Sunday, June 20, 2004

Email to a friend who teaches film

Hey I know you skipped teaching Westerns this time but I just watched the first disc of Joss Whedon's series Firefly which is basically a SF Western. Obviously not a new idea--Rodenberry explicitly sold Star Trek to NBC by saying it was "Wagon Train in space"--but done in a clever way. The main character is basically a bitter, disillusioned Confederate veteran while much of the rest of the cast could almost come from Stagecoach: a doctor, a prostitute, a preacher, a driver. Not entirely, though, since I don't remember any Ford film with a teenaged girl mentally unbalanced due to government psychological experiments. Maybe that was the director's cut of Donovan's Reef or possibly just Jane Russell after dealing with Hughes on The Outlaw. There's also some adapted iconography, most notably pistols and actual horses in certain scenes which actually do make sense in context. The pilot episode might even work in a Western class. Anyway, in the DVD commentary Whedon said he "studied with" Jeanine Basinger and took a lot of his ideas about space and civilization from her. And there's one bit that seems inspired by the end of Forty Guns.

Just from these first episodes, the show is quite good. It doesn't have the same kind of snappy patter as Buffy (though there are still some laugh-out-loud moments) but then these aren't the same kind of people. You always hear about how TV networks are looking for character-driven shows but here was one in the best sense and it didn't last a full season. I guess that even though the characters are more or less "good" they aren't explicitly so and at times are calculating and fighting among each other. Kinda the difference between the B-Western John Wayne and The Searchers John Wayne (or for that matter early Batman and modern Batman).