Today I’m going to add a short addendum to my previous post on Firefly’s depiction of “Core” planets. I stated then that I found the titular planet in “Ariel” to be a disappointing representation of all that is supposed to be great and marvellous about the core, due to the use of some lacklustre CGI and rather bare sets.
Firefly does, sort of, go back to the core again before the conclusion though, in the episode “Trash”. The upmarket floating villas that are depicted there might not technically be on a core world, but they certainly do represent core life. They are the refuges of the rich and powerful, and so represent much of what the core is: large, advanced and robotic in many of their operations.
This depiction is good and bad. The good is that you get a firmer impression of what the core is. The core is money and wealth, the core comes up with things like floating mansions, the core actually builds them, and the very best and richest of the core actually live in them. Just the sight of one of these things is enough to give the viewer a sense of the financial and political acumen that must be at play, and that’s after Mal has made it clear the kind of person who is actually living here. The CGI might be a little on the cheap side – this isn’t a blockbuster, and budgets must still be adhered to – but it’s a damn sight more impressive than the fairly limited shots of “Ariel City” we were treated to in “Ariel”.
The actual physical sets are also a step up. Durham’s home is a colourful, rich place: lots of buildings, lots of flowers, lots of greenery. Don’t underestimate such simplicities in setting a mood, especially since the series so far has mostly focused on deserts, scrubland and dingy urban landscapes whenever it has hit dirt. Here, the coreworlders have access to life’s little pleasure and luxuries: looking back at “Serenity”, we might remember Kaylee’s reaction to fresh strawberries. You can well imagine that bright flowers might be a similar rarity. No medical administration building made to look, barely, like a working hospital here: this time Firefly visited a Japanese Garden in California. And the mansion is a nearby, and rather nifty looking, water reclamation facility. And there are more people. Servants in flashy oriental-esque dress, to bring it home on the audience that we are looking at a culture of a different time.
The interior of the villa – I presume a unique construction to some extent – is a little bit more hit and miss. There is a certain cheapness in some of the props and details: the back and forth lights on the Lassiter security system always struck me as straight out of a stingy Star Trek episode and Durham’s showcase room isn’t showcasing all that much that looks impressive (it’s also over exposed to the hilt, I suppose to cover-up the lack of details). The rooms and hallways have been given the bare necessity to make them look futuristic and opulent: at times it works, and at others it does not, and you can see the panelling that must have been put together in a hurry to bring it all to fruition. Much like “Ariel”, “Trash” manages to deflect some of this with the great acting, dialogue and interactions on display: for all that the showroom isn’t very impressive, we still get to see Kaylee and Jayne trying to perform airborne technical engineering on a drone rubbish collector, the sort of sci-fi adventure that suits the setting.
Add in some neat sonic rifles, anti-kidnapping jewellery and hovering police vehicles and you’ve got yourself a halfway decent look at a possible future 500 years from now, one that manages to get across what the core should be far better than “Ariel” did.