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Whedon’s ‘Serenity’ greenlit

U moves forward on sci-fi spinoff

Universal Pictures has greenlit “Serenity,” the feature film based on Joss Whedon’s Fox TV series “Firefly,” which was canceled in late 2002 after just 11 episodes.

Deals are in place for Whedon to direct and for the original cast of the TV show to reprise their roles. Pic, budgeted in the mid-eight figures, is skedded for a June start and should be ready for a 2005 release.

After Fox pulled the plug on “Firefly,” Whedon struggled to continue the project, speaking with other nets and cablers about the skein, then finally turning to studios about a feature version. U acquired the feature rights from Fox last fall.

Whedon said the pic will be released under the title “Serenity” to give it some distance from the TV version. “It was important that people understand that the movie isn’t the series,” he said. “The movie is bigger, more epic than anything you can do in a series.”

To that end, he said he went out of his way while penning the “Serenity” script to make sure that it is accessible to auds who never tuned into “Firefly.”

“You’re not going to bring people into a movie if you’re explaining all the time what happened before,” Whedon said.

Series was a space oater set 500 years in the future, tracking the journeys of the crew aboard the Serenity.

Forthcoming pic is set about six months after the TV show left off, and centers on two passengers on board the ship who attract trouble to the crew.

The studio has closed a deal with Nathan Fillion to return as Capt. Malcolm Reynolds. Other original cast members Gina Torres, Morena Baccarin, Jewel Staite, Adam Baldwin, Sean Maher and Summer Glau are also in place.

Barry Mendel is producing the pic. Chris Buchanan of Mutant Enemy, Whedon’s shingle, and Mendel exec Alissa Tager are exec producing. Overseeing the project for U is vice chair Mary Parent.

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