Serenity (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Nov 14, 2017
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Serenity (4K UHD Review)

Director

Joss Whedon

Release Date(s)

2005 (October 17, 2017)

Studio(s)

Universal Pictures (Universal)
  • Film/Program Grade: B
  • Video Grade: B-
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B-

Serenity (4K Ultra HD Blu-ray)

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Review

Joss Whedon’s Serenity opens with a flashback that reveals how Simon (Sean Maher) broke his sister, River (Summer Glau), out of an Alliance security base – events which are set prior the original Firefly TV series. But then the film leaps past the end of the series to continue the story of the transport Serenity and its crew. Because of her special abilities, Mal (Nathan Fillion), Jayne (Adam Baldwin), and Zoe (Gina Torres) bring River along during a bank heist, only to have their efforts interrupted by a Reaver attack. Their close escape angers Simon, who decides that he and River will leave the ship at their next port of call. When they arrive, however, a subliminal message causes River to attack people, so Mal takes them back aboard the ship to get to the bottom of things. They learn that message was sent by a ruthless Alliance operative (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, of Doctor Strange and The Martian fame), who has been tracking River since her escape. Now that he’s triggered her, he’s got River’s location and will stop at nothing to get her back. But Mal and the crew also learn that clues to a terrible secret are locked in River’s mind, clues that could be the key to bringing down the Alliance once and for all.

Given the popularity of Fox’s Firefly TV series (see our review of The Complete Series on Blu-ray here) despite its premature cancellation, it wasn’t a surprise to learn that the series would be continued in some form or other. The surprise was that Universal would be the studio to do it... and in a feature film no less. Written and directed by Whedon, Serenity probably doesn’t work well as a stand-alone experience if you’ve never seen Firefly, but it does serve as a good conclusion to the series’ storyline, offering answers to key questions it raised and a resolution (of sorts) for some of its characters. Think of the film as the 2-part finale that Firefly never got to have and you shouldn’t be disappointed.

Serenity was shot on 35 mm photochemical film in Super 35 format and finished to a 2K Digital Intermediate. For its Ultra HD release, Universal upsampled this source and gave it an HDR10 color grade. The result is presented here in 2160p in the original 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The final image looks good, but it’s nowhere near reference quality. Depending on the scene, fine image detail and texturing goes from just fair to excellent, but it’s very uneven. The HDR does give the highlights a nice boost, but the darkest areas of the image look a little too crushed and muddy. Still, the colors strongly benefit from the HDR pass which gives them rich, luminous tones. You can see this especially in Chapter 7, as the Serenity and its crew visit the planet Beaumonde, with its bright neon signage and boldly-lit markets. This image is an improvement over regular Blu-ray, but only just.

The audio on 4K, however, is another matter. Universal has included a new object-based DTS:X mix here that’s incredibly active. It boasts terrific clarity, lively and precise staging of its various audio details, a massively wide (and tall) soundstage, and smooth panning. The track offers impressive atmospherics and thunderous bass too; things almost get too aggressive and punchy during the film’s action sequences. This track certainly puts your surround speakers through a workout. Additional audio options include French, French Canadian, Spanish, and Japanese 5.1 DTS and subtitles are available in English SDH, French, French Canadian, Spanish, Japanese, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Chinese, and Greek.

The 4K disc includes two audio-based extras only:

  • Audio commentary with writer/director Joss Whedon
  • Audio commentary with Whedon and cast members Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, Summer Glau, and Rob Glass

You also get the previous Blu-ray edition of the film in 1080p, with the same two commentaries, and the following additional extras (most created for the original DVD release):

  • Alliance Database (interactive – HD)
  • Deleted Scenes (with optional commentary – SD – 9 scenes – 13:54 in all)
  • Outtakes (SD – 6:04)
  • Future History: The Story of Earth That Was (SD – 4:32)
  • What’s in a Firefly (SD – 6:33)
  • Re-Lighting the Firefly (SD – 9:41)
  • Joss Whedon Introduction (SD – 3:54)
  • Extended Scenes (SD – 4 scenes – 6:14 in all)
  • Take a Walk on Serenity (SD – 4:06)
  • A Filmmaker’s Journey (SD – 19:55)
  • The Green Clan (SD – 3:07)
  • Session 416 (SD – 5 scenes – 8:00 in all)

There are some Blu-ray U-Control features too, including:

  • Picture in Picture
  • Visual Commentary with Whedon and the Cast
  • Digital Tour of Serenity
  • Mr. Universe’s Compendium

There’s an Easter egg as well: In the Extended Scenes menu, navigate down from the last scene listing to reveal a Serenity logo – press enter to see the Fruity Oaty Bar Commercial (SD – 1:38). This bonus content is good, on the whole, and most everything from the 2007 Collector’s Edition DVD carries over here except for the Sci-Fi Inside: Serenity TV Special (SD – 21:46). As such, you may wish to keep the DVD to retain it. Of course, you also get a Digital HD copy code on a paper insert in the packaging.

If you already love Firefly and Serenity, and you’ve upgraded to 4K Ultra HD, you’ll certainly want to add this title to your collection. For more casual 4K enthusiasts, your mileage will vary. Consider looking for a good sale price if you choose to purchase this disc, however, as it’s not the best bang for your buck on this format.

- Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

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