjected to medical experimentation and brainwashing. Foy suggests that the Alliance "...prepares her to become an assassin and spy..."[9] The Alliance's pursuit of River acts as the film's motive. More abstractly the film is the "story of Mal as told by River".[10]
  • Ron Glass as Shepherd Derrial Book, a shepherd, or preacher, with a mysterious past, Book was once a passenger on Serenity, but now resides on the planet Haven. Mal and the crew look to him for help.
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor as The Operative, a ruthless intelligence agent of the Alliance assigned to track down River and Simon. Although Ejiofor was on the top of the casting director's list for the role, the studio wanted someone better known. Whedon was eventually able to cast Ejiofor.[11]
  • David Krumholtz as Mr. Universe, a "techno-geek" with good relations with the crew of Serenity, especially Wash, Mr. Universe lives with his "love-bot" wife and monitors incoming signals from around the universe.



The film is based on Firefly, a television series canceled by the Fox Broadcasting Company in December 2002, after 11 of its 14 produced episodes had aired.[12] Attempts to have other networks acquire the show failed,[13] and creator Joss Whedon started to sell it as a film.[14] He had been working on a film script since the show's cancellation.[15]Shortly after the cancellation, he contacted Barry Mendel, who was working with Universal Studios, and "flat-out asked him" for a way to continue the series as a film, including as a low-budget television film. Mendel introduced Whedon to then Universal executive Mary Parent. She had seen Firefly and immediately signed on to the project, even though Whedon had yet to create a story.[12] Whedon remarked,
Universal came in where I thought nobody else would, and quite frankly, I'm not sure anybody else would've, with absolute faith and has maintained it. It's been the easiest process in terms of dealing with a studio that I've ever had. And they turned it into—not a blockbuster, which is not what I was trying to make, but not a low-budget movie either. They wanted to make a real movie out of it. They wanted to give us the scope that the show could never have had. So all I had to do was come up with a story that was worth that.[12]
In July 2003, Whedon said that though there was interest in the project, "I won't know really until I finish a draft whether or not it's genuine."[16] He felt that any film deal was contingent on keeping the show's original cast,[16] though he later stated that retaining the cast was "never an issue" as Universal executives believed the cast suitable after watching every episode of the series.[17]
In early September 2004, a film deal with Universal was publicly confirmed. Universal acquired the rights to Firefly shortly before the confirmation.[18] Whedon felt that the strong sales of the Firefly DVD, which sold out in less than twenty-four hours after the pre-order announcement,[18] "definitely helped light a fire and make them [Universal] go, 'Okay, we've really got something here.' It definitely helped them just be comfortable with the decisions they were making, but they really had been supporting us for quite some time already."[12] Whedon felt it was "important people understand that the movie isn't the series", and so the project was titled Serenity.[19]


After Universal acquired the film rights from Fox, Whedon began writing the screenplay. His task was to explain the premise of a television series that few had seen without boring new viewers or longtime fans. He based his story on original story ideas for Firefly's un-filmed second season.[20] Whedon's original script was 190 pages, and attempted to address all major plot points introduced in the series. After presenting the script to Barry Mendel under the title "The Kitchen Sink", Whedon and Mendel collaborated on cutting down the script to a size film-able under his budget constraints.[20] All nine principal cast members from the television series were scheduled to return for the movie, but Glass and Tudyk could not commit to sequels, leading to the death of their characters in the second draft of the script.[21] The tightened script and a budget Mendel and Whedon prepared were submitted to Universal on a Friday and on the following Monday morning, Stacey Snider, then head of Universal, called Mendel to officially greenlight the movie.[22]
Universal planned to begin shooting in October 2003, but delays in finishing the script postponed the start of shooting to June 2004.[12]


Diamond Ranch High Schoolserved as the location of the planet Miranda.
Principal photography for Serenity was originally estimated to require eighty days, lasting a typical twelve to fourteen hours each, with a budget of over $100 million. Unwilling to approve of such a large budget, Universal Studios wished to shoot abroad to minimize production costs. However, Whedon, reluctant to uproot his family, insisted that filming take place locally and maintained that it was possible for a local production to cost fewer days and less than half the expected budget.[23] On March 2, 2004,[19] the film was greenlit for production with a budget of under $40 million.[24] At the project's completion, the film spent $39 million,[2][23] considered low for a science fiction action film featuring heavy special effects.[24][25]
Serenity was filmed over a period of fifty ten-hour days,[23] beginning June 3, 2004 and ending September 17, 2004.[26][27] The film was primarily shot on Universal Studio sound stages with locations throughout Los Angeles.[24] The sequence where the crew is pursued by Reavers after a bank robbery was filmed along the Templin Highway north of Santa Clarita. The shoot typically would have lasted thirty days, but the production completed filming the sequence in five days. Pyrotechnics were shot at Mystery Mesa, near Valencia, Californiaover a period of three days rather than a typical two weeks.[23] The scenes on the planet Miranda were filmed at Diamond Ranch High School in Pomona.[28]
The production expected to save money by reusing the Serenity ship interior set from the Firefly television series. However, the set had been built in pieces as episodes called for new rooms on the ship. Using DVD images of the television series as a guide, the set was rebuilt over fourteen weeks on Universal Studios' Stage 12 by twenty-three supervised crews working independently but in coordination with one another.[23]

Visual effects[edit]

As the budget for the film was considerably smaller than for the TV series, practical special effects were used as much as possible: if a computer-generated imagery (CGI)composite was required, as many tangible sets and props as possible were constructed to minimize the use of computer effects.[29] The most technically challenging scene was the mule skiff chase.[29] For budgetary reasons, a gimbal and CGI, much like those used in the pod race in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, were quickly ruled out.[23] Instead, the crew fashioned a trailer with a cantilevered arm attached to the "hovercraft" and shot the scene while riding up Templin Highway north of Santa Clarita.[23]Zoic Studios, the company that produced the graphics for the series, had to perform a complete overhaul of their computer model of Serenity, as the television model would not stand up to the high-definition scrutiny of cinema screens (and high-definition video resolution).[30][31]

Musical score[edit]

Main article: Serenity (soundtrack)
In pre-production memos, Whedon described his vision for the score as "spare, intimate, mournful and indefatigable". Just as the landscape and speech drew from elements of the Western, he wished the same of the musical style and instrumentation. However, he did not want to step too far into Western clichés to "cause justified derision" and hoped the score would also draw from Chinese and other Asian musical elements. He wanted the musical elements "mixed up, hidden, or it's as much a cliché as the western feel. We don't want to be too specific about culture or time. We want to be comfortable enough with the sounds not to let them take us out of the story, but not so comfortable that we begin to be told where the story is." Music was to draw heavily on what could be carried, and he highlighted four instruments: voice, percussion, woodwind, strings particularly guitar. He cautioned against vocal orchestration, believing there to be only two voices in Hollywood and wishing to avoid both, and advised moderation in woodwind, feeling wind instruments to be "either too airy or too sophisticated".[32]
Universal Studios wanted a composer with experience scoring films, ruling out Firefly's composer Greg Edmonson. Whedon first thought of Carter Burwell, of whom Whedon was a fan. However, Whedon later felt that Burwell was not the right choice because as the film changed, the needs of the score changed as well.[33] Burwell found working on the project difficult as it required he work "opposite" to his usual approach.[34] The production would have continued with Burwell, but his other obligations left him little time to compose an entirely new score for Serenity.[33] Burwell was dropped from the project a few weeks before the scheduled February 2005 recording.[34]
David Newman was recommended by Universal's music executives when Whedon requested a composer capable of "everything" and "quickly". Whedon's instructions to Newman for the ship Serenity's theme was something homemade and mournful, evoking the idea of pioneers who only had what they could carry. Whedon wished the theme to let viewers know they were now home. River Tam's theme was played on a uniquely shaped, square, antique piano that was slightly out of tune. The piano reminded Newman of River and composed a "haunting, haunted, vaguely eastern and achingly unresolved" theme that Whedon felt proved Newman's understanding of the film's musical needs.[35]
The score was performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony under Newman's direction.[35] The official soundtrack was released September 27, 2005.[36]


Serenity had its world premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on August 22, 2005.[37][38] The premiere sold out,[37] and the festival arranged for two more screenings on August 24, which sold out in twenty-four hours,[39][40] and in the "Best of the Fest" line-up on August 28.[39] The film was theatrically released September 30, 2005.[2]
Serenity was originally released on traditional film prints. Because the original 2K digital intermediate scans were readily available, the film was chosen by Universal Pictures to test conversion to a Digital Cinema Distribution Master of the film and to "test the workflow required to create a [Digital Cinema Package]." Serenity became the first film to fully conform to Digital Cinema Initiatives specifications, marking "a major milestone in the move toward all-digital projection".[41]


In April 2005, Universal launched a three-stage grassroots marketing campaign. A rough cut of the film was previewed in a total of thirty-five North American cities where theFirefly television series received the highest Nielsen ratings. The screenings did not bear the name of the film and relied on word-of-mouth within the fanbase for promotion. All screenings sold out in less than twenty-four hours, sometimes in as quickly as five minutes.[42] The first screening was held May 5, 2005 in ten cities.[43] The second screening on May 26 increased the number of cities to twenty. In the twenty-four hours following the announcement of the second screening, the Firefly fanbase launched trial and error efforts to uncover the theaters holding the screenings, leading the event to be sold out before the official listing was released.[44] The third screening on June 23 was held in thirty-five cities.[45] A final screening was held at Comic-Con International, followed by a panel with Whedon and the cast.[42]

Session 416 [edit]

Session 416, also known as the R. Tam Sessions,[46] are a series of five short videos anonymously released by Whedon through various websites and message boards as a form of viral marketing.[47][48][49] The first video, bearing the title card "R. Tam, Session 416, Second Excerpt", was released on the iFilm website on August 16, 2005.[47] By September 7, 2005, all five videos had been released.[48] Though a representative from Universal Studios stated to have no knowledge of the videos' origin,[47] the idea to launch an online viral marketing campaign came first from Universal executives. After they approached Whedon with the idea, he decided to use the format to explore events before either the film or the television series.[49] The clips were filmed with a "tiny" crew in a single day shoot and are shot in grainy, low quality, black-and-white.[49][50] They were later included on the Collector's Edition DVD.[50]
The videos, sequenced out of chronological order, depict excerpts of counseling sessions between River Tam, played by Summer Glau, and her unnamed therapist, played by Whedon, while she is held at the Alliance Academy.[48][49][50] They follow her change from shy and sweet child prodigy to the mentally unstable girl of the television series.[51]

Home media[edit]

Serenity was released on Region 1 DVD, VHS, and UMD on December 20, 2005.[52][53] The DVD ranked #3 in sales for the week ending December 25, 2005.[54] Bonus features available on the DVD version audio commentary from Whedon, deleted scenes and outtakes, a short introduction by Whedon originally preluding the film at advance screenings, an easter egg on the creation of the Fruity Oaty Bar commercial, and three featurettes on the Firefly and Serenity universe, special effects, and the revival of the television series to film.[55] Region 2 releases included an additional making-of featurette,[56][57] and Region 4 releases included additional extended scenes, a tour of the set, a feature on cinematographer Jack Green, and a question and answer session with Whedon filmed after an advance screening in Australia.[58]
Serenity was released on HD DVD on April 18, 2006 and was the first Universal Studios film to be released on the format.[59] In January 2007, it also became the first full resolution rip of an HD DVD release uploaded to the BitTorrent network after its title key was ripped from a software player and released online.[60]
A 2-disc Collector's Edition DVD was released for Region 1 on August 21, 2007. In addition to the special features featured on the Region 4, with exception of the question and answer session, the release included Session 416, a documentary on the film, and a second commentary with Whedon and actors Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, Summer Glau, and Ron Glass.[61] The film was released on Blu-ray on December 30, 2008, adding to the special features a video version of the cast commentary, picture-in-picture visual commentary, a two databases of in-universe material, and a digital tour of Serenity.[62]