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the pathetic caverns - movies by title - Firefly

eclectic reviews and opinions


Biases up front: I have no objection to science fiction or fantasy, but they're not exempt from the criteria I apply to other genres for story, character, and acting. I haven't seen many westerns I really like -- even Treasure of the Sierra Madre is one of my least favorite Bogie pictures. I don't tend to like war-oriented stories much whether or not they're science fiction. And I thought Buffy the Vampire Slayer (also Joss Whedon-created) was pretty good to very good over most of its seven-season run.

Firefly is a space western with a background that seems to intermingle Union vs. Confederacy and Star Wars's Empire vs. Rebellion in roughly equal measure. Despite the trappings, it's really not science fiction per se -- faster-than-light-travel excepted, most of the technology in Firefly is less advanced than the non-fiction early 21st century. I like Firefly best when it was drags western tropes like cattle rustling and train robbing into its half-assed future and making up pretexts to explain them pseudo-logically -- old and familiar stories of double-crosses and backfiring plans at least got new settings which freshened them a bit. I like Firefly least when it flashes back to army buddy stories, because then it's clichéd on every level.

There's also a guild of space geishas that seems poorly thought out. They're supposedly highly respected, but in practice this respect is hardly ever shown in the series -- everyone just keeps calling them whores. The episodes that center around the space geishas are some of the poorest, with the one where the Firefly crew play at defending a tinfoil-covered cathouse-cum-Alamo perhaps the nadir. (It's one of the episodes that wasn't broadcast before the network pulled the plug, and I can see why the network would have been leery of it.)

I might forgive Firefly its clunky plots if the characters were compelling enough. It's not entirely fair to compare a series that lasted less than one full season to Buffy; it took David Boreanaz a long time to grow out of his woodenness. And it took time to evolve real characters out of the tics and mannerisms of the supporting cast. But on Buffy -- even in the first few seasons -- Angel's character stood out as poorly acted compared with the rest. Firefly's performances are just uniformly poor -- and that's not entirely the fault of the actors, because some of the dialogue is atrocious.

In Firefly's defense, it's difficicult to avoid the long shadow cast by Star Trek. I assume no one wants to regurgitate the familiar characters, but obviously, for dramatic reasons, if a story is going to center around a spaceship crew, the crew must have complementary characters from which conflict and tension arise. And trying to delineate those characters in a limited amount of time without falling into any of the traps laid by Star Trek -- characters whose personalities are close to those of Kirk, Spock, Riker, whoever -- is clearly no easy task. On the other hand, Joss Whedon got everyone's attention in the first place by melding two played-out genres full of tired ideas -- the teen soap and the vampire mythos -- into something often strikingly smart and surprising. I had similar hopes for his outer space/Western hybrid.

Also Firefly's acting isn't any worse than in many other SF shows like Andromeda or Babylon 5. If it doesn't bother you there, it probably won't in Firefly, either. (But from what I've seen of them, I still think both of those series were better written overall.)

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