When Joss Whedon sat down to write Serenity, he didn’t hold back. The first draft of the film, that has come to be known as the “Kitchen Sink” script, is recognisable as what Serenity ended up as, but is also incredibly different in many fundamental ways. Aside from a general expansion of nearly every scene, with the odd line of extra dialogue here and there, and the addition of many extra scenes (some of which would be filmed, but then ended up on the cutting room floor), the Kitchen Sink script included some extra elements for the story, changed characterisation, and additional action sequences.
At 190 pages, it is a whopper, especially if you go by the standard scriptwriting rule, as espoused by Blake Snyder and co, that a page of script should generally equate to a minute of screen time. A Serenity that is over three hours long would appeal to hard-core Browncoats I’m sure, but was never likely to get made. This is the first draft after all, and I’m sure Whedon was well aware that this initial presentation would have to be meticulously honed down. Let’s go through some of the things that didn’t make it into the final cut, per the chronology of the film itself.
The Hands Of Blue make an appearance in the Tam siblings’ escape from the Academy in the films beginning, as the two agents chasing Simon and River down. The final product chooses to remove the original series reference with these two men, though they retain the same basic look. Copyright issue perhaps, or maybe Whedon just wanted to leave Firefly be.
The Operative has a name here: Jude. It’s tempting to seek for meaning in that, and any Roman Catholic worth their salt might think of the Patron Saint of Lost Causes, but it doesn’t really fit. “Jude” is much the same as his final version, but has a more complimentary streak throughout the Kitchen Sink, going out of his way to praise Mal in their encounters and as he searches for the Tam’s. In the end, I think having the character be nameless fits much better. (Also, wouldn’t Mal be a better fit for the Lost Causes thing?)
I was struck at the stage direction and notes for the scene that introduces Serenity and its crew, with Whedon already planning out the one-shot voyage through the ship long before filming had started. I imagine this had been a long thought out idea, and it works as well on paper as it did on screen (and I’ll get to it in time).
Throughout the first act of the film, up until the Maidenhead fight, Simon and Kaylee get a bit more dialogue to set-up and add flesh to their romantic sub-plot. Simon gets to look more oblivious to Kaylee’s sentiments at the start, and later reveals that Mal warned him off any attempt at a relationship with Kaylee early on in his residence on Serenity, which is the major provoking factor in a Mal/Kaylee spat later (much of which is retained in the final product, the “haven’t had nothing twixt my nethers” conversation, but which gives it a bit more spice). Perhaps Whedon thought this was going too far with the soft reboot in regards Mal’s relationship with Simon, or more likely felt that Mal would never assume such an authoritarian position over Kaylee’s romantic/sex life.
There’s a great scene for River that never made it in, where she wonders into Inara’s shuttle, now vacant, and starts to re-enact some of the more intimate moments that occurred there in monotone as they pop into her head, until interrupted by a comically disgusted Mal. I imagine this was just a time-related cut.
A very odd part of the Kitchen Sink is “General Obun”, a Portuguese speaking Alliance commander whose troops are harassing the Companion Training House that Inara is part of. In the final cut, Inara’s excuse for asking Mal to the planet is to deal with some local troublemaker, but you just assume that was a fiction. But no, he was real, and a serious problem, an Alliance military man who seemed set on turning the Training House into his soldiers’ personal brothel. Inara’s reaction to him is meant to set-up how much she has changed because of her time on Serenity, but then suddenly the whole thing is dropped, once “Jude” and his special forces arrive. Obun is never seen again. It feels very odd in the script, and I’m not surprised it was cut.
Mr Universe retains the same place and journey in the story, but is just a bit zanier and weird, the crew, especially Zoe, forced to play into some of his deluded ramblings in order to get what they want out of him. The character works a bit better when he is more endearing I think, so it’s good that the sleazier element was removed (the love-bot remains though)
A big thing to be addressed as the crew have their first visit to Haven. Book is on the ship from the start, and his role on Haven is given to a character named “Dresden”. As you picture a leather jacket wearing Chicago wizard, it is to be noted that Dresden doesn’t have the same impact as Book would have in the final version, essentially just welcoming Mal to Haven in one scene and then denying him entry in the next. The final conversation between Mal and Book has no kind of form in the Kitchen Sink.
Mal’s “rescue” of Inara has a bit more to it, following his first encounter with Jude. The two engage in a race against Alliance fighter craft, that they have to lead into a mountain side to deal with. It’s the first of a few additional action beats that the final cut didn’t have the time or budget for, presumably.
River’s discovery of what Miranda is comes in a rapidly different way. As the crew are denied entry to Haven based on how wanted they are, they are witness to the Alliance attack on the settlement, and engage the small warship that’s doing it. I say “engage”, when I really mean they ram it repeatedly, before cutting the ships systems and dropping on the enemy from above, smashing it into Haven. While all of this is going is when River gets free, takes care of Jayne and then Simon, before accessing the computer systems to find Miranda: in this version she enters the cockpit and holds a gun to Mal’s head from behind, rather than Mal sneaking up on her. It’s a jarring difference from the final version. Even leaving aside the lack of time or finances to make such an action scene, it comes way too soon after the last one. Having the crew stumble upon the aftermath of Haven’s destruction works just fine, and River’s escapades on the ship get to breath as their own thing, and not just an addendum to something else.
Incidentally, Mal’s speech to the crew as he prepares to Reaver up Serenity in the aftermath of the Haven massacre includes a threat that he will “fucking shoot you” if any of them get in his way. No Mandarin Chinese this time, just a bare-faced curse word, which apart from a rather tame “monkeyshit” earlier is the only such one. The final product changes this to “I will shoot you down”, but it’s fair to say the Kitchen Sink’s version has a bit more power to it.
Much of what follows would stay the same all the way to the final cut. Miranda and what happened there is discovered, and Serenity makes its plan to get the word out. Mal’s “I aim to misbehave” line is missing though, and the escape from Miranda includes a drawn out action sequence where Reaver ships try to hit Serenity with missiles, before space-suited Reavers have a fight with Mal on top of the ship. It’s all a bit much, and it’s no surprise it wasn’t in the production. One planned moment, when a speck of space debris leaves a gaping hole in a Reaver did make me think of Gravity in a weird way.
The finale plays out almost exactly the same as Serenity, with one very, very notable exception: the fates of Wash and Book, who in the Kitchen Sink survive to the very end. No crew member of Serenity kicks the bucket, though they do get messed up severely in the final encounter. I don’t know if Whedon really did envision a story where no one would die, or if he was just still formulating that idea. Certainly, he isn’t the kind of storyteller to balk from such things, and in time I’ll discuss that most shocking of moments in Serenity. As it is, Wash’s “Watch how I soar” line gets interrupted just by the arrival of Reavers outside, and not a spear through the chest. And, of course, Book was never on Haven to get killed there. They shoot some Reavers in the last combat – Book a bit more reluctantly than the others, it is noted – but nothing else really changes. The Kitchen Sink’s final scenes play out essentially as they are in the final version, minus a funeral, right down to the last line.
It is still the same story, with the same themes and messages, but ultimately so different that it almost feels wrong reading through it. The glimpse of a Serenity where the bitter portion of the bittersweet ending is removed is the kind of tantalising thing that just scratches at the scar left behind by the deaths of Wash and Book, bait for fan fiction. As it is, it’s an interesting roadmap on the way to Serenity, a look at what might have been, what was never likely to be and what we’re better off without.