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Firefly - "Serenity" Movie - Brokenfrontier.com Review

By Neil Figuracion

Friday 16 September 2005, by Webmaster

Back to the Black, a Serenity movie review *trailer-level spoilers*

After the cancellation of Joss Whedon’s cult hit TV series Firefly, the crew of Serenity gets to fly again! How do they take it to the big screen? Plus, will you really need to watch the DVDs before opening night? *trailer-level spoilers*

There’s an awful lot of movie in Serenity!

The making of the film is a bit of a Cinderella story. There was a short-lived television series that hit the airwaves for a very brief time in 2002 called Firefly. The show was about a small band of misfits and outlaws traveling under the radar on board a space ship called Serenity. They’re a ragtag bunch who steal, scavenge, and scrap to make their way. The series was cancelled after 11 episodes due to low ratings. The fans, calling themselves Browncoats, rallied. Numerous web-sites and internet petitions were created to bring the downed favorite back to the air. Attempts to find a new network for the series failed. However, when the DVD set was released, it quickly breached the top ten sales list on Amazon.com, and has stayed near the top ever since. The brisk sales were not lost on studio execs. Shortly afterward, Joss Whedon, creator of the series was contracted by Universal to bring his vision, about a group of underdogs to the big screen. Serenity will see its official U.S. release on September 30th.

Serenity is a great movie whether or not you’ve ever seen Firefly. The film is thrilling and gripping, hilarious and horrific. Even for seasoned fans, Serenity creates a sensory overload within the first few minutes, and keeps up that pace throughout. The film starts with a bang and never lets up! One of the film’s faults is that without prior knowledge it may be a bit difficult to feel any connection to the characters as their stories whiz by during the first half. Whedon’s approach to the exposition is akin to cramming it all in with a crowbar. However, everything you need to know about the characters is shown in the film, even if it runs at a breakneck pace.

If you’re curious, here are the basics: Malcolm Reynolds (played by Nathan Fillion of Saving Private Ryan) is a veteran on the losing side of a civil war in space. He’s a “Browncoat” who fought hard against the galactic Alliance, and he doesn’t regret it. Mal captains Serenity with a ragtag crew that barely ekes out a living by taking whatever jobs they can. In their travels they have taken on two fugitives, a brother and sister named Simon and River Tam. While River has proved a bit unpredictable, Simon guaranteed their passage by serving as the ship’s doctor. The film begins as the crew are reminded they don’t know very much about the girl at all.

Written and directed by Oscar and Emmy nominated Whedon, the film kicks the intensity up a few notches from the television series. All of the original cast return, a bit more world-weary. This family has been through its shake-ups, but they’re still flying. At the head of the table, Fillion shows a side of Mal that is harder and much darker than was shown in the TV series. He’s not as user-friendly as he was in Firefly, possibly much closer to Whedon’s original conception of the character, more quiet and intense, a man in his own personal war.

The rest of the cast get to have fun with Whedon’s script, which as usual combines action and drama with horror, and undercuts it all with moments of humor, like a fine wine paired with strong cheese. Every member of the crew gets a moment in the spotlight, but perhaps the most light is shed on the enigmatic River, played by newcomer Summer Glau. There’s a lot of mystery about the 17-year old, who after spending years as a lab-rat for the Alliance may prove a threat to the Alliance itself, as well as the people around her, the crew. Also shining is Chiwetel Ejiofor, as the regal and enigmatic Alliance Operative sent to hunt her down.

Firefly film editor Lisa Lassek also returns for the film, molding all of Whedon’s thrilling heroics and gorgeous fight sequences into a seamless bit of storytelling. She ably makes the jump from television to feature film. The effects scenes flow beautifully, with sequences by original Firefly effects crew Zoic studios and Rhythm and Hues. The set of the ship Serenity is amazing, completely realized; a real place that rattles and shakes. Most of the other sets evoke outer space terra firma, save for one distracting exception early in the film. Otherwise quite stylish and even dizzying, the film maintains a sense of real violence. The threats stay threatening, and that’s what motivates the characters to do, hopefully, the right thing.

If you’ve never heard of Serenity, or Firefly, if you’ve never taken a trip around the ‘verse, this movie might be jarring, fast and overwhelming, and that’s the fun of it. If you have a bent for science fiction or action, it’ll be worth checking out. It couldn’t hurt to catch some Firefly episodes on the Sci Fi channel, or pick up the DVD set beforehand, but there’s still a lot to enjoy in this film if you’re not familiar with the series. There are things that you might miss, but this film may be worth re-watching.

If you’re already going to see this movie, if you’re a Browncoated fan of the television show, just know that Serenity is not Firefly. It’s like a concentrated dose of Firefly, where the stakes are higher and the mood is darker. It’s still going to be jarring, big and overwhelming, and you should see it again and again.