There were several highlights to being a browncoat at Dragon*Con 2010. For one thing, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau and Morena Baccarin were in attendance, and it was Sean’s first Dragon*Con besides. And yes, I did get to sit in on the Kaylee-Simon panel, where they came out with champagne, chatted, and were interrupted by Nathan Fillion calling both their phones in an elaborate stunt. But yeah, there was more than just the guests and other “Whedonverse” antics. There was a new movie! No, not from Joss, but a fan-made production that has been making quite a stir amongst the fan communities.
The story of Browncoat: Redemption is an easy enough one. Laura Matthews captains the ship Redemption, a Scarab-class transport, and has a fellow ex-browncoat as her second-in-command and medic, two engineers that work together to keep the ship barely in the sky, a former boxer for security, and businessman who keeps the jobs coming. They take a job from Feldman, a handler, who then rats them out to the Alliance, who is looking to discredit the ex-browncoat smugglers and somehow play down the events of the Serenity (which took place three months before this). This will be especially poignant as Laura has a rather discrediting secret in her past that could turn even her own crew against her.
This is a fan film. From references to smuggling black-market beagles to genre-savvy tongue in cheek jokes to obvious character recreations, this film makes no bones that it is homage instead of made to completely stand on its own. This is not a bad thing, per se, but it did leave me kind of wanting more. The constant references and hat tricks (including them somehow getting Michael Fairman, the actual Niska, to reprise his role for a cameo) were kind of off-putting to the actual story. The end could have had just as much gusto as the end of Serenity, with a second Independence War starting, but it was instead given a global reset and felt more like a pilot to a new series than a full movie.
So, negatives aside, the film still had better dialogue and direction that Avatar: The Last Airbender. Yeah, it was obvious they were running with a limited budget and timeframe, but the costumes and sets were still passable, and it was more or less a standard Firefly-like plot. And I’ll tell you what, the fans loved it. I tried to actually watch this at Dragon*Con, but my dark confession is that I didn’t get the chance. The line to get into the ballroom where it was being shown spanned floors. That’s right, it went up and down stairwells. Fortunately, I stopped by the filmmakers booth in the exhibitor’s hall and picked up a copy for home viewing. (And it is even signed by the captain!) By the filmmaker’s numbers, though, over a thousand people attended the premier, and they streamed it for free on their website during the weekend as well and had some six thousand-ish hits.
But what is the most impressive about this film is that it is a charity event. Not that they could have made a profit off it anyway, but they could have just distributed it for free. Instead, they are trying to raise a half million dollars for their charities, which are: Kids Need to Read, Equality Now, The Dyslexia Foundation, and The Al Wooten Jr. Heritage Center, and The Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation. (You can donate at this link.)
So, is this an amazing piece of filmmaking? Eh, it’s passable for what it is. But it is definitely worth the watch to scratch a Firefly itch or to just see how far the fandom has gone. It would not hurt you one bit to buy it off their site, and you’d be donating to charity at the same time. Can’t beat that.
Richard Fife is a writer, blogger, and probably more of an Alliance Purple-Belly than a true Browncoat. You can read more of his ramblings and some of his short stories at http://RichardFife.com. You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.