Thursday, January 19, 2006

I love Firefly.

A little over a year ago, long before I'd seen any Firefly, I talked to a guy at school who I knew was a fan.

I said to him, "From what I've heard, it sounds a bit like . . . Cowboy Bebop?"

And his face subtly fell. I could tell he was used to telling people how innovative this series was, and suddenly he realised he couldn't think of significant differences between it and Cowboy Bebop. But what he said to me was, "No . . . Firefly's pretty much a drama."

I let it go at that, even though I knew Cowboy Bebop was not a comedy series. But I thought about it as I finally got around to watching Firefly a few weeks ago. And yes, it's a lot like Cowboy Bebop. As I continued to watch the series, I couldn't help but check off similarities, and places where one was better than the other;

They're both combinations of Space Operas and Westerns. In both, characters usually speak one language, but can slip into another on occasion (in Firefly, it's English and Chinese, and in Cowboy Bebop, it's Japanese and English). The respective central space ships, Bebop and Serenity, even look a little alike.

A Firefly episode is roughly twice the length of a Cowboy Bebop episode, so you get a more intimate feel for the characters. The characters are also a lot more affectionate with each other, which is kind of sweet, and there're more of them.

But Cowboy Bebop easily defeats Firefly in terms of visuals. Mars on Bebop, which combines jumbled Tokyo-like modern city with familiar empty red Mars landscape, monorails, and very vital, complicated crowds, easily overshadows Firefly's big cities, such as the one seen in "Ariel", which are neat, but grey, and seem populated by twelve to twenty television extras. But partly to blame for that must be the budget limitations of a live-action television series.

I also have to admit I got tired of how similar most of the planets on Firefly looked. I know it's in keeping with the western theme, and maybe it makes sense if all the planets are terraformed by the same technology, but it all looks a lot like empty fields a few miles from here. I guess the fact that I live in southern California biases me on that score.

It highlights an advantage Farscape had in being produced in Australia, with its wider variety of locations in a small area.

I loved the characters and writing on Firefly. Inara felt kind of stiff most of the time, but in instances where she didn't have to play formal, unconvincing Lady of Elegance, and just be a girl, she was good. I was able to remember why I liked Morena Baccarin as Black Canary on Justice League.

Kaylee was adorable, and the actress playing her continually found interesting ways of making her lines effective. Nathan Fillian as Mal was good, except his jaw line always seemed a little too soft to me. But that really didn't bother me a whole lot. I never did really warm to Simon, as I thought I might, but the actor doesn't do a bad job. It's not his fault if I think his face is weirdly lumpy.

Summer Glau was good as River, and is probably a big part of why her character worked, which is the sort of character I think is a lot more difficult to make credible than a person planning a series might assume. It's hard to make crazy talk without sounding very contrived, and actually, they didn't always succeed with River. Especially when she was under the pen of writers who Joss Whedon probably purposefully left in the dark regarding River's true nature.

But she was really good in the last episode, versus the bounty hunter who was apparently an homage to Boba Fett, complete with his own Slave 1. I knew he was a bounty hunter from the moment I saw the shape of his ship. However, his character was obviously more complex than Boba Fett, and genuinely threatening when it came to Kaylee. Which was why it was a shame he lost a bit of his gravity in his dialogue with Simon.

Overall, it's a lovely series.

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