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March 16 2010

Why Firefly was too awesome to live. An interesting article, with good theories about why Firefly & Serenity should have been hugely successful, but weren't. Includes a "reason" for Serenity's Box office failure that I've not heard before. (And that I disagree with)

Thanks to Zenman8512 on for finding the article.

You mean the piracy thing? Yeah, I have my questions about that one too.

But aside from that, a terrific article.
"His outlook toward doctors in particular grew much better, for instance." Hahaha, awesome. and true.

But was piracy a big problem for Serenity? Seems like anyone who would bother to download it wanted a copy or three to share around anyway (not to mention the extras).
I have copies of Firefly I bittorrented. I will free admit that. However I also own 3 different versions of the movie and 2 versions of the show. (Regular, special edition, and Australian tin can for the movie and US DVD release (which I bought on day one) and the australian tin can edition. I will likely buy both show and movie again on Blu Ray eventually. I just wanted a digital version of the show so I can have it on my iPod and honestly it's easier to get the torrent then it is to try and rip them myself.

Thankfully more movies are including a digital copy with the thing. I have Star Trek, District 9, and Zombieland on my iPod and it required no extra effort on my part.
I'm with war_machine. I've bought the same items and also for friends. Torrenting a copy just made it easier to view on my computer and iPhone without making the files myself.
Joss seems to be one of the few creators who get that torrenting helps him. Making stuff that's worth buying gives him an advantage too.
Joss seems to be one of the few creators who get that torrenting helps him.

When did he say that?
From a storytelling perspective, perhaps yes. However I'd say it's visual style (handheld, no sound in space, whip pans/zooms/focus errors in CG rendered sequences) has had a pretty heavy influence.

and I don't get the piracy line either. Maybe that's the excuse the author(s) tell themselves for why it did mediocre box office business?
I would think the author meant piracy at the time of release, not after the DVD came out.

I do wonder if Avatar did as well as it did because people knew it would only really work in 3D on a big screen and had to pay to go see it.
I don't recall much chatter about people downloading the movie at the time. Everyone was excited about seeing it in the cinema. Whether the fan screenings shown months before the general release were a good idea is another kettle of fish.
If I were going to pick one thing that really put me off the movie (besides the obvious -- poor Wash), I would pick the look. Everything seemed darker, less homey...and the cargo bay's look had completely changed to something far less inviting. I don't, however, think that put most people off the movie, because most people didn't go to see it and thus couldn't have been put off by it. I certainly don't think piracy had anything to do with it -- Simon's point about the screenings seems more likely.
Would the screenings really have hurt it that much? I mean most people nerdy enough to go to them (I say as a hurt fan who was busy graduating or taking classes or something at the time) were presumably those who were dedicated enough to watch it over and over again once the actual release happened.

Wasn't Serenity originally meant to come out around that time of the previews anyway? (I forget if the special effects delayed the movie or they just took their time with them upon realizing they were delayed).

I sort of wonder if it would have done better as sort of counter-programming to the Matrix sequel or whatever came out around that time. Sort of like that "you thought that sci-fi series ended up being disappointing? Well here's a better alternative!" thing that some people attribute the first Matrix's success to, compared to The Phantom Menace.

I dunno, or oh the might of Jodie Foster and schools starting up again.
I think, and I've said it before, is that Serenity was marketed badly. The trailers made it look like a comedy/spoof and if that's what you think it is then it doesn't look that funny. It should have been presented as a scifi action/drama and had the comedy touches as an unexpected bonus.

Plus I think that, as with Snakes On A Plane, the studio saw the internet hype and didn't realise that all that was coming from literally a few hundred people. There are millions of people out there who have never been to IMDB or AICN who needed to be reached.

Other than that I think this article makes some very valid points. I have a torrented copy of Serenity, but then I also have three legally bought copies of the DVD and a HD-DVD copy.
It's an interesting article, however its premise is totally undermined (particularly since it references Star Trek to prove its point) by the existence of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

In its later seasons one of the most plot-intensive shows I've ever seen, with characters who actually evolved over the course of the show.

Later than this - the Battlestar reimagining. A political/religious show, set in space. And what's more, the Serenity is supposed to be in the opening episode, in the background, or something like that, as a shout-out.

So I disagree with the article, but kudos for the link.
Would the screenings really have hurt it that much?

I think it didn't get the buzz Universal wanted. And I have a feeling the fan previews signalled "it's for Joss fans only". Shame actually as it's one of my two favourite ever movies of the 2000s.
Simon, I'm certain that he never said that torrenting helps him but I get the feeling he sees the pros and cons. I'm thinking about television rather than the film though.
People pirated the hell out of 'Avatar', 'The Dark Knight', etc, and yet it raked in the dough. I know it's not a 1:1 relationship to Firefly/Serenity, but the piracy excuse doesn't hold water. This wasn't a movie with a 300 million dollar budget. It didn't need to do massive numbers to be profitable. I love Joss, i love Serenity, but blaming the low box office at the feet of piracy is just silly. I don't endorse piracy and I think it can hurt the box office, but history has shown it can't single-handedly sink a ship (no pun intended). There were many other factors at work.
Leaving aside the piracy red herring, I agree with the article's point (as I read it) that the characters on Serenity, like in Buffy and Angel, actually evolved over the run of the show.

Picard was Picard was Picard just as Kirk was Kirk was Kirk whereas Wesley went from dweeb to warrior, Willow went from shy nerd to Magic Queen, Cordy went from teen witch to decent human being to evil monster to Coma Girl to dead...OK, some arcs were more fulfilling than others.

That's what I like best about Joss' work. The characters are more than the same-old same-old.
The piracy thing is a load of crap. Any real fan would have and did support the show/movie by buying as much as they could afford.

I bought, and gave away countless copies of the movie. I have it on DVD, Blu Ray, and even HD DVD. I had the show on DVD but I gave that copy to my sister - who now loves it - when I bought it on Blu Ray. I've never downloaded the torrents, but I can understand the people that did to share copies to get people interested or to put them on their iPod. Many of the people I got into the show went on to spend money buying their own copies of the show and movie.

I also watched the movie twice on opening night - in a row (and I'm glad I did 'cause the whole Wash thing was tragic and I may not have let myself like the movie if I hadn't already bought the tickets for the next show before seeing it). I saw it several more times in the theater before it left my town as well.

Everyone I know who was into the show felt the same way so I can't see how piracy would have affected the box office at all.
I don't remember ever torreting this movie and I've torrented a lot of things, but while I never saw this in theatres cause it never opened here,I did rent it and buy the torrent excuse is rather bullshit. and I'm not quite sure what to think of the article itself. it is good I guess even if its conclusion is rather pesimist.
I'm curious to know where the author got the piracy thing, as it seems to be the first time any of us have seen that particular argument, doesn't seem to make sense to most of us, and it isn't sourced in the article.
Quoting from the article...

Basically, Firefly set up a blueprint for anybody who cares to follow it. A few simple premises relatable characters, unique setting and simple, well-crafted storytelling, led to a great sci-fi show that used the strengths of the television medium to become exceptionally popular. But those simple ideals remain untouched...

I've not seen Firefly or Serenity so I can't and won't presume to judge them. I will say however that the idea of a sci-fi show with a cast of "everyman" characters, characters who aren't necessarily heroes and are occasionally outlaws, interesting settings, an evil government representing the status quo, and a storytelling structure in which the characters all have complex arcs and end up in very different places from where they started--in short, basically everything this article mentions--was not invented by Firefly. Even if you want to limit the discussion strictly to space-based sci-fi shows, Firefly still didn't create that particular "blueprint" (as the article calls it). Farscape was doing all of this three years before Firefly premiered. I don't begrudge Firefly its accolades, but it didn't invent the wheel.

As for why Serenity didn't do well at the box office, I think its really reaching to try to blame pirates. If you want to blame an external force, the best bet is marketing, I would think. I know that the marketing certainly didn't move me to see it, and I was a Buffy fan at the time.
Yep, agreed that the pirating probably didn't play a very big role (certainly not bigger than with other 'geeky' movies). I also don't think the fan screenings played that big a role. I simply don't believe they were visible or known enough to make a difference in how an avarage moviegoer would see the movie, and don't believe they had any impact in later fan attendance.

I do think the marketing was lacking and leaving most of it to "us fans" was a mistake. It was both undermarketed to a general public and often times obnoxiously overmarketed by its fans to the internet savy sci-fi public, many of whom probably ended up hating the movies guts because of it.

As for the article itself: I actually find myself disagreeing with most of it. The point I agree with is that "a crew of 'everyman' characters" is a fairly unique trope in a sci-fi show (Farscape did a bit of it too, even if they had royalty on board ;), but every other genre show I can think of from the top of my head didn't).

But I don't agree with the statement that Firefly was in any way unique in its evolving characters or the slow unwrapping of its story arcs. The era of TNG and its resetbutton lies far behind us. Like manreaction mentions, even Star Trek itself brough us DS9 in which characters evolved from the status quo. I'd even go so far as to state that in genre shows, the non-evolving reset-button kind has become the exception. That kind of storytelling is currently being done by most procedurals, and even those usually include some kind of larger arc or character development (if often times very subtle to not confuse the casual viewer).

Don't get me wrong: Firefly is one of my all-time favorite sci-fi shows on the basis of the quality of its writing, characters and storytelling. But the type certainly wasn't and isn't unique in many ways.

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