Sunday, June 24, 2018

Jurassic Park (1993) (Movie Review)


   
      As a kid, there was no shortage of things I loved, including superhero’s, the holiday seasons, video games, cartoon characters, but above all, I was a kid who was madly in love with Dinosaurs. Unlike dragons or other cool movie monsters, Dinosaurs were once real creatures, they lived on our very planet, and as a kid I always imagined what it would be like to see one for real. Well, in 1993, everyone got to see Dinosaurs come to life in Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece “Jurassic Park”. Strait to the point, this has been and will always be one of my all time favorite movies. This was the movie experience that made Dinosaurs feel real, and as a kid, I was ecstatic about the idea of a real theme park zoo dedicated solely to Dinosaurs. As far back as I can remember, this was the very first PG-13 movie I ever saw, so in a sense it was my first time dipping my big toe into a grownup world. More importantly, along with the likes of “Star Wars” and “The Wizard of Oz”, “Jurassic Park” was one of those experiences that helped shape my overall love for movies. Obviously, this film was a big game changer in the realms of special effects, and provided no shortage of Dino action, but I hope the entertainment value doesn’t distract modern audience from everything else that the film has to offer. Make no mistake, there is magic in “Jurassic Park”, it’s an experience, with brilliant film-making techniques on display, rich themes, and great characters to boot.  


      Based on the novel by Michael Crichton, "Jurassic Park" tells the tale of what happens when man plays God and then screws with nature. Our venture begins with the introduction of two paleontologists named Alan Grant and his girlfriend Ellie Sattler, who are currently exploring the possibilities of raising children, which is difficult as the former is none to fond of kids. Inter their midst is a theme park owner named John Hammond, who’s impressed with both their knowledge and genuine love of Dinosaurs. Thus, he invites them on a trip to his mysterious park and hopes that they’d sponsor it. Upon visiting, it’s soon revealed that Hammond’s park dose in fact feature real, living, breathing dinosaurs, which scientists have grown from DNA preserved in fossilized mosquitoes. Hammond's proposal is that his guests take one tour of his island park, along with his two young grand-children, and put out a good word on his park. At first, the park is a dream come true, as Dr. Grant finds himself living out his child hood dream to be in the presence of real Dinosaurs. Unfortunately, lurking in their midst is a spy waiting for his chance to steal the Dinosaur embryos for another rival organization. His foolish actions lead to all the park systems shutting down, the power goes off and now all the Dino’s can walk about or go hunting without being restricted by electrical fences. With the situation rapidly getting out of hand, Dr. Grant finds himself separated from the group, and in the care of Hammond's two grandchildren. Thus, the adventure is on as our heroic guests try to escape the theme park, while avoiding both the jaws of a giant T-Rex and the claws of savage Velociraptor's.   



      Now back when I was a just a little kid seeing this film for the first time, all I wanted were cool dinosaurs and fun chases with them. Well, I certainly got both of those, but I surprisingly got more than expected. The first thing this movie absolutely got right was it’s cast of characters, who were all very engaging to watch even at a very young age. Granted, some could right these characters off as cartoony stereotypes, right down to the fact that they all ware color coded clothing, but there’s such a talented ensemble cast bringing them to life that it hardly matters. Dr. Alan Grant is played by Sam Neill, who’s natural charm and charisma absolutely carries the film. 

Even back when I was just a kid, Sam Neill was one of the first actors I ever consciously chose to become a fan of, and it all began here with his portrayal of Alan Grant. I always loved that he wasn’t just a survivor, he also had an arc in which he overcame his distaste toured children, protected the two kids, became a father figure and in the end was finally ready to start a family. Speaking of the kids, they were another crucial ingredient to the film, not just for Dr. Grants arc, but for bringing younger viewers into the experience. It’s through the eyes of these two children that young viewers put themselves in their shoes, and it made both the wonder and danger feel all the more real. Laura Dern is also very lovable as the love interest Dr. Ellie Sattler, who thankfully isn’t poorly stereotyped as a token female. She manages to be strong without drawing too much attention to herself, and her chemistry with Sam Neill is very natural without the need of forced romantic dialogue. Oh, and of course Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Malcom made for one of the most charismatic and memorable characters that the 90’s had to offer. He was the funny, cool guy of the group, but was also very smart and was even the first to take note of the problems in the park well before all the trouble starts. He’s also got the most quotable lines of the film, with the most iconic being “Life finds a way”. His cocky attitude was the perfect offset to Sam Neill’s more stubborn tone, and I just loved watching this cast in general play off one-another.


       Perhaps the most well-rounded character of all is the theme park owner himself John Hammond who’s played masterfully by the late Richard Attenborough. While Sam Neill as Alan Grant has always been my personal favorite character, John Hammond was the most important to get right, and it’s here where the movie really shines. It could have been so easy to make Hammond your typical greedy business man who just wanted to make a fortune from the dinosaurs, but instead he’s the kindest, most lovable and innocent man who just wants to bring joy and wonder to the world. He probably would charge customers for free if he could, but it’s through his simple-minded, if well intended ambitions that the tragedy of the situation really hits home. Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Malcom at one point in the film sums things up with this chilling statement, that Hammond is toying with incredible power, and he’s wielding it like a kid who just found his dads gun. That in a nut-shell sums up the tragedy of John Hammond, as he’s someone with the impulse of a child so caught up in the joy of his discovery that he forgot to see if the safety was off, and suddenly people die because of his stubbornness. I’m also very glad that this movie doesn’t feature a straight forward human villain. We have the saboteur played by Wayne Knight, but he never really becomes a villain of any sort. He’s simply the catalyst for getting the problems started, and once he plays his part in the story, he’s quickly taken out of the picture. It’s also cool to see Samuel L. Jackson in one of his early roles as a park scientist, before he became a famous actor. Surprisingly, his character has one of the most quotable lines of the film … “Hold on to your butts”.


    Now in the wake of “Jurassic Park’s” many sequels, it can be easy for casual viewers to right this film off as just another mindless action film with nothing but exciting Dinosaur attacks throughout. While that’s certainly what the sequels devolved into, some may have forgetting that the first film was much smarter and far more of what I’d like to call an experience, rather then a strait forward action adventure. One of my favorite scenes is the opening helicopter flight, which boasts one of the most triumphant musical scores I’ve ever heard, the scenery is gorgeous, and the whole scene sets the tone for something grand and special before we even see a single Dinosaur. Then we get our first real scene of awe and wonder when our team encounters their first dinosaur. The scene with the Brontosaurs is one of my favorite moments from any action film, because it has nothing to do with action or excitement, it’s just our heroes marveling this beautiful giant, and the music once again just makes my spirit sour. I know that’s a corny thing to say, but it’s true. Obviously, John Williams a legend when it comes to classic music tracks in movies like “Indiana Jones”, “Superman”, “Harry Potter”, “E.T.” and “Star Wars”, but for me, it’s his musical track to "Jurassic Park" that’s always left the biggest impact on me.    


     Another one of my favorite little moments is when the team comes across the sick Triceratops. The scene really has nothing to do with the film, but it’s just another added detail that makes this film feel special. We see Ellie take on the role of a nurse, Grant becomes a child as he’s face to face with his most beloved Dinosaur, and while I’m perfectly aware that this Triceratops is animatronic, it never once felt like a robotic puppet, that thing looked and felt real. This brings me to the films Oscar winning effects, which were more then just a breakthrough in computer generated technology, it was the perfect fusion of CGI and practical animatronics. Looking back, it’s actually quiet refreshing to see how many life like puppets were featured in the film. More to the point, I always looked at “Jurassic Park” as one of the big game changers in special effects. Before this film, Dinosaurs were only ever featured as stop-motion, sock puppets or guys in rubber costumes. This is the film that convinced a generation that these photo realistic Dinosaurs were alive, and that we could reach out into the screen and touch them. If “King Kong” was a mile stone of special effects back in 1933, “Jurassic Park” was the next level of what “King Kong” started, and to this day I really don’t think it’s been surpassed, although there have been some contenders. Also, for an occasionally dark and creepy movie, this was actually a very colorful looking film, and I loved it for that.


        Science Fiction fans can likewise get a lot of enjoyment out of this movie. Granted there’s no space ships or anything we commonly associate with traditional Sci-Fi, but the science behind the creation of these Dinosaurs, while impossible, still make for cool ideas that almost feel plausible. The science also leads to ethical and moral debates, which is yet another great strength to this film. I love seeing these characters sit down at the dinner table and debate the ethics behind what’s happened. I also love the subtle shift in tone, as our visitors go from over joyed wonderment, to very concerned about the moral principles of the science on display. It should be noted that it actually takes over an hour before we have any real Dinosaur attacks, and in that time this film has dazzled us with awe inspiring moments, fleshed out the characters and raised ethical debates. Once the carnage goes down, I feel completely engrossed in the experience and in general it’s some of the best stuff the monster movie genera has ever offered. I’ll never forget seeing this for the first time and thinking I was becoming a big boy for handling the content in the film. Truthfully, while many sequences were intense, I was never really that disturbed by the violence nor do I recall ever being that scared. Actually, the most terrifying part of the film for me was the opening title card sequence, as that eerie music always got me spooked to watch this by myself.


     Now obviously for any kid obsessed with Dinosaurs, the T-Rex is commonly their favorite, and it certainly was for me. I was crazy obsessed with the T-Rex, and seeing this thing come to life on film was the stuff that only dreams were made of. In all seriousness, the T-Rex from “Jurassic Park” will always be one of my favorite movie monsters, and a staple to the art of practical effects. Naturally my favorite scene of whole film was the iconic T-Rex attack in the rain. This scene is filmmaking at it’s finest, and a testament Steven Spielberg’s craft. The build-up to this attack alone is riveting and features one of cinemas most inspired visuals in which a cup of the water ripples due to the vibration of the T-Rex’s giant steps. I love that there’s no music of any sort heard during this attack, it’s only the chilling sounds of falling rain, and speaking of great sounds, that T-Rex roar … oh my, it’s one of my favorite sound designs ever put to film. Also, despite being a very suspenseful sequence, this first T-Rex attack actually has some subtext, as it’s an example of life breaking free from its confinement, and ties back in to the ethical debates of earlier. Another T-Rex highlight of course was the exciting jeep chase, which was both thrilling but also had a great deal of tension, largely thanks to Laura Dern, who’s an excellent screamer.       
      

    Another thing I loved about this film was that it didn’t just resort to dinosaur attacks for exciting sequences. We also have our hero’s escaping a tree before a car topless on them, and we have a deeply tense scene with the boy trying to get over an electrical fence before the power comes on. I should also give this movie credit for introducing me to Raptors. These guys don’t show their faces until the third act, and the wait is worth it because these guys are awesome. Once again, the practical puppet work is amazing, and something I honestly never payed attention to as a kid was just how frightening they were. 
Seeing this movie as a child, I just thought those Raptors were awesome, but looking back as an adult, there are some truly tense and intimidating moments with these guys. The whole climax is a slow burning cat and mouse game with these guys, and of course the kitchen scene is an electrifying piece of suspense film-making. Things build to a riveting final showdown on a museum display, and even though it’s admittedly short, it’s still extremely thrilling and highly satisfying. To this day I still get chills all over my body when the T-Rex comes in to rescue our heroes from the raptors. That was always my favorite part as a kid, because I loved seeing their most dangerous obstacle become the thing that saves the day. Oh, and that final shot of the T-Rex roaring, with the banner falling in front of him … a thing of beauty! Even after the T-Rex drops the mic, this film still deliver’s as we lead into one of my all-time favorite movie epilogues. We see our hero’s fly away to safety on the helicopter, not a single line is spoken, yet I still feel so much from these characters. I feel for Hamond has he stares at his cane and ponders the lessons he’s learned from this experience. I feel for Grant and Ellie as they exchange knowing looks that their ready to start a family. I especially love that final image of that flock of birds flying over the ocean. Then as the music builds, and the helicopter fly’s off into the distance, I’m always left with chills, like I just embarked on a once in a lifetime journey.   
    

   Like I said earlier, there are some people these days who could easily look back on “Jurassic Park” as that one hit monster attack movie, which had impressive special effects, and then think nothing else of it, but there really is so much more to this film. I always looked at “Jurassic Park” as a movie that had something special to offer to any kind of viewer. It’s a griping survival film, a family adventure, a creepy monster flick, a magical journey and an intriguing Sci-Fi that balances fantasy with ethical debates. There’s honestly so much I can say about this film that I could probably write a whole book on why I firmly believe that “Jurassic Park” should be regarded as a higher form of cinematic art, rather than just another entertaining B monster movie. It’s a film that captured my imagination as a child, took me on a thrilling ride, and after so many years this movie still continues to inspire me. It’s also my favorite of Steven Spielberg’s works as it masterfully combines his talents of bringing wonder and horror into one package. We’ve seen Steven Spielberg’s raw talents of bringing wonder to viewers through films like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, and we’ve seen his relentless skill at livening up suspense in films like “Jaws”. With “Jurassic Park” it’s a seemingly perfect mirage of his craft. I know that a movie of this nature will never truly be regarded as high art, but frequently I see films like “Jaws” and “King Kong” in honorary ranks among the greatest movies ever made, so why not give "Jurassic Park" that same love and respect? Weather you think this film is special, or simple fun or maybe even overrated, I’ll always look back on this as one of my favorite movies, one that takes me back to my child hood and reminds me of a time when Dinosaurs were the greatest.    


I proudly give “Jurassic Park” a perfect 5 stars out of 5.  



comming soon

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Serenity (2005) (Movie Review)



    In my last post I reviewed the 2002 TV series “Firefly” and praised it as one of my absolute favorites. The one major down side is that it was canceled after only 14 episodes, which left a lot of things unresolved. However, in the years sense the shows cancellation, the fan base for the show had grown so much that the show’s creator Josh Whedon was actually given the rights to direct and produce one single theatrical movie to bring some much-needed finality to the series. Thus in 2005 we had the Sci-Fi hit “Serenity”, and the ending of the "Firefly" series. This was not a cash crab project for Universal Studios, as movies based on short lived TV shows are a rarity, but it’s all the more satisfying to see that the studios faith in Josh Whedon paid off. This was actually Josh Whedon’s very first time directing a theatrical movie, and it’s no wonder he was hired to direct “The Avengers” after this. The man really knows how to take goofy characters, give them snappy dialogue and still make them come off as both compelling and even a touch relatable. So, how does the “Firefly” swan song hold up, is it a perfect conclusion to a near flawless TV show, or is it a bit of a rocky trip, let’s find out ....  


     As our movie begins, we’re given a quick recap of the TV shows premise, that humans began terraforming on other planets due to Earths over population, the Alliance rules the galaxy with an iron fist and the crew of the ship Serenity have been a real thorn in their sides. The story soon picks up a little after where things ended in the series. Now back in the final episode it was revealed that the girl River had ESP, and has unwittingly gained damaging secrets against the all controlling evil Alliance. Thus, a new enemy called the Operative is sent in to kidnap River before the Alliance secrets can be exploited. Captain Reynolds, still lamenting from loosing a rebellion to his oppressors is now dead set on discovering this horrific secret. His journey proves very dangerous as their path is blocked by another threat, an army of in-human cannibals called the Reavers. Now in order to see their objective through to the end, our crew of Anti-hero’s need to push themselves harder then before and make some morally questionable decisions along the way.


     As stated in my last review, Captain Reynolds and River are my two favorite characters of the show, so thankfully they both take center stage in this film, and both are even better than they were in the series. Captain Reynolds went from being a stand out cool guy in the TV show, to one of my top three all-time favorite Anti-Hero’s in this film. He’s just so compelling as this man with a checkered moral code. He does horrible things, but it’s nothing he takes pleasure from and clearly just wants to be the good guy. Unfortunately, his situation keeps forcing him to make hard decisions. There are still those moments in which he demonstrates he has a heart of gold underneath his tough guy act, but he absolutely has some bad-ass anti-hero moments too. My favorite scene is when he meets the Operative for the first time. During a heated argument his enemy lets it slip that he’s unarmed, and then Reynolds doesn’t hesitate for a moment to shoot the guy. His foe was obviously waring body armor, but still it was awesome, and it’s a moment that puts Han Solo to shame. River really hasn’t changed much from her appeal in the show, we just get more of her in this film, and she’s a little fighter now. Like, she can kick some serious butt, as demonstrated in this film. No joke, if you were to put River in a room with the Predator, Alien and the Terminator … they’d be doomed. Both actors Nathan Fillion and Summer Glau are just on fire in their respected roles, and I don’t think either star has shined brighter then in this movie. Nathan Fillion in particular just lights up the screen and conveys this presence, like he’s a real Hollywood star, even though he hadn’t done that much prior.    


    The remaining cast from the show is likewise on their A-game, and it’s just a real joy to be with them one last time. Zoe proves once again to be a compelling female lead, Jane has some of the best remarks in the whole film, and it’s also really sweet to finally see Simon and Kaylee tie the knot. Although I’ll admit, their relationship needed to be built up more in the film, as it just comes out of nowhere. Now at the end of the show, Inara left for personal reasons, but returns in this movie, and the event didn’t seem to do anything meaningful for her character. She just left, returned and it felt like it didn’t impact our characters in the slightest. Of course, this was meant to be a story arc for a second season, but the writers only had one movie to wrap everything up. In other words, some loose threads just had to get knotted up fast. What I can’t excuse is the treatment of Shepherd Book, who was one of my absolute favorites in the TV series. For whatever reason, he’s not with the crew at the beginning of the film, he’s off somewhere else, only has two scenes in the film, and gets pointlessly killed off. Now his death scene in-of-itself is actually very good, and an important motivation for our crew to move forward, but still he deserved to be more involved in the movie then just two scenes. Wash also gets a random and pointless death that was almost worse then the previous hero death. While I liked Shepherd Book a lot more then Wash, the formers death at least had some meaning to it. Wash just seems to die solely for an emotional shock moment, and that bothered me.


    The sinister Operative makes for a very compelling villain, as he’s fully aware of what kind of monster he is, but always tires to play it off with good manners. I love villains that act kind while still being very ruthless and intimidating. For me, seeing Captain Reynolds interact with the Operative is the highlight of the film, as one is a hero with a shady moral code, and the other is a monster who hides his actions under a surface layer of class and dignity. It was also a treat to finally see the Reavers in all their monstrous glory. The TV show built them up big as very savage and frightening creatures, but aside from occasionally being chased by their ships or stumbling on the aftermath of their attacks, we never actually saw the Reavers physically present. That’s not the case for this movie, and they make for very intimidating foes that live up to their savage reputation. Their basically in-human cannibals that to me always resembled the “Mad Max” villains if they were zombies. While they make for very exciting villains for our heroes to battle, they also rob the film of it’s simple Wild West charm.   


     This brings me to a slight issue with the film, and that’s the tone. While the “Firefly” TV series had it’s share of dark elements and occasional violent content, it was mostly still a light hearted and fun Wild West series in space. “Serenity” buy contrast is much darker in both tone and narrative. The action sequences are more violent, there’s some disturbing imagery, we have dark backstories and secrets explored, there isn’t as much of a “fun” factor and even the characters are far less cheery and are in more of a grey area throughout the film. This movie still tries to have some lighthearted moments, as well as some enjoyably goofy lines, but it doesn’t always go in hand with the more serious elements of the film. The violence on display actually gets quite brutal for a PG-13 movie, and almost pushes for an R rating. I will say that the action in general is handled very well, as the increased budget and added CGI never overshadow the in-camera fighting and set designs. There’s just a perfect display of practical action merged with special effects that hold up very well today, and it’s something that I feel current Blockbusters should take note of.  


     The overall look and design of the film is gorgeous, and it’s a real treat for us fans to explore the universe of “Firefly” on a larger scale. The lighting especially is fantastic in this film as it’s both visually absorbing, but select scenes are also very crafty with how their lit. I must confess, I could have used a bit more orange lighting and filters as that was the look and style that characterized the TV show and gave it a Western flavor. Truthfully, unlike the TV show, this film always felt less like a “Wild, Wild West” in space and came off more like a strait forward Sci-Fi-action adventure. Even the story doesn’t feel that “Western” at heart, despite some occasional old-west imagery. Having said all that, the filming on display is nothing short of brilliant. The opening scene in-particular is one of my favorite examples of a crafty filmmaker at work. From the opening logo, every scene lasting till the end of the opening credits are all linked together in a way that’s very artistic, and it gives the opening an unbroken flow and narrative. There’s an incredible tracking shot that looks like it was all done in one take as we follow Captain Reynolds as he walks throughout the ship and interacts with every member of his crew. Not only does it look great, but it also gives us a full tour of the ship and re-introduces us to the whole cast. 

 
    Speaking of individual highlights, it’s time to gush over the films thrilling climax. Once our team learns the truth, that the Alliance are in fact responsible for the creation of the Reavers and are equally responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent lives on a planet, they mount a plan to broadcast this news and expose their horrible secret to the galaxy. However, they need to get to a massive transmission station on a planet that’s blocked by a fleet of angry Alliance ships. Not very good odds when your just one tinny ship with absolutely no guns mounted. So, what do they do, they piss off their other enemies the Reavers and lead their fleet of ships into a battle with the Alliance. It’s so great, as we follow our daring ship through two enemy fleets battling one another, and our piolet is just trying to keep his Zen the whole time. My favorite line of the movie by the way is when Wash says … “I’m a Leafe on the Wind, watch how I soar”. There’s also some unique visuals that aren’t common for space battles, like seeing ships lasso each-other while in flight. Once our crew gets to ground zero, all hell breaks loose, and things get really intense. There’s brutal fire fights in hallways, River just goes all-out-warrior mode while battling a room full of Reavers and Captain Reynolds gets into a nail biting showdown with the Operative. There’s a relentless amount of urgency on display as our hero’s all get brutally injured and spend most of the battle exhausted, and on the ground. Now Captain Reynolds journey through the film has been about what he believes in, and we see how his belief in “truth” both wins the day, and even changes our main villain. The Operative doesn’t completely reform, nor is he beaten, the Captain just puts him in a grey area where he just has no reason to fight the Serenity crew anymore, and that’s a great twist. 


       When I first saw this movie, I had the misfortune of knowing absolutely nothing about the initial “Firefly” TV series. Because of this, my first viewing of “Serenity” wasn’t too positive. At the time, I was deeply in love with Science Fiction Cinema, and the positive feed back from the movie enticed me to see it. After my first viewing I was ready to write “Serenity” off as average and forgettable Sci-Fi fodder. Then I discovered “Firefly”, and once I became a fan of the series, as well as form a connection to the characters, I decided to give “Serenity” a second chance. Needless to say, this film has only gotten better with every viewing, because it was something special to me now. It brought closure to one of my favorite TV shows that was taken away well before it’s time, and I’m so glad I have that closure. I’m also glad the writers didn’t turn this into a launching pad for a potential film series, it was just one good movie and that’s all we needed. Truthfully, I think this movies appeal all depends on how you feel about the “Firefly” TV series. I do still have some issues reserved for the film, like how some of the characters are killed off, and how some of the shows Wild West appeal doesn’t completely carry over. Regardless, I’ve grown attached to this film over the years, and now I view it as one of the best Science Fiction films of the early 2000’s. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend checking it out, but make sure you watch “Firefly” first … believe me, it’s worth it. 
   

I give “Serenity” 4 stars out of 5.


Firefly (2002) (TV Series Review)



     Science Fiction and Westerns are to genera’s that are about as polar opposite as they get, yet frequently go together hand in hand. The 1998 Anime series “Cowboy Bebop” merged elements from both genera’s to create a unique vision of the future, as well as a memorable series. You could go back even further to the original 1977 “Star Wars”, which also fused elements of the Western genera in it’s outer space setting. There’s even current shows like “West World” which artfully combine the old west with futuristic Sci-Fi. Of course, there was that hilarious joining of the two in the 2011 movie “Cowboys and Aliens”, which had fun idea for a concept, but really wasn’t executed all to well. More to the point for today’s topic, the short lived 2002 TV series “Firefly” is my absolute favorite blending of the old West and outer space adventures. It was a series that captured the magic of both genera’s, and only improved on the merits of both by merging them together seamlessly. Unfortunately, this was a series taken before it’s time, with only one season to its name, and a total of just 14 episodes. Yet still to this day, it has a devoted fan base, and it’s still personally one of my absolute favorites. Despite it’s cult status, I’d still like to share my feelings on the show, just as a means to spread the word to those not familiar.    


     Between 2002 and 2003, “Firefly” ran on Fox station and was created by “Avengers” director Joss Whedon. Our series begins with the two-part pilot titled “Serenity”, which effectively setts the ground work for the series, and fills us in on the back story. Set 500 years in the future, earth has become over populated, and man kind has moved on to colonize on other planets. With different factions spreading, a new alliance beings to take shape and becomes the all controlling force among the stars. An organized band of rebels tries to fight back, but loose during a decisive battle at Serenity valley. Years later, the fallen rebel leader named Malcolm Reynolds has become the captain of a small band of mercenaries and pirates, who do what they can to make some coin, and stick it to the Alliance at any chance they get. His ship, loving named Serenity (after the fall of Serenity valley), is part of a Firefly class, as it resembles the very insect when it zips into light-speed. During the premier, we see most of his crew already assembled, but two new passengers arrive on the ship, and set the stage for the shows main direction. The former being a young doctor who just rescued his little sister from a secret Alliance lab, where she went through a series of mysterious experiments. The two are branded as fugitives and become important members of Captain Reynolds rebellious crew.      


    Despite being set in space, nothing feels like traditional Science Fiction. It still maintains the feel and soul of a Western, with an orange color scheme, outback-desert locations, and a music track that feels lifted from a spaghetti Western. Actually, one of the shows many appeals is the opening theme song, which personally one of my all-time favorite Themes songs from a TV series. I love the overall look of the show, as even the interior design of the ship looks like a dingy western shack. The weapons featured on the show are mostly powder based, and not too many laser guns are seen. All these different Western traits in a space setting are what give “Firefly” it’s unique, yet infectious atmosphere. Truthfully, it’s also the most realistically grounded show set in space that I can think of. Heck, this show goes out of its way to make sure that no sounds are heard in space, which is very accurate. Granted, we all love those awesome sound designs of the Star Wars movies, but sense this show is more grounded in reality, it only makes sense that they depict space travel with as much scientific accuracy as possible. Also, there aren’t any aliens featured in the show, we do have space ships, and other forms of classic outer-space excitement, but we only ever see the humans that have colonized on other worlds. The closest we ever get to having aliens on the show is a band of outcasted in-humans called Reavers, who are basically savage creatures that lost their humanity do to mysterious reasons and are the deadliest foes our hero’s ever face. Thankfully, they’re used sparingly, and aren’t even seen on screen, at least not until the movie reveals what they look like.  



     The cast in this show is amazing, and I don’t say this lightly, but this is easily one of my all time favorite ensemble groups from any TV series I’ve ever seen. There’s this warm and infectious feel that comes from this crew all coming together, to the point where I don’t even see actors at all … I see a family. It really goes to show the talent on display, because despite the shows limited run, all the characters feel real, their chemistry with each other feels real, and each has their distinct charm.



Captain Malcolm Reynolds played by Nathan Fillion

    Our main lead Captain Malcolm Reynolds was the perfect hook for this show, and in my opinion is right on par with Han Solo himself. The character as written has a lot of pathos, he once was a man of faith, but lost his belief in God when he lost the war. Now the only thing he lives for is the next mission, and collecting a profit. Sounds like an empty vessel of a man, but the actor Nathan Fillion brings so much charm, warmth and charisma to the role, that he just comes off as the most lovable scoundrel in the galaxy. He’s even got some legit bad-ass moments where he proves himself large and in charge.


Zoe played by Gina Torres


     The second in command is Zoe played by Gina Torres. She fought with Malcom back during the war and has been his trusted right hand ever sense. She’s tough as nails and could have also carried the show herself. Gina Torres has also proven herself a great talent, one who I'd like to see more of. While her TV filmography is massive, I'd really like to see her in more movies. 



Wash played by Alan Tudyk


       Next is the ships pilot Wash, played by Alan Tudyk. He’s married to Zoe and is the equivalent of a child that aged but never actually grew up. Wash adds some levity as the comedic relief character, but I’ll admit of all the characters, he was the one I loved the least. He was certainly a likable presence, but I just never found his character that interesting. 





Shepherd Book played by Ron Glass

     The complete opposite of that is one Shepherd Book, a former priest who found his way on the ship and has sense been the moral compass figure to our crew of anti-hero’s. Having said that, he was also a very mysterious person who always seemed to have a bigger story. In fact, through the present-day course of the show it’s suggested that he may even be a mole for the evil Alliance. If the show had continued past season one, they probably would have explored his character further. Shepherd is also played by Ron Glass, and he too has a captivating screen presence. He’s just so cool and laid back, like a man with moral strengths, yet won’t hesitate to get in on the action when needed. 

Inara played by Morena Baccarin


    
    Now lets finally talk about Inara, played by Morena Baccarin. Oh boy, I know this isn’t a very original opinion, but when I was first introduced to this show … I had some serious hots for her. She’s a companion and if the ship were ever sized by Alliance patrol, she could pose as a credible ambassador. She also serves as the forbidden love interest for Captain Reynolds. There’s clearly both chemistry and friction between the two, as they share mutual feelings, but do to their individual faults can never commit to a relation. It’s certainly one of the more interesting dynamics on the show, which again had a lot of potential to grow if there were more seasons.  

Jayne played by Adam Baldwin   


    

    Next up is weapons technician Jayne, played by Adam Baldwin. This guy is mostly a poser, someone who deludes himself into thinking he’s a real tough guy, when in reality he’s kind of pathetic. He’s also the wild card of the group, as all his loyalty depends on who’s paying him the most. He’s a very simple character to say the least but has layers of depth underneath the surface.



Kaylee played by Jewel Staite


      

    Then there’s Kaylee, played by Jewel Staite. She’s the Mechanical technician of the crew and the one who holds the ship together. She’s also irresistibly cute and brimming with personality. From an engineering level, she’s the smartest person on the ship, but a little clueless when it comes to everything else, and I’ve always loved the duality of her nature. It adds a layer of innocents to the character, and I love that she’s both literally and figuratively the beating heart of the ship.


Simon Tam played by Sean Maher


      The ships doctor Simon Tam, played by Sean Maher is the guy responsible for setting all the big events in motion. Ever sense he smuggled his sister on board in the piolet episode, the ship and its crew became a big target for their enemies. He’s also more of a straight guy that offsets the high personalities of the other crew members. There’s a relation that ensues between he and Kaylee, which is cute in-of-itself, but never seems to amount to anything in the long run. 

River Tam played by Summer Glau

     At last rounding up the cast is River Tam, played by Summer Glau. Without a doubt, this was the shows big breakout character, and has become an icon among certain Sci-Fi fan circles. She was an enigma, very mysterious, always spoke in riddles, was subjected to several cruel experiments, and has a special kind of mind power that’s all her own. River is basically a fish out of water, trying to find her place in a vast universe, while also trying to understand herself. Half the time this series revolves around exploring the mysteries of her character, what happened to her, how did she come to be this way, and will she ever be a normal girl again. Summer Glau kills it in the role and gives her this aura of fascination and wonder. In general, this cast was outstanding, and one of the shows many great strengths. 

     Now let’s talk about the highlights of the show, but I don’t want to spoil too much, so I’ll keep it simple. Here are my personal top 5 favorite episodes of “Firefly” …  

#5 (Episode 13) - “Heart of Gold” 


    One of the many merits about this show is how it incorporates classic Western formulas into it’s episode. Perhaps my favorite of all is the metaphorical “Magnificent Seven” formula. This is when a small group of defenseless people are being terrorized by a large team of bad guys with big guns, thus a call for help goes out to a small band of people that come together to fight in a big shoot’em-up showdown. It’s classic Western 101, and I was thrilled that “Firefly” had an episode based around this kind of premise. While I personally didn’t care for the setting of this episode, or even some of the interplay, this is still the classic Western formula, executed very well here. It also delivers with the pay off, as the final shoot-out of the episode out is easily my favorite battle of the whole show. Finally, this episode delivers a nail-biting to our hero’s, as one gets their heart broken and leaves the group. It’s exciting, the music is chilling, the cinematography is top notch, it’s action packed and makes for a worthy outing.    


#4 (Episode 9) - “Ariel” 


   While in orbit of a capital city, the doctor Simon hatches a plan to sneak into a state of the art hospital in order to run some critical tests on his sister River, who’s mental condition is becoming more serious. She’s actually becoming a danger to the crew as she slashes at Janes chest for seemingly no reason. The mission also provides our anti-heroes with a chance to steel some medical supplies to give to nearby planets struggling with poverty. The one wrinkle in their plan is that Jane sees this as an opportunity to turn both the doctor and his kooky sister over to the authorities. They’re plenty of exciting heist episodes in this show, but “Ariel” is my favorite by far. It combines the excitement of a dangerous heist with complex character motives that are clearly wrong, but very understandable. We sympathies with River and her mental condition, but we also acknowledge that she is in fact a real danger to the crew. Janes actions to turn them over are clearly bad, but the situation makes us relate to him on some understandable level. This episode also features my two favorite villains of the show … the two un-named blue-hands men in suits. These guys are about as frightening and as lethal as enemies get on the show. The episode then comes to a close with a riveting epilogue in which Captain Reynolds confronts Jane on betraying his crew members. With an exciting heist, menacing villains, darker character traits, and even featuring some of my favorite comedic moments, “Ariel” is a stand out episode that’s worth looking at.  


#3 (Episode 14) - “Objects in Space” 


   This marks the final episode of the show, and while it doesn’t work as a series finale, it’s at least the best possible episode to close things on. “Objects in Space” kicks off with my absolute favorite opening of the whole show. We see River walking though the ship, and we see everything playing out through her eyes. There’s a riveting moment where she picks up an object, which she sees as a tree branch, yet everyone else see’s it as a for what it really is … a loaded gun. It’s a frightening moment that illustrates just how twisted, and confused River is. With her mental condition getting worse, we also discover that she has ESP, which leads our crew into an intense debate what to do with her. While Rivers future is unclear, a mysterious bounty hunter has snuck on board the ship, and aims to kidnap River for the large reward on her head. River meanwhile is alert to the danger and begins her own plan of outsmarting her more lethal adversary. The Bounty Hunter in my opinion is one of the stand out guest characters on the show, as he too talks in riddles, but dose it more to show off and sound intelligent. The highlight of the episode is the back and forth talks between he and River, as the two try topping one another with their intellectual strengths as opposed to brut force. With that said, there’s still some excitement, some bare-knuckled fist fighting, and it’s also cool to say our crew face an ethical debate, like what to do with a potentially dangerous girl that they’ve all come to love. “Objects in Space” may not have worked as a series finale, but at least the show ended with a great episode.    
    

#2 (Episode 12) - “The Message” 


    This episode begins with another one of my favorite openings, as we see our crew enjoying a day at a market place, and it gives us a chance to see their personalities bounce off the bizarre things on display. There’s even a nice little moment where Jane gets a silly gift from his mother, but he still keeps it with him as a gift from his mother, even a silly one is still very special in some way. Things take a sudden dark turn with the arrival of a mysterious package containing the body of a dead solider, one whom both Captain Reynolds and Zoe fought alongside with during the war. The corps comes complete with a message that he’d like his former friends to return his body back home to his family, and for once we see our crew on a very selfless mission that doesn’t involve getting paid. However, there’s more to this corps then a simple message, as it’s drawing the attention of some lethal troops, and the body itself is hiding secrets within secrets. I’m deliberately being vaguer with this one as I don’t want to risk spoiling any of the episodes surprises. I will say that this episode has a little bit of everything I love in this show, it has mystery, pathos, hummer, moral debates, ethical debates, strong character moments, and some of the shows best action, including a very memorable dog fight through a snowy canyon.


#1 (Episode 8) - “Out of Gas” 


     As this episode begins, we see a dying Captain Reynolds aboard his currently abandoned ship, and is trying desperately to bring his vessel back to life. It turns out that hours earlier, a sudden mechanical failure has completely disabled the ship, which is now adrift in empty space. With heal support failing, the crew abandons ship, our heroic Captain stays behind, and other dangers in wild space soon make themselves known. This episode is told from three different perspectives, we have the present situation, the not too distant future and flashbacks relaying how every individual crew member came to be. To call this “a perfect episode”, wouldn’t be giving it enough credit, because in my opinion, this episode alone is a work of art that should be shown at film schools. It’s a half our peace of television that takes a simple disaster premise, as well as an origin story, and artistically weaves them into something brilliant. Everything on display is top notch, the writing, the performances, and it’s really a beauty of filmmaking. The way certain flashbacks are cut together with the present-day events are both artistically brilliant, but also have a great deal of substance, as this episode really explores its characters. In fact, of all the episodes, this is the one where the crew feels the most like one big family, right down to the opening scene with everyone having a good laugh at the dinner table and celebrating a birthday. Another one of my favorite touches is that the episode closes with a flashback of when the Captain first found his ship. It book ends the episode like poetry, as we close out on the ship abandoned, lifeless, but with our Captain eager to get it running, which is exactly what the episode started with. The transitions, the music, the lighting, the texture, and it’s all just a real testament to the creative forces behind this series, and in my opinion, it’s almost too good for television alone.   


    In the end, I’ve been a fan of this show for years, and it’s one of my absolute favorites that’s worth repeat viewings. I love the setting, tone, feel and I really love the cast as a whole. In my opinion, it’s one of those near flawless shows that had all the right talent involved and just the right amount of fresh originality. It’s only real fault comes from being in-complete, and that is something of an issue. Thankfully there was a theatrical movie in 2005 titled “Serenity” that gave the series some closure, but I’ll talk about that in my next review. If you were one of the many people who missed this show when it first premiered, I couldn’t blame you, but I’d highly recommend hunting down the episodes in any way you can and give “Firefly” a watch, it’s worth it. 


I give the TV series “Firefly”, a strong 4 ½ stars out of 5.