Serenity – Movie Review (***)

(Originally posted on 11-05-05)

I never saw the TV series. A lot of my friends were huge fans of it and took every opportunity they could to encourage me to watch it. But I never did, and quite frankly I went out of my way to not watch it (some silly excuse having to do with my overstrained ego and being jealous of the way director and writer Joss Whedon has been able to build huge and loyal fan bases while I languish in IT Sales…).

Suffice it to say, though, that I have now purchased the whole TV series of Firefly on DVD based simply on how well I liked the movie.

Serenity is about the push of a crew of a ship in a multi-planet system that are trying to find their place and live their lives in a society that doesn’t have a place for them. Mal (Nathan Fillion) is the captain of the Firefly class ship Serenity and a veteran of a former uprising against the Alliance which they lost, now he is a freebooter hauling sometimes legal and sometimes illegal cargo from place to place. His crew is a mishmash of misfits that have either fought with him in the war or he has taken under his wing. They don’t get along perfectly, they argue and they disagree, but they are something of a family.

The little wrench in their little underground life on the outskirts of civilization is River Tam (Summer Glau), a teen age girl that is not only a telepath, but has also been subconsciously conditioned by the Alliance to be a fighting machine of unmatched ferocity. She also just happens to have read the minds of several very high placed officials in the government and now unwittingly harbors the knowledge of a secret that can threaten the idyllic perception that the Alliance is a benevolent force in the universe and wants only what is best for everyone. And this puts our little crew on the run as everything and everyone they know and care about are at risk, at least until they are through running.

Serenity is a great film. It is smart and the action grows organically out of the story and characters and never really feels like it is tacked on or there just to respond to studio notes. The actors are all engaging and personable, sure they are for the most part stereotypes, but they are stereotypes that have a sense of depth and history – of having earned the right to be stereotypes. They aren’t movie star beautiful, they are quirky and personable and this in itself is a triumph for Whedon, to be able to mount a big screen version of a critically lauded but failed TV series and not be forced to add a big star to the mix to make it marketable.

I liked the way the dialogue was constructed, the way it was delivered in a semi-formal prose like manner at times and I liked the way the characters would swear and mutter off hand comments in mandarin chinese. Granted, there were parts that didn’t completely work on the big screen and were more reflective of the conventions that we are more used to on television, however, I am not sure that the breadth of the story and the implied shared history of the characters would have worked as well without those moments regardless of how awkward they might feel written large on film.

So, yeah, I have had an infantile dislike for Joss Whedon for a while, but never let it be said that even in the midst of my petty jealousies that I wasn’t mature enough to admit when I was wrong. Serenity is a solid movie and a great piece of work. Joss isn’t so bad after all, I guess. I even laid out 40 odd bucks for the series on DVD… just don’t expect me to do the same for Buffy.

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