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Questions about the "Serenity" Film
January 21, 2014 3:27 PM   Subscribe

Just finally got around to watching Firefly. Really liked it. But I'm curious as to why the Serenity movie did so poorly. Was it the quality of the film, or just that the fan base turned out to be more vocale/enthusiastic than enormous? I'll tag a second question below, cuz it's got spoilers.

Question #2....

WARNING! SPOILER!

Wikipedia says "Glass and Tudyk could not commit to sequels, leading to the death of their characters." I just watched the series blu-ray, and in the features, both actors seemed super bought-in to the series and tearful at its cancellation. Why would they be cagey about committing to sequels?
posted by Quisp Lover to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Alan Tudyk is a working actor in television, he may not have been able to categorically commit to clearing his schedule that far out.

That being said: I saw the firefly 10 year panel at Comicon last year, and it's clear that everyone involved loved loved loved the 'verse but there wasn't the money or commercial interest to keep going with it.
posted by Oktober at 3:30 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Firefly averaged 4 million viewers. Serenity cost $40,000,000 and made $40,000,000, it actually seems about right.
posted by Cosine at 3:35 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


It was a sci fi film from a canceled tv show with an ensemble cast of pretty much no-names, directed by that guy who had just done that silly vampire show. I don't know how much advertising and promotion they gave the movie. Overall, it just seems like a really hard sell to anyone not a fan of the show (which had its own spectacular problems, FYVM FOX)

In a sense, it is incredible that Serenity even got made at all.
posted by Jacen at 3:37 PM on January 21 [8 favorites]


The cite for that statement on Wikipedia points to this, if that's helpful.
posted by ODiV at 3:40 PM on January 21


The show did badly (financially) because the presentation and marketing was very badly managed by Fox. Among other issues, they refused to air the pilot episode first and when the second one aired first, it didn't make as much sense.

I think the movie was mostly made for the die-hard fans and not so much for a larger audience. Most people I know watched Serenity and then found out about The Wonderful World of Firefly.
posted by Beti at 3:40 PM on January 21


My cynical view, having been around and participated in the whole browncoats/"SERENITY NOW!1!" thing was that it's exactly like internet petitions and stuff.

A bunch of self important nerds who, when corralled into a group of a few thousand think that they're some sort of supermajority of society that can not only do anything, but is also representative of the greater opinion of the average person.

Even if there was an order of magnitude more fans than were on the forums, which were the main space and group that lifted thing off the ground... It still wouldn't have even been enough to even keep one of those 15 minute adult swim shorts on the air for more than a couple episodes, much less prop up a movie.

There were also issues with the fact that the film never really presented a unified front. It was partially trying to be a stand alone story for people who had never seen the show, partially trying to be a season finale, and partially trying to be something like at least part of a second season(like a good two-parter intro or something). It could have accomplished one of those strongly, and maybe even done two decently. But it tried to be all three and more. It wasn't a bad movie, but it definitely overextended itself and went in to some cringey snakes-on-a-plane type cheesy hollywood making fun of itself zones like the couple of "summer glau is neo!" moments it had. Joss whedon definitely fell victim to the guilty pleasure of "omg it's a movie, lets do over the top things since we finally got a movie!". It wasn't even just really fanservice, it was just like... wankery... idk.

For what it's worth, i have the same reservations about some things that were done in the movie as i do about things in the 3rd season of sherlock though, so maybe i'm just a neckbeard who shouldn't be listened to. It is worth noting that this is coming from a person who is chairdancing over having just found one of these at a thrift store.
posted by emptythought at 3:40 PM on January 21 [5 favorites]


But Cosine, my understanding is that the studio made the movie because they were convinced that, like Star Trek and some other properties that had been duds during original runs, Firefly's audience had mushroomed since cancellation....per Internet, Comic Con, DVD biz, and other pop culture zeitgeist indications.

Was it just always those same people all along?

Star Trek, for example, truly did mushroom in the years after the series was cancelled.
posted by Quisp Lover at 3:42 PM on January 21


"I think the movie was mostly made for the die-hard fans and not so much for a larger audience. "

But that's not how movies work. The studio certainly wasn't shooting for this, and a poor showing could have seriously harmed Whedon's track record (i.e. his ability to get other films made).
posted by Quisp Lover at 3:44 PM on January 21


I think that the title, Serenity, was a big mistake. It sounds like a feminine hygiene product, not like a space-opera-type movie.

I worried a little bit that the fervent fanbase could be a bit of a turnoff to people who weren't fervent fan types. Maybe we were just a bit too geeky for the mainstream.

And let's face it: Firefly is a little weird. It's weird in a way that I appreciate, but I think that there might just be a natural limit to the fanbase. I know a lot of people who love it, so it's easy to forget that I also know a lot of people who find it annoying. And mass market movies probably do better when they have a lot of people who don't find them annoying, rather than fewer people who really love them.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:48 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


I watched some episodes of Firefly when it originally aired, mostly because I had friends who were Whedonites. Scheduling made it difficult to find on TV and I didn't know a huge number of general sci-fi people who were fans (mostly just Buffy people). Those were the exact same people who rushed out to see Serenity in theaters. In 2005, as far as I can recall, you couldn't stream the show on Netflix or anything and I don't really remember any mainstream awareness of the franchise. There was also very little advertising.

According to wikipedia, it did, apparently, open at #2, which is successful enough to be surprising to me, and I am and was a big fandom sf fan nerd.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:50 PM on January 21


Was it just always those same people all along?

No, they were looking at firefly DVD sales. DVD sales had mushroomed, so they had real data. (I know a lot of firefly fans, I don't know anyone who saw firefly on TV)
Whether they extrapolated wrongly or decided to take a chance on it, or whatever, I don't know. They made their money back (presumably plus a little profit once you count home sales) so they weren't wrong.
posted by anonymisc at 3:52 PM on January 21


Was it the quality of the film, or just that the fan base turned out to be more vocale/enthusiastic than enormous?

The latter. The fan base was not big enough to prop up a wide-release movie, and there was virtually no crossover appeal. I remember seeing a trailer for Serenity and I'd had no idea what the hell Firefly was so it just looked like a dumb, low-budget sci-fi movie to me at the time. It struck me as weird that the trailer announced it with such fanfare when I just had no clue who any of these people were or why they were talking like idiots. I suspect a lot of uninitiated people in theaters felt the same way. The studio seems to have overestimated how much crossover business the movie would do.

For what it's worth, I did eventually watch Firefly and then Serenity as well and I liked it okay.

I feel safe in saying that it wasn't the quality of the film. Whedon's cult following is impressive and occasionally kind of scary; they were going to go see the movie no matter how good or bad it was. For comparison, look at Dollhouse - all my friends who are Whedon devotees were like, "Well, it doesn't really get good until after the first seven episodes," meaning they slogged through seven hours of their life watching a show they weren't enjoying just because of who its creator was. Serenity could have been two hours of Adam Baldwin farting into a tuba and that core audience still would have gone to see it.

my understanding is that the studio made the movie because they were convinced that, like Star Trek and some other properties that had been duds during original runs, Firefly's audience had mushroomed since cancellation

Yes, but there was no way to measure the actual size of the audience. The audience was bigger, but still not big enough.

Also, yeah, as said above, the green light was based on DVD sales of Firefly. Bear in mind that there was a huge campaign by Firefly fans to boost DVD sales by buying extra DVDs of the show and giving them out as gifts, so DVD sales ultimately did not correspond to ticket sales. The studio wasn't expecting a blockbuster, but was expecting a neat little profit, and that didn't wind up happening.

Wikipedia says "Glass and Tudyk could not commit to sequels, leading to the death of their characters." I just watched the series blu-ray, and in the features, both actors seemed super bought-in to the series and tearful at its cancellation. Why would they be cagey about committing to sequels?

They had other things going on. Tudyk's a busy guy. Neither of them wanted to commit to something that was uncertain, and I would imagine they didn't want to be in a situation where, down the line, they'd have to turn down a gig that paid well due to previously committing to a Serenity sequel.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 4:00 PM on January 21 [5 favorites]


But I'm curious as to why the Serenity movie did so poorly.

The movie did not appeal to a lot people, plain and simple. It didn't even make its production budget back at the box office. The trailer was wasn't very good and there wasn't a lot of marketing for it and what was there was aimed at the audience that would show up anyway. That's a very insular market, which the movie catered to, but there wasn't a lot of crossover appeal there.

While I myself loved the show, the actual premise was pretty weak, particularly with its cowboy/western trappings. I think Joss Whedon is a great writer and good director, but Buffy, Angel,Fireflly and Dollhouse will be viewed as earlier works where he was finding his voice, as opposed to actually getting a lot of mainstream popularity. Part of the genius of The Avengers was that he was finally able to crossover to the mainstream, by applying his usual great touches to a series that had a built in audience already, both time wise and from the previous Marvel movies.

Looking over the ratings for Buffy, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse, the highest ever were 5.3 million for season 2 and 3 of Buffy. Everything else averaged around 4 million. For comparison, the final season of ER was 10 million people, which was about the number of people who watched the first season of The Big Bang Theory, which currently pulls in 20 million viewers.

Long and short, as much as I personally think Joss Whedon is an incredibly talented creator, who's stuff I'd watch with little description, he did not appeal to a more mainstream audience when Serenity was released and I think that translated into the movie's lack of box office success.

It'll be interesting to see how his career goes after The Avengers.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:28 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Mixing genres can be deadly for general audiences. People like to know what they are getting into. There are exceptions, but generally, box office results bear this out. If you are an average member of the moviegoing public, and if you don't know if Serenity is going to be a comedy, a sci-fi, or a Western, or what, then you will pick something else to watch.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:43 PM on January 21


I was so depressed after I saw one of the preview showings (Wash!) that I could not enthusiastically recommend it.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:51 PM on January 21


i think the quality of the story suffered because they tried to fit the story they wanted to tell over a few seasons into two hours. i think they would have needed about one season to tell it correctly.
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:04 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


FAMOUS MONSTER: "The fan base was not big enough to prop up a wide-release movie, and there was virtually no crossover appeal. I remember seeing a trailer for Serenity and I'd had no idea what the hell Firefly was so it just looked like a dumb, low-budget sci-fi movie to me at the time. It struck me as weird that the trailer announced it with such fanfare when I just had no clue who any of these people were or why they were talking like idiots."

I am a big Firefly fan and can't disagree with this. Okay, I quibble with "talking like idiots" as it goes for every trailer for every fantasy or sci-film ever -- we're well-trained by movie trailers to suspend our disbelief thusly. But otherwise, yeah, the promotion machine apparently came up with zilch on how to pitch the film to those not familiar with the Whedonverse, and couldn't be arsed to think creatively about a marketing approach that would make sense.
posted by desuetude at 10:51 PM on January 21


I found some nice thoughts & discussions in the comments of a blog post here. Summary:

+ Lousy trailer and poster
+ Not enough appeal to attract non-Browncoats
+ Very little promotion and virtually no talk show presence for stars or creator within NBC/Universal
+ Opened the same week as Flight Plan, which had Jodie Foster, Sean Bean, Peter Saaaaarsgaaard, lots of promotion, and an awfully slick trailer that made it look much more like an action movie than it actually was.
posted by mochapickle at 3:11 AM on January 22


FWIW, I hadn't seen FIREFLY when I saw SERENITY, and I still haven't... but I liked the movie well enough, coming in cold as I did, and one of these days I'll be happy to check out the show.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 8:57 AM on January 22


I wonder if a Red/Blue demographic analysis would be enlightening. For example, Independence Day would appeal more to a Red audience, and Serenity would appeal more to a Blue audience. The political winds were shifting, and the ship of state was rolling into another tack. Star Trek TNG had evolved to Voyager to Deep Space 9, to Enterprise.

Therefore, Firefly cancelled because Fox.

(I don't have to look for conspiracies, they look for me.)
posted by mule98J at 9:37 AM on January 22


I asked this question before viewing the film, myself. I wanted to satisfy my curiosity before I went in.

Having seen it last night, I agree with some of the commenters on Alan Sepinwall's blog. Movie and TV are different media, and this illustrates why, for the past few years at least, TV's superior.

The series was about little beats and subtleties, plus a carefully developed web of relationships, affected by very long-arc gradual change (e.g. Jayne's moral development).

By contrast, the film was a hard-edged, fairly superficial, three reel space opera jammed with the action and the beats that lend themselves to a two hour format.

So the film had to be disappointing to both fans and to newbies. The rich, subtle goodness couldn't fit into a two hour flick with a beginning/middle/end, and the lack of that rich subtle goodness left some fairly standard (with some exceptions, like the interesting villain and other themes only quietly/tacitly referred to, which fans could chew on later) simple sci-fi action, but newbies and critics could feel the stripped-downness. That is, this was plainly an over-shorn puppy. Like making noodles out of lasagna.

Re: Walsh/Tudyk, a commenter in the previously linked page said:

-----------
As for Wash, Joss has since confirmed that Alan T would not sign a multi-pic deal, and that he had to have a shorter shooting schedule due to a conflict with a play he was performing in, and that was why Wash bit the dust. It's on the commentary on the Blu-Ray. Whedon also said that he now feels that killing Wash was essential to the tension of the final reel, but that it was not his original intent until the contract and scheduling problems with Tudyk caused him to pretty much have to kill off Wash.
-----------

So the actor wanted it all....to be known as a gung-ho Firefly true believer, weeping at conventions, while also being a cold-blooded Hollywood mercenary. I've gotta give him credit, he had it both ways. The fans still love him, were incensed at his death, etc., while he "kept his options open" in case something better-paying might come around. Nice trick.
posted by Quisp Lover at 9:38 AM on January 22


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