Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Bad Idea: Firefly May Be "Revisited"

David Madden, President of Entertainment, FOX TV, recently stated that he would “be open to a Firefly reboot if Joss Whedon himself wanted to revisit it.” This statement has sparked eager discussion among fans hopeful for the return of the cult-classic.

Summary

Firefly was a sci-fi western originally aired on Fox from September 2002 through December 2002, for only 11 episodes before it was cancelled.

It followed 9 people, both passengers and crew (Captain Malcome “Mal” Renolds, his first mate Zoe, her husband Wash, a mercenary Jane Cobb, a Companion Inara, the engineer Kaylee, Dr. Simon Tam, his sister River, and Shepherd Book), on the Firefly class ship named Serenity as they traveled in space and their different values and ideas. 

The director Joss Whedon said about the futuristic setting, “nothing will change in the future: technology will advance, but we will still have the same political, moral, and ethical problems as today.”

After the tv show’s cancellation, fan enthusiasm facilitated a follow-up film Serenity (2005), a novelization of the film (2005), comics, RPGs, a fan-made documentary, and an unofficial sequel.

With so many other classics receiving remakes, it is not surprising that Firefly would come up in the discussion. However, there are three reasons why I feel dread and not hope at this proposition.

1. The Show Was Canceled

Martyrdom is good for business. While Firefly is a great show, it was saved from petering out like many other sci-fi shows. It ended on a high note after a series of good episodes.

I sincerely hope that Firefly fans are not so easily thrilled as Star Wars fans who break into applause at the sight of an AT-ST. I think that Firefly is more subtle in what makes it an entertaining show and that it will be harder to replicate in a satisfying way.

My next objections question the methods by which a new Firefly show would be accomplished.

2. Serenity (Spoilers)

The film ties up many of the loosed ends left after the show was cancelled. It answered the mysteries presented by the psychic research conducted on River (a fugitive from the government) and the origin of the Reavers (mad men who committed atrocities). Furthermore, it killed off two of the nine characters.

The biggest question raised by “revisiting” Firefly is what to do with the film?

Would the plot continue after the film?

This would mean that Wash, a much beloved character in the tv show, would not return, and the subsequent hole in his absence would need to be filled. Wash provided a light-hearted world-view unmatched by the other characters most of whom struggled with dark pasts and dark futures. His consistent love and loyalty for his wife provided a foil for the captain’s frankly depressing relationship with Inara, which could never quite find its feet.
River became an overpowered character at the end of the tv show, so she would also need to be dealt with either through a medical relapse or physical separation from the group (voluntary “mission”, kidnapping, death). All of these would have implications for her brother, as well.

The show would also need to address the big “what happens next”. What would be the driving force behind the show? With so many of the characters dead or suffering, how would it progress?

Or does the story progress from the end of the tv show?

Would it continue on as if the ending was still unknown? Or perhaps conclude with new explanations as if Serenity will never happen and was only one possible resolution to the mysteries? This possibility leads into my next problem.

3. Age of the Actors

It is clear that the actors enjoyed Firefly and highly likely that they all would be willing to participate in a revisiting. However, after 14 years, what would that look like?

Do they, like The Force Awakens, make the story occur X many years later so that they can include the original actors? This itself creates problems of stagnation: in order to make the characters and setting recognizable, they cannot have changed overmuch.

Do they recast the characters? Different actors means different chemistry. The interaction of the characters was vitally important to the success of Firefly: will they be able to recapture that?

Perhaps like Rogue One, a new story will be presented in the same setting. However, I doubt that this will be successful because, unlike the Star Wars extended universe, the Firefly franchise is deeply rooted in the characters of the original show. Serenity, its novelization and RPG, the comics books, the R. Tam Sessions, etc. have all been about the same characters.

Whedon originally pitched the show as “nine people looking into the blackness of space and seeing nine different things.” These characters are extremely important to the show’s success, and to base a revisiting on anything else would be precarious.

4. Current Trends

Special Effects: Firefly felt real. Real sets, real fights, limited CGI and computer generated effects. Today, Digital grading and over-the-top battles are present everywhere. Even in The Force Awakens, which used real costumes and sets, had the overly polished look of today’s mass media.

Anti-hero: Anti-heroes have been popular lately, but Mal does not fall into this category. He is neither a good guy nor a bad guy. Every character has their own values and are very consistent, but not all of their values are currently in fashion. Legalized prostitution for example.

Politics: I find it hard to believe in the current backlash against libertarians and conservatives in the wake of the election that a tv series starring a libertarian and preaching the evils of big government would be produced by our ultra-liberal media, even FOX.

I find it more likely that if the show was revisited today, it would cast the big government as a far right, Nazi-like organization and remove much of the moral and political ambiguity that was present in the original show.

Conclusion


FOX would be better off looking closely at what made Firefly successful and hiring Whedon to make something original. I would much prefer that to watching the show deteriorate into a tattered and impoverished version of its former self.

I would love to hear your opinion on this, though! Are you excited? Hopeful? Nervous? Do you think it would be a success? Would you watch it even if you knew it wasn't going to be good?

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Disillusionment and Faith: The Raven's Shadow Series

Front cover
After reading--and loving--The Waking Fire (2016) by Anthony Ryan, I sought out his Raven's Shadow Series.

Blood Song (2011), the first novel, captured me with its story of intrigue and betrayal. Ryan skilfully crafts driving fight scenes in a well-developed world. Now I await the third from the library!

It was in the second book Tower Lord (2014), though, that I began to recognize a thematic pattern of mislaid faith.

Summary

The story begins with Vaelin Al Sorna abandoned by his father at the gate of the Sixth Order where he will learn to devote his life to battle for the Faith--a religion which boasts a life-after-death, but no deity. He carries resentment towards his father and tries to embrace the Order as his only family.

As he grows, however, the political and religious aspects of his nation begin to pull at one another and at him through his family. The king wants to go to war with other countries, who follow other religions, and Vaelin finds himself manipulated into taking a leading role in the venture.

But there are darker forces at work. Someone is manipulating things from beyond the grave, and Vaelin seems destined to oppose him.

Mislaid Faith

One of the themes in the Raven's Shadow novels is mislaid faith in false religions.

The worst antagonists use the faith of others to manipulate them or ridicule them, while lesser antagonists are driven mad by fanatic devotion to their faith.

The main characters are disillusioned, one-by-one realizing that all the religion they believe in is false. They are put-off by the faith of others and consider them foolish, delusioned, or victimized.

Dark Results

This results in an increasingly dark view of the world from the protagonists' perspective, the only hope relying on Vaelin's power. His cynicism, and that of the other protagonists, gives the book a hopeless and downtrodden tone.

Perhaps the third book will provide the series with a more uplifting conclusion, but based on the books I've already read by Ryan, I am doubtful.