And I thought I was a big Joss Whedon fan.
I just got my DVD copy of Done the Impossible, a documentary about the fans of Whedon’s show Firefly and the movie it inspired, Serenity, and I have to say, the producers and stars of this flick put me to shame.
I am addicted to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show that never gets old no matter how many times I watch each episode, and I think Firefly is the best science fiction show to ever grace the airwaves. I did a few dances of joy when Serenity was greenlit, and saw it opening weekend. I ended up seeing the film four times in the theater, and I bought the DVD. I preach the Gospel of Joss to pretty much everyone I meet, and have received many odd looks and derisive scoffs for my efforts, but I don’t back down – I think Buffy is one of the best television shows ever produced, and Angel and Firefly aren’t far behind, and I’ll tell that to anyone.
But watching this movie gives me the sense of this fanbase, and how committed they are, and how passionate. Whedon’s literate, imaginative, deeply emotional work inspires this in people, all the time, and here are stories of fans who started websites, signed petitions, created communities, hatched guerilla marketing schemes, evangelized, bought multiple copies of a not-inexpensive DVD set just to give away, and did everything they could to spread the word.
These are the fans of Firefly, a show that didn’t have a chance in the world to capture mainstream, prime-time attention. The show was too good, too thought-provoking, too well-crafted to last long on Fox. It premiered in September of 2002, and was dead by December of that year, partially due to the network’s inexplicable decision to shelve the pilot (seriously… the damn pilot) and run the episodes out of order. But it’s also not the kind of show that resonates with everyone – it’s an outer space western with rich characters and no aliens or easy bad guys.
But the people this show connected with turned out to be resilient, tenacious, and probably more committed to Firefly than I have been to anything in my entire life. Usually a show like this gets canceled and that’s it, but that wasn’t the case with Firefly. Fox aired 11 of the 14 episodes before yanking the thing, but endless letter-writing and fan campaigning convinced them to put out a complete series DVD set. And then the fans bought that in such amazing numbers that Universal gave Whedon a shot at a feature film.
That’s right – fans supported this canceled show so much that it became a movie. Tell me the last time that happened. (As I understand it, it was a little show called Star Trek…)
Done the Impossible is the story of that struggle to bring Firefly back to life, told from the fans’ perspective. It was made by fans, too – Jeremy Neish, one of the movie’s producers, is on camera for a bit where he tells about flying from Utah to California for a casting call for extras in Serenity. He then flew back to Utah, then hopped another plane to Cali a week later to be in the movie, and he got paid a grand total of $70 for his trans-continental adventure.
As the film plays, you follow the rise and fall and rise of Firefly through the eyes of the fans, and it’s an enjoyable trip. The filmmakers scored interviews with Whedon and several cast members, including the always-hilarious Nathan Fillion (and why isn’t he a movie star yet?), and the whole thing is narrated by Adam Baldwin. But the stars are the fans, often identified by both their real names and their online-community screen names, and while there’s an occasional hint of obsession, mostly these are just people who have been touched and affected by a great work of fiction.
Serenity spoiler ahead – I’m impressed that the movie doesn’t shy away from documenting the fans’ negative reaction to the resultant Big Damn Movie, in which Whedon killed off two of Firefly’s core cast. I know some fans who felt like they’d been stabbed in the heart, who felt betrayed after all the work they had done to keep this story going.
It was bold of Whedon to choose the story over the fans, and the deaths work perfectly in the context of the narrative. But still, for a fanbase that had modeled itself on this family traveling in space, losing one of their own was obviously painful. Here is one woman who cannot even bring herself to say “Wash was killed,” and here is another who asks, “What was the point of making the movie if you’re just going to kill off characters?” And here, as well, is Alan Tudyk, the actor who plays Wash, taking us through his process of anger and acceptance.
But Whedon never gives you what you want, only what you need, and redemption through pain is one of his major, ongoing themes. In a way, the final arc of Serenity mirrors the fans’ journey as well – they got their victory, but had to suffer first. I know I’m making a melodrama out of it, but at several points during this documentary the point is made that this is not just a TV show for these people, and watching their stories and their testimonies here, I believe it. I love this show, but it’s obvious that for the fans depicted in Done the Impossible, Firefly is much more, and its that passion that allowed Whedon to break the rules of two mediums and continue his story.
The movie concludes on a hopeful note, with an original song called “(We Want Our) Big Damn Trilogy,” and I can only nod in agreement. And if these fans have anything to say about it, we’ll get one. Done the Impossible is a portrait of unbridled fandom, but unlike something like Trekkies, it doesn’t poke fun, it celebrates and validates the passion it depicts. Whedon has said that Serenity is the fans’ movie, and while that’s true, in a sense, Done the Impossible is truly the fans’ movie, a big wet kiss to those who, as Whedon says, believed beyond reason.
You can order the DVD here. And if you haven’t seen Firefly and Serenity, well, I can’t recommend them highly enough.
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A quick look ahead before we pack it in for the week. I’m really tired – had a couple of exhausting stories this week, but next week should be lighter. Which is fitting, because there’s no new music next week worth writing about. I’ll be catching up with the Early November and Pure Reason Revolution reviews I promised last time.
We have two huge release dates coming up, though, and the first is August 8. We’ll get new ones from Ani DiFranco and Matthew Friedberger (of the Fiery Furnaces), as well as an EP from Sigur Ros and the next wave of double-disc reissues from the Cure. The other big date is September 12, when we’ll see (deep breath) the Mars Volta, Starflyer 59, TV on the Radio, Barenaked Ladies, Shawn Colvin, John Mayer, Basement Jaxx, Yo La Tengo (the awesomely titled I Am Not Afraid of You, and I Will Kick Your Ass), and the great Roger Joseph Manning Jr. of Jellyfish fame. Oh, and a nine-disc box set from Robert Plant.
In between those two, we’ll get records from Outkast, Starsailor, the Black Crowes, Dream Theater, Bob Dylan, Audioslave, Hem and Iron Maiden. And after the 12th, look for the Indigo Girls, the Feeling (thanks, Dr. Shore!), the Decemberists, Robert Pollard, Sparta and Unwed Sailor, as well as a b-sides box set from Tori Amos. As she once said, pretty good year.
Thank you for your kind attention. Next week, ambition reigns.
See you in line Tuesday morning.