Well! It's been quite a long time since I started on this trip, but I think I've finally reached the capstone: after viewing the complete televised works of Joss Whedon and Cowboy Bebop, last weekend I watched (or re-watched) their theatrical manifestations. (In the case of Whedon, that means "Serenity" not the original "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," which I had watched way back in 2004.)
Both movies were excellent and served their series well, although in different ways. In both cases there was a really comfortable feeling from seeing the cast again... it was almost like reuniting with old friends. Both maintained the themes from their shows while dramatically amping up the production values. One offered depth, the other heartbreak.
Let's dive in first with
COWBOY BEBOP MINI SPOILERS
I had known almost nothing about the movie prior to watching it, and was a little surprised that it takes place in the middle of the series. This was an interesting choice... one could argue that there really isn't any space for a movie after the series, and going the prequel route would mean losing half of the cast. That said, the move makes sense... it drops the viewer right into the middle of the action, without needing to go through the exposition of "who are these people."
I initially thought that the movie was probably much more rewarding for people who've seen the series than newbies. I'm less sure of that now, though... I'm almost tempted to say I'd use this movie to hook people into the series. Granted, new viewers might be a little bit confused about the characters, but frankly, they don't need to totally understand Faye or Ed in order to enjoy the kinetic force of the story. In all it feels like a good demonstration of what's best about the show without having a strong dependency on its backstory.
One final comment about the chronology: this has a big impact on the tension (or lack thereof) that one feels while watching it. I mean, think about it: you KNOW which characters are still going to be around for the television show, so you never really worry about any of them dying. That doesn't mean that there's no draw, of course... there's a compelling mystery, and plenty of surprisingly well-designed new characters to draw our worry. Still, it is an interesting effect.
As one would hope from a Cowboy Bebop movie, the music was EXCELLENT. The jazz themes seemed a bit less prominent than in the main show, but they made up for it with a variety of interesting pieces. As with the show, it simultaneously grabs your attention while fitting well with the action.
The animation was quite well done as well. The animation in the television show is good, but the movie adds an extra layer of polish and complexity that really benefits the show. There are some particularly compelling set-pieces, although frankly nothing that beats the amusement park setting from the show.
On the whole, this was a fully satisfying movie. It doesn't radically rework or extend Cowboy Bebop, it just serves up a particularly excellent offering. I'll gladly take what I can get.
SERENITY MEGA SPOILERS
This is the third time I've seen the movie, and the first time on DVD. It's less shocking now, but it still feels like a punch to the gut. Honestly, I would probably have watched this movie more often if it was less painful... it's incredibly good, but I always feel like a bit of a masochist when I see it again.
Many parts of the movie resonate more strongly and poignantly on subsequent viewings. Like the scene on Haven where Mal is talking with Book, and says, "One of these days, you'll have to tell me how a Shepherd gets to know so much about the Alliance," and Book says, "No, I don't." Or after they arrive on Miranda, and are standing in the middle of a dusty street, looking at the corpses that surround them, Jayne says something like, "They just died. Died for no reason," while the camera lingers on Wash.
It's bittersweet to view this movie in the context of its relationship to the 'verse. On the one hand, it's extremely unlikely that we will get to see that wonderful cast together again in... well, in anything. On the other hand, though, Joss's diverse interests and contacts can keep this extraordinarily rich setting from going entirely to waste. The first comic series was fine, but hopefully we'll have even more to look forward to. There's an MMO in the works that I personally don't have a lot of hope for, but it may well surprise me. There's a traditional pen and paper RPG that looks really cool, though I'm starting to despair of finding another good crew of RPGers. Actually, while looking for that last link, I stumbled across a page that shows an amazing collection of Firefly-related games. It's telling that so many of these are community-based, non-profit games. Telling, but not surprising. Throughout its (too bright, too brief) existence, Firefly has been marked by incredible fan devotion, as people embrace the 'verse and seek to make it their own.
The DVD itself is good. Video and audio transfer seemed great. The extras are decent - not amazing, like Lord of the Rings, but they do include interesting mini-features and such. It includes a gag reel, which I think I may start viewing at the end of the movie, to help lessen the sting.
On the topic of DVD: A few weeks ago they released a collector's edition of Serenity. It looks nice, though not revolutionary... a cast and crew commentary, the River Tam Sessions (which you can also find online), and some extra features and documentaries. They talk about "extended scenes", but I think that might be the same as what's on the disc I currently have. It's a superior disc so it's well worth picking up if you don't already own the DVD, but may not be worthwhile if you already have the old version. (If you do get the new one, let me know! I'd love to borrow it and check it out.)
It seems pretty remarkable that there's enough interest in this movie to bring out a new collector's edition, two years after the movie came out to disappointing performance at the box office. I don't know if that means Firefly fans are incredibly dedicated, or if we're just suckers. I'm sure there are plenty out there who feel, "If only I spend enough money on this, THEN the studios will bring back more Firefly and I can be happy again!"
END OF SPOILERS
See you, Space Cowboy.