Serenity (HD DVD) (2005)
Menu Animation & Audio
Featurette-Future History: The Earth That Was (4:33)
Featurette-What's In A Firefly (6:34)
Featurette-Introduction By Joss Whedon (3:55)
Featurette-Re-Lighting The Firefly (9:41)
Audio Commentary-Joss Whedon (Writer / Director)
Featurette-A Filmmaker's Journey (19:52)
Easter Egg-A Fruity Oaty Good Time
|Year Of Production||2005|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Start Up||Language Select Then Menu|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Joss Whedon|
Universal Pictures Home Video
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1
French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1
Italian Dolby Digital Plus 5.1
German Dolby Digital Plus 5.1
Catalan Dolby Digital Plus 5.1
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.35:1|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.35:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
In the future, as Earth's inhabitants out grow their home and venture into space seeking new worlds to populate, an Alliance is formed between Earth's two main superpowers, the United States and China, to govern the new territories. Those territories that resist the Alliance's control are quashed in a bloody war that claims many lives and causes many of those that remain to question the Alliance's intentions. One of which is Mal, a veteran of the war who now captains his own freighter, Serenity, using it to carry out lucrative missions such as smuggling, robbery and the like.
Mal's simple existence of living from one heist to the next is turned upside down when one of his young crewmembers is rescued from ghastly experimentation at the hands of the Alliance. The young girl, River (Summer Glau) is purported to be a psychic and now has the Alliance in hot pursuit because she is known to have been in the company of some high-ranking politicians. What information did she intercept that has the Alliance so concerned? Surely such a small girl couldn't cripple a huge empire. The Alliance dispatches their most ruthless, yet gentlemanly agent to hunt down the ship Serenity at all costs.
Serenity's captain, Mal (Nathan Fillion), strikes me as a cross between Han Solo and Dr Who. He's a flawed character, but they are endearing flaws that give him superb humility and believability. This is the kind of captain that makes a decision and sticks with it, so you'd better not get in his way. The remaining crew of Serenity are an eclectic bunch that are equally endearing, particularly Inara (Moreena Baccarin). Inara's career as a companion isn't particularly well developed in the film, so this is one aspect of the story that would benefit from some familiarity with the television series. Otherwise, the film stands quite well on its own.
Serenity began its life as a short-lived television series on Fox, called Firefly. Although the series was cancelled before the credits rolled on episode six, it received a successful DVD release and has garnered quite a cult following.
My review of the Region 4 two-disc edition can be found here.
Serenity has been transferred in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, at 1080p resolution. Those who are used to a faster PAL frame rate might notice that camera pans are not quite as smooth. This is because most HD DVD discs are encoded at 24 frames per second, which is truer to the cinematic presentation and also avoids audio pitch issues. To make the video stream compatible with current display technology, HD DVD players process this video stream at 60Hz, with a 3:2 pulldown effect. While Serenity's HD DVD presentation is exceedingly superior to the SD version, the flaws of the source remain.
I reviewed this HD DVD on my Sanyo Z2 LCD projector (scaling down to 720p), using a Toshiba HD-D1 for playback, which is limited to 1080i output resolution. I currently use a HDMI to DVI-D converter to display the HDCP encoded video signal. Strangely, when my Toshiba is set to display at 720p the disc crashes at the studio logos and will not load any menu.
In my review of the SD transfer I noted a great deal of film grain in the image but it appears to be a lot less problematic in this transfer. To its credit, while the grain is visible in all scenes, the HD image has a significantly greater depth and vibrancy than the SD transfer. Colours are amazingly rich and realistic. Not a hint of compression haze or blocking. No haloing or edge enhancement. On a big screen, the pros of HD are plain to see.
The level of detail is excellent, particularly in fine textures such as fabrics and costumes. The fine lace of the teacher's shirt (or is it a blouse?) at 2:10 is a good example of the strengths of this HD transfer.
This is in fact the second HD DVD I have viewed, the other being Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. Upon viewing Serenity, I noted straight away the difference in these transfers; Unforgiven is less affected by film grain and appears decidedly sharper overall. It's clear that while Serenity's image has a depth and clarity that exceeds most standard definition DVDs, the degree of film grain that is present prevents it from being a stellar example of the HD format's real potential.
Darker scenes are very well presented and don't exhibit any of the noise or shading issues that are common in SD transfers. Black levels are absolutely jet when need be.
As I noted above, the depth of colours are startling. A significant amount of colour grading has been performed in post production, increasing colour contrast in some scenes and giving the film an undersaturated, cold appearance in others. Other scenes are dominated by a strong sepia tone.
Besides the film grain issues, there are no other dire artefacts to speak of. I noticed a few tiny specs of dust here and there, but that's it.
I viewed a fair portion of the film with the English subtitles activated and found them to be accurate to the spoken word. The font is an arial style, rounded white with a black outline and very easy to read. English subtitles for the Hard of hearing are also supplied.
There are six soundtrack options, one of which is an audio commentary by Director Joss Whedon. The English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 soundtrack is the default if you have chosen English in the initial setup menu. A number of other languages are included.
Dolby Digital Plus is not a lossless format, rather it is closer to the bitrate of common dts audio that we are more accustomed to. It is said that some AV receivers will process the Dolby Digital Plus stream as dts, however I have set up my Toshiba HD-D1 to process the audio on board and output it as 5.1 96KHz PCM via HDMI. This will be true for all of my future HD DVD reviews, as long as I am using the Toshiba.
The audio is noticeably crisper in comparison to the SD disc, which was graced with a lowly 384Kb/s soundtrack. Channel separation is excellent, while effects and score are much brighter.
The English dialogue is always distinct in the audio mix and is not overpowered by effects or score. The ADR quality is very good and is mixed seamlessly. Audio sync is perfect.
The surround channels are utilised for all manner of effects, from subtle atmospherics to loud passing vehicles and explosions. The rear channels are also used to carry the soundtrack score. Voices are generally confined to the front sound stage and rarely stray to the rears.
I was particularly impressed by the score by David Newman, which often employs a rich, earthy, acoustic feel to contrast the futuristic technology of the film. The score benefits greatly from the increased resolution of the Dolby Digital Plus audio stream, with a depth and brightness that is instantly recognisable if you are familiar with the film.
The biggest improvement overall is in the bottom end. The LFE channel is employed very well to add strong depth to the film's effects and score. Passing ships, explosions and weaponry all benefit from some absolutely awesome subwoofer activity.
|Surround Channel Use|
This is a good selection of bonus material, presented in 480i and covering many aspects of the production. The extra features are presented in widescreen, however none are 16x9 enhanced. Included in the red amaray case is a small flyer, imploring the viewer to ensure their HD DVD player is utilising the latest firmware. A nice idea!
I should note that while the cover slick is labeled with our Australian ratings logos, the disc itself is clearly branded with various European ratings. So, ours is practically an import of the Euro release.
There are a few interesting scene extensions here and it is easy to see why they were trimmed. There is a play all function and each has an optional Director commentary.
A succession of prop malfunctions and dialogue bungles.
Director Joss Whedon explains a little of the film's back story and his intentions as far as themes are concerned.
Whedon and several other crew members discuss one of the key chase scenes in detail, followed by a walk through the film's effects.
"This movie should not exist" says Whedon, as he explains his deep love for the story and the film. This introduction appears to have been intended for an early cut of the film because Joss apologises for it being incomplete.
The demise of Firefly is touched upon, as well as Joss's tenacity for the concept. Then this featurette follows the cast to the San Diego Comic-Con where they confront a legion of Firefly fans. Some clips from the original television series are included.
Joss shares some anecdotes from the film's production and explains several of the storytelling tricks that were employed in the editing stage. Joss is an interesting speaker and there are virtually no lengthy pauses or boring moments in this commentary.
This covers the script writing process, rehearsals and the unique interaction between the cast and Director. Joss explains the fundamental differences between making a TV series and a feature film. We also see a very flexible Summer Glau in training for her impressive action scenes.
A closer look at the Fruity Oaty Bars commercial that plays such an important role in the film. This egg is listed (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) on the cover slick, but I wasn't able to find it. The same egg was included on the SD disc and was very easy to locate on the main menu.
The Region 4 SD two-disc edition contains an additional disc, with the following extras:
A HD-DVD release is available in North America, but it also omits the Filmmaker's Journey featurette. It includes a Spanish dub, but does not have the additional European language options. Ours wins.
The video transfer is let down by persistent film grain, but has a nice vibrancy in its palette.
The audio transfer is very good.
The extras are extensive and relevant to the film.
|DVD||Toshiba HD-D1, using HDMI output|
|Display||Sanyo PLV-Z2 WXGA projector, Screen Technics Cinemasnap 96" (16x9). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to DVD player. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Orpheus Aurora lll Mains (bi-wired), Rears, Centre Rear. Orpheus Centaurus .5 Front Centre. Mirage 10 inch sub.|