Used future: Serenity

Serenity, film set decor

Serenity, ship's lounge, 60s mod

Serenity, film set decor

Serenity, film set decor

Serenity, film set decor

The term “used future” was coined by George Lucas to describe the unkempt reality of life in outer space, specifically Han Solo’s dingy Millennium Falcon. Serenity, the film by Joss Whedon that concludes his cancelled sci-fi TV series Firefly, shares this worn-spaceship realism. But the second-hand spaceship in question, the Serenity, is a different species of used future than the Falcon; more homey and less bacheloresque. This is only partly because there are women on board.* Part of the premise of the series and film is that whether earth or outer space, people don’t change. In this solely human outer space, sans any alien life forms, the old human problems of social engineering and empire-enforced “progress” persist and must be resisted.

But it’s interesting to see twentieth-century modern furniture in a spaceship in the year 2517. Did nothing happen in decor in 500 years? It’s nice to know our midcentury furniture will have that much longevity. Fantastic. The ship’s lounge and living areas are midcentury to early 70s decor—teak furniture, rya rugs and space-age Italian plastic, all in great shape considering they’re over 550 years old. Then there’s a sort of hybrid country kitchen with a big early 20th century rustic wooden table paired with mismatched midcentury modern chairs, painted leaf motifs applied by the prairie-girl ship’s mechanic, and Asian lacquerware and chopsticks. There’s almost nothing we might associate with futurism or space other than the captain’s console. The bedroom of the captain is closer to a 1890s Japanese scholar’s study than to anything else. It’s odd that in the director’s commentary Whedon talks a lot about the film’s lighting, the ship’s engineering and even costumes, but never once mentions the ship’s set designer or decor.

If I had to live on a spaceship I’d want it to look like this, though on a ride this bumpy, I’d probably strap more objects down.

PS Anyone recognize that yellow couch? You can see it more clearly here.

Serenity, film set decor

Serenity, film set decor

Serenity (based on Firefly by Joss Whedon)

Serenity, film, set decor - kitchen

Serenity, film set decor

Serenity, film set decor

*Whedon is a self-proclaimed feminist and he tries hard. He does come up with some formidable female heroines but, disappointingly, he situates them within stereotypical roles or male fantasies. It’s eye-rolling: the hooker with a heart of gold; the ethereal crazy waif (this time a barefoot gymnastic teen killing machine who likes to do the splits); hot African american female soldier in leather; and the pretty idiot savant, a ditzy prairie girl engineer who somehow knows how to fix spaceships, but of course she does it intuitively. Disappointing for female viewers, or at least this one. Clearly Whedon had a juvenile male audience in mind for this. As usual it caused me to identify with the male lead, who, not surprisingly, got all the best lines and almost all the character depth.

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3 Responses to “Used future: Serenity”

  1. craigie Says:

    The sofa looks like a William Plunkett one:

  2. LB Says:

    Craigie, I think you’re right!

  3. belledame Says:

    appreciate your article. this film (and the series) had fantastic set design! not only the residences but also the outposts, canteens, etc that the cast visited. you see disco era chairs mixed with apothecary cabinets all over. i’m particularly partial to the Eastern influence in the character Inara’s spaces.

    my take on the ship’s furnishing was that things were added wherever they could scrounge them up, given how broke they all are. also, the ship was a junker when it was bought so some old stuff was probably still on board.

    i believe the furniture is bolted down. in the movie, they brace for a crash by having everyone jump into the lounge seats and pull on seatbelts, then jayne runs around checking that everyone’s belt is locked before trying to get to his own seat. they never discuss a gravity mechanism for the kitchen chairs since they are off camera.

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