Up until about half a year ago or so, I’d managed to avoid Firefly. Sure I’d heard lots of fans saying great things about it and I was certainly aware of all of the attention Joss Whedon was attracting (brilliant, down-trodden savior of all that is meaningful on TV), but I had this little problem believing any of it. I’d been enticed into watching a couple of episode of Buffy and wrote it and Whedon off as trash. Funny, sometimes high-concept (over the top) trash, but still trash. Sorry Buffy fans.
I’m probably wrong about Buffy, but the second strike against it is that I’m not into vampires or fantasy, so even if I’d stuck around enough episodes of that show to catch Joss’s deftness with character, I still wouldn’t have put the show on the must watch list. (I have no ‘must watch’ list for television. I went seven years without an idiot box and consequently have gotten out of the habit.)
So, when I saw that Firefly was ‘by the same guy who did Buffy’, I figured some day I’d catch an episode or two, but I wasn’t going to waste any time making that happen. Given the source and the title of the show, I figured it just had to be some SciFi send-up of a teenaged girl kicking alien monster butt – an SF re-tread of Buffy. And to tell the truth that concept (except for the possibility of pleated school girl skirts in space) kind of left me yawning.
Then the show became available online and I decided to give it a shot.
I was intrigued from the get go. This guy Whedon sure has created some interesting characters. To say the man has balls is like thinking human when the reality is elephant. Who else would start off a show with the defeat and near-death of two of his primary characters? Who else would begin the pilot episode with a highly complex, expensive and very emotionally charged battle scene and then dump the whole frenetic, explosively paced thing for the mundanity of a freighter going about its business?
That’s like opening a hero movie with the climactic end scenes. And then retro-flashing to the back story. Brilliant.
I watched all of the episodes on line and was thoroughly pleased. The characters were great, especially Mal and Jayne. There wasn’t a one among the crew – Zoe, Kaylee, Wash, Inara, Book, River or Simon who didn’t have something to offer.
Mal is nearly perfect in his conflicts – betrayed and vowing to never let it happen again, yet still reliant on a crew of misfits and inspiring deep loyalty. He wants to be mean and get even, but he’s too nice/good a guy to really put his heart into it. The portrayal though doesn’t overwhelm the story – it’s written into the way the character goes about doing his thing. And the same is true for everyone else.
Of course I do have a few quibbles: what kind of solar system has multiple planets and hundreds of moons that can all be terraformed? No one is supposed to have FTL here, so how the heck did they get to this place from ‘Earth-that-was’? What’s the economy like that such a small ship could make a living? (That this type of ship was designed and built presupposes economic viability without resorting to illegal activities.) But those minorities fade into the background in the face of the characters and the storylines.
Having enjoyed the show, I decided that I needed to see the movie Serenity and absolutely put it on my ‘must watch’ list.
While waiting to acquire a copy of the movie I happened upon a chance to pick up the novelization at a library sale. I then decided to conduct a little experiment, seeing as how I’m such a huge advocate of ‘the book is better than the movie’ type thinking. True, this wasn’t a perfect experiment – the movie came first in this case and it really ought to go the other way around – but it still might be fun. So I read the book all the way through to the final scenes (I put it down when Serenity and crew return to Mr. Universe’s world) and then I watched the film.
A pause now for commercial interruption -
I’ve finished the Ebay pulp magazine searches on the web page and they’re all active and up. I’m pretty pleased with the results – I’ve even found a few pulps to add to my own watch list. I think it’s a useful tool. The first twenty pages or so don’t have a ‘back to the menu’ button (just use the back button) and I’m fixing that, but everything else is functional for now.
If you’re at all interested, I also added a few more images to the magazine checklist page – a couple of issues of Amazing Stories, a few more of the Ultimate reprint digests.
I still have a few Chandler Ebay searches to add (France and such) but they won’t take long and might even get finished today or tomorrow.
Now back to the show.
To begin, the novelization must have been written from a working script as there are a few scenes in the book not presented on the screen – most notably one involving Cuban cigars. That’s actually a bonus rather than a problem, because we get a small glimpse into the movie-making process here. The scene involved Jayne and Book and may have been dropped as being a bit out of character for Jayne. Or just for time or pacing. We also miss out on seeing a battle scene with Book, which is a bit disappointing.
My main problem with the book was the author’s choice of presenting the crew’s manner of speaking – their vernacular and slang. In an attempt to convey emotional content, the broken words, broken sentence structure and slang is carried beyond the dialogue. Rather than putting you in the mood, it detracts and reads like something written by an inner-city illiterate.
The emotional content – particularly when compared directly to the movie – comes across as flat; back story and motivations are presented in the novel, they’re just not as immediate as watching the actor’s expressions or hearing their tones.
Reading the book and watching the movie were actually two entirely different experiences. The fact that the storyline tracked so well between them is unusual – even for a novelization. (Compare Alien by Alan Dean Foster to the movie, for example.) I found it very revealing (of Whedon’s abilities) that my full knowledge of the plot in advance of watching did not detract from my enjoyment of the film at all.
What had left me cold while reading the book was suddenly alive in the faces of the actors.
That’s not to be saying that the book was bad. As I said, the presentation of the characters and particularly their dialogue was a bit stilted – but that is something that I was probably overly sensitive to from having watched the television show. I know how Mal sounds and looks and what I was reading was a slightly off, slightly pale reflection of Mal. Recognizable, just not completely alive. If you picked up this book sans knowledge of the show, your conclusion would most likely be ‘not bad – not great, but not terrible either, maybe I’ll catch the movie some day’.
There were also quite a few visual in-jokes scattered through the film that were not picked up on in the novel. A crashed shuttle shows its registry numbers as C57D – the same name as the cruiser from Forbidden Planet. At one point the ‘landing party’ are shown wearing red, yellow and blue colored t-shirts, resembling nothing so much as a party just beamed down from the Enterprise. Quite a few of the scenes are derivative of other movies, presented in homage. I’m sure there are others that I’ll pick up on when I watch the film again.
I’m glad I had this chance to experience both forms of the story side-by-side. It was very revealing of the advantages and limitations of the different media. I’d give the book 2 walking sticks and the movie 4 walking sticks. In this particular case, the move outshines the literary form, which is probably as it should be, considering that the intended media was visual.
Having done this direct comparison, I can say that it confirmed my belief that one of the next big things coming down the pike will be (or should be) an original story that is conceived of and delivered as a multi-media blitz.
From the ground up, a movie is written in conjunction with a television series, the original novel is written in lockstep and the follow-on book series is plotted out while the graphic novel is drawn, the animated version is being storyboarded, the interactive game is being designed and melded with the social-networking site even as the audio book and podcast version of the radio play are being recorded and the top ten pop songs are being mixed in the studio.
A mantra of marketing is to never let anything get between the message and the consumer. The fact that some people prefer one media over another is a huge impediment, a major objection to a sale. Having to ‘wait’ for one preferred version or another to reach the consumer is another major objection. By the time the product they are looking for hits the market, they’ve already moved on to other things.
But if someone can figure out a way to effectively deliver a property in all those media simultaneously, in a manner that allows them to be merged seamlessly with each other while still being workable as stand-alones – well then, they’ll be teaching Lucas a thing or two about modern day merchandising, won’t they?
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