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From Sun-sentinel.com


Amid rabid fanship, a shot at Serenity

By Phoebe Flowers

Monday 4 July 2005, by Webmaster

On May 26, rabid sci-fi fans filled a sold-out theater in Aventura for a screening of a hotly anticipated new movie. The demand for seats was so great, theater staff even wheeled in a few desk chairs to accommodate the overflow. When the lights dimmed and the projector began its telltale murmur, wild cheers spontaneously erupted — only to be quickly extinguished by urgent shushing. This audience was not willing to miss a single moment of what was about to unspool, even if it meant stifling their audible delight.

Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith had opened exactly a week before. In theaters surrounding this one, audiences were helping to propel the final installment of the George Lucas epic to the more than $200 million it siphoned up around the world in those seven days.

Demographically speaking, most of the fans in this theater had probably been among the Star Wars crowds. But that was all in the past. The film this crowd was breathless to see on this night was one that was made for a relatively paltry $40 million, with a cast of unknowns. It wasn’t even finished, for that matter; the music and effects were missing, because it won’t officially hit theaters until Sept. 30. And, rather than springing from a wildly profitable franchise like Lucas’, this movie originated as a Fox TV show canceled in its first season.

The movie is Serenity. Chances are, you haven’t even heard of it. But a whole lot of people have, and they are the reason that this movie, based on the sci-fi/western hybrid Firefly, may be the grassroots success story of the year.

What’s great about Serenity has nothing to do with marketing, or famous faces, or dazzling special effects (which, again, didn’t even exist yet in this rough cut). Serenity has a simple integrity that barely exists among major studio releases. And yet, this is hardly the tiny indie you might expect. Universal Pictures was willing to give creator Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel) the freedom — and, more crucially, the money — to expand his futuristic universe to the big screen.

Why? Because, as the perpetually affable Whedon stressed in a taped interview that preceded the early screening, the fans made their voices heard. The TV show’s ratings might not have been stellar, but the sales of the DVD were. And Universal had reason to believe those fans would come out in force for a movie.

Now, if you’re among that fan base, you probably know that I reviewed the DVD set somewhat unfavorably. I say that not just because I am a raging egomaniac, but because I have never received so many outraged e-mails for a lukewarm review as I did when I made the mistake of calling Firefly underwhelming. (An assessment I stand behind, by the way.)

And that’s why it came as an enormous surprise to me that Serenity struck such a nerve. Whedon’s big-screen directorial debut is smart, funny, assured and just plain good. What’s more, it makes Star Wars look like vacant, plastic eye candy in comparison.

In advance of the Sept. 30 release, the Sci Fi Channel will show all the episodes of Firefly — even the three that didn’t air on Fox — starting July 22. And if you haven’t seen one of the early rough-cut screenings yet (another took place June 23 in 35 cities, all of which sold out), keep an eye on cantstopthesignal.com for possible future showings.

People love Serenity not because a carefully orchestrated PR campaign enticed them to, but because they have genuine respect for Whedon and his work. The fans created this movie, not the other way around. This would be admirable on its own. But the fact that the finished product is actually good is something that not just Whedon can be proud of. If you’re one of the ones who helped make it happen, you can take a bow, too.

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