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Firefly - ’Serenity’ Movie - Aintitcool.com Reviews - Spoilers

Saturday 25 June 2005, by Webmaster

More Reviews From The SERENITY 35 (Including A Totally Objective One From The Author of That New SERENITY Book)!!

I am - Hercules! ! First. An excellent article in The Weekly Standard looks at what’s going on with all these nutty, early “Serenity” screenings. Second. Ain’t It Cool’s sexy new webmaster Doc Falken - who, last I heard, was crawling the walls in anticipation of seeing “Serenity” (unlike some AIC staffers I could think of) - happened upon this nifty interview with “Serenity” writer-director and all-around boss dude Joss Whedon. On to the reviews. NOTE PLEASE: FROM THIS POINT FORWARD? HUGE, UNINVISOTEXTED SPOILERS ABOUND. When I saw “Bones” bone last night’s version of “Serenity” this morning (so horrified by what he witnessed, “Bones” managed to draft his review before anyone else’s!), I had to assume Joss had somehow visited a fierce buggering upon the movie since its May 26 version screened. But the folks who waited just a little while longer to write in? They kinda seem just as happy with the new adventures of Mal, Kaylee, River, Inara and Jayne as most of the earlier reviewers! Huh! Still, we should have discarded this particular review, as it was contributed by Robert B. Taylor, one of the fellers who wrote “Finding Serenity: Anti-Heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon’s Firefly”. Is it cool that he helped write a book by that title without having seen the movie earlier than this? I vote NO! It is not cool. Still, we foolishly publish his take - in which he declares, “If you enjoy smart science-fiction, you’ll like this movie” - for the record:

Hey Herc,

So another round of Serenity advance screenings, another round of reviews? I figured I’d submit one, as I caught the movie in Pittsburgh on Thursday. A Whedon devotee, I am well-versed in the world of Firefly having written an essay called “The Captain May Wear the Tight Pants, but It’s the Gals Who Make Serenity Soar” for the book “Finding Serenity,” which you’ve been so graciously hawking at the site.

Bottom line: If you enjoy smart science-fiction, you’ll like this movie. And if you were a fan of Firefly, you should LOVE this movie.

I’ll tiptoe around the spoilers and won’t bog this thing down with plot details. Not that it matters, since, like all of Joss Whedon’s work, this movie is more about characters than it is plot. Oh, sure, there’s a nice thematic throughline about protecting free will and human individuality at all costs, but the emotion of the story comes from Captain Mal Reynolds and his crew, not from any MacGuffin that drives the story.

Serenity is not a science-fiction film in the vein of Star Wars. It’s not epic. It’s not structured around mythic archetypes. Instead, if I had to compare Whedon’s first big-screen effort to another well-regarded outer space yarn, I’d equate it to Aliens, another movie about how a diverse group of people react when their backs are to the wall. After all, both Ripley and her marines and Mal and his crew are stalked by ruthless, shadowy killers. The step from the aliens to the Reavers is not a large one. Both have a female action lead. Both share a skeptical view on big government and/or greedy corporations. And, honestly, can’t Adam Baldwin’s Jayne be a distant cousin to Bill Paxton’s Hudson? (Maybe none of this comes as a shock given Joss’ rather notorious involvement in the Alien series.)

Serenity is joyfully thrilling, often hilarious, and occasionally moving. The Reavers also offer up a few good scares. I believe my butt even left the seat on one occasion. Whedon remains the master at mixing genres. The version we saw Thursday seemed to be almost complete. No placeholder scenes. The strong F/X looked mostly finished. About the only thing missing was end credits. (The music even seemed very Firefly-esque, what with the rootsy acoustic guitar, and I didn’t recognize any of the themes from elsewhere. So were parts of this the actual score? I’m honestly not sure, but I wouldn’t bet against it.)

The cast stands out, which will be no surprise to anyone who’s ever watched the show. Baldwin is still knocking one-liners out of the park as the ship’s token wiseass. (A running gag about his tendency to overdo it on the weaponry ... especially his fondness for a good supply of grenades ... earns big smiles.) Joss often says Malcolm Reynolds is his Han Solo, and Nathan Fillion has that same rascally twinkle in his eye that Harrison Ford did back in ’77. Yes, he’s slightly grumpier at the beginning of the movie than he was at the end of the TV series. But the man’s got to have an interesting character arc, and Fillion pulls it off nicely. Summer Glau cuts a mighty fine action-hero pose. The big new addition to - Chiwetel Ejiofor as The Operative - is a successful one. His merciless, government-employed assassin easily ranks among the Fireflyverse’s great villains.

Heading into the movie, I was aware that most Internet grumbling about the movie was directed at the movie’s two BDDs (Big Damn Deaths), although I was unaware which characters bought the farm until last night. I assure you, neither is as jarring as some would have you believe. The first is not surprising at all, being the deceased is probably the most expendable person in Joss’ large cast. His death is noble and organically fits with the story. The second BDD - the more controversial one - is, I will admit, a bit sudden. Not Anya-in-the-Buffy-series-finale sudden, mind you. But sudden none the less. And, yes, it seems the crew recovers a tad quickly from said character’s demise. But his death does actually serve a point in the movie by confirming that Reavers are not something you want to mess with, and by movie’s end, proper enough tribute is given to his passing.

Honestly, the only real problem with the movie (from a fan’s perspective) is that it constantly forces you to say to yourself, “Damn this is cool ... but just think of how much cooler it would have been if Joss had five years to tell this story instead of two hours!” When Firefly fans say they aren’t pleased with Serenity, I’m pretty sure they’re not considering the concessions that must be made when fitting such a massively rich universe into a two-hour movie. As a result, some characters are glossed over, and the general public might find themselves sporadically lost. (If you were a Firefly newbie and watched this movie, I don’t think you’d even know that Inara was a prostitute.) The Reavers are fierce and frightening but still more of a “token movie menace” than they would have been if their mythology could have been slowly revealed over the course of several seasons. And, yes, I’m sure the deaths of beloved characters could have been handled much more to everyone’s liking if Joss had hours and hours to devote to such a painful loss instead of Serenity’s final 20 minutes.

Well, he didn’t. Fox gave up the show, and this is what we got in instead. Well, I’ll take it ... and not just as a consolation prize. I’ll take it as a brilliant and charming bit of sci-fi from a first-time movie director. (Consider that for a moment. It’s a fact that is being overlooked since Joss is treated as a fanboy deity. But this is his first time working on a project of this scale, and he handles it deftly.) I’ll take it as a more-than-worthy expansion of a wonderful, little show that didn’t get enough time or support to find its audience. And, hopefully, I’ll one day be able to take it as the rip-roaring first act of a successful sci-fi trilogy.

If you’re a sci-fi fan, ignore the hype. Ignore the backlash. Ignore all that nonsense. Just go see it and judge the movie on its own strengths. Because there are many. And anyone who says otherwise isn’t really looking. “Novagrass,” who - as far as I know - has written no “Serenity” books, labels the movie “one of the coolest movies I’ve seen. Ever.”:

Hi. This will be my second review for this site... both of which have been Firefly related in some way. Way back before the show premiered, I got a screener copy of the pilot, also titled Serenity. And my review, published in the coax news section, was super-effusive. Now I’m back with a review for the other incarnation of Serenity... but first some background.

Yes, I am a fan of Firefly. So, I am not unbiased. I wish I could be, but I can’t. That said, I’m also a giant movie geek. And a Dramatic Writing student at NYU... just so you understand how pretentious and film-snobby I can be. And I’d say, if I really got down to it, my movie-geekiness outweighs my Firefly-geekiness. That said, I’ll try to review in a movie geek kind of way.

I honestly believe Serenity is one of the coolest movies I’ve seen. Ever. And I’ll tell you why.

It is unabashedly innovative. It’s like there was a creative valve in the heads of each force behind this movie, a valve with the pressure building, gradually increasing in intensity. And here, with this movie, that creative valve has gone up flipped out exploded and produced something new, something beautiful. Everyone from Production Designer, Barry Chusid, to Director of Photography, Jack Green, work to create an incredible visual world for these characters... a world that is beautiful and dirty and broken. What’s really cool is that since Whedon has been creating really intricate and ornate visual worlds for quite some time now, with a very small WB/UPN sized budget, when given $50m to create something bigger... the team really soars. It reminds me of people like Peter Jackson, who were making these micro-budget horror films for so long, scrimping and saving, trying to get the most out of a buck, so when they’re given their mega-budgets they still use that economy, and end up creating something really remarkable. (And If anything, Serenity proves that you don’t need a Lucas-sized cash surplus to create great special effects, because what Zoic has produced here, well, it’s almost as good as anything in ROTS, in some places better because the creative team still has a zeal about them that imbues everything with a very powerful energy.)

The visual style of Serenity is really a strange amalgam of flashy 70s American expressionism, Altman-esque fluidity (there is a beautiful, like 3 minute long, tracking shot that moves from steady cam to hand-held in one gorgeous, long single take, that introduces us to each of the initial primary characters and the environment of the ship itself), Western grit, and in places a kind of Croneberg/Lynchian surrealism. If anything, Whedon here has succeeded most in elevating this from the limits of TV to real big epic huge movie. No one can fault this for looking "too TV." If they do, they’ve just got an axe to grind.

I’m really not going to address much of the story here because others have done that to death. The only thing I’m going to talk about is a certain death. Others have been whining about how they didn’t feel enough for X-character’s death. The film doesn’t have a schmaltzy "oh you’re dead I’m so sorry... don’t die don’t die" cliché tear jerky situation. A scene like that is not in line with the theme of the movie. This movie is about people who have a lot of shit happen to them, but keep on moving regardless. Pain is a part of their lives... and to dwell on it damages everyone (though, that’s not to say they don’t react. The most certainly do react). It’s about moving on. And that’s what they do. The death works very gracefully, very elegantly, and those who are angered by it, most likely, are angered because they’re sad X-character had to die, not because it doesn’t work for the story.

I wish I could say I went into this unbiased. But I can’t. And no one who has seen the series can. Which means they can’t guess how a larger audience will react to this movie. It is impossible because they can’t become someone who hasn’t seen the show, cared about the characters. The thing I worry about is that people won’t care enough about the characters to care about the story and what happens in it. But in all reality, I have no idea how well Whedon sets them up, if he makes the audience care. Maybe he does, I really hope he does, but there is the . There’s no way I can tell. No way any fan can tell.

Otherwise, it’s awesome. It really is. It’s an action movie at heart, but it’s also a comedy, a romance, a western, a space opera, a character drama, a political yarn, and, believe it or not, a zombie movie. It’s got something for everyone, and while other movies claim that they "have everything!", this movie IS everything. It doesn’t just go through the motions of these genres, it becomes them. And it succeeds just about always. “AnnaMorfick" says, "as sure as I know anything, I know this... SERENITY is one kickass film.":

Hey guys. I had the good fortune to see SERENITY last night in CT; it was my second time seeing the film. I attended the previous screening in Boston and you guys were good enough to post my review. Well now I’m askin’ more of you, than I have before. I’m asking you to post my new review. Because as sure as I know anything, I know this... SERENITY is one kickass film.

(No major spoilers in here.) First off, the print. WOW! Unless my memory is really bad, last night’s print looked AND sounded like a completely different movie. Lighting, effects, everything just seemed much more polished. I did find that the first half of the film looked better than the second half. Could be that’s as far as they’ve gotten thus far in cleaning it up. There seemed to be less filler music this time around, but I could be mistaken. The first time we see Serenity (the ship), it’s entering atmo to land on the planet below... the music here is awesome. Very Firefly-ish. I don’t recall hearing that piece last time, but I loved it last night. (One of my chief complaints last time was that SERENITY wasn’t Firefly-ish enough.) There were lots of scenes completely devoid of background music, or so it seemed. Didn’t bother me a whit, because the action and drama here is plenty intense to stand on its own. Also, I don’t remember seeing the actor credits on-screen last time during Mal’s stumble through the ship. They looked very slick.

OK stop reading after this sentence if you’re nervous about spoilers - I loved this film, a lot more than I did last time, and I think it’s going to make a much bigger splash than the droves of Whedon naysayers will admit.............. still with me? OK. I just want to comment on a few goods and bads and then I’ll be on my merry.

First, the goods. There are many of them. The effects look great. Having only just seen Star Wars III last week, it’s incredible the difference between Sith’s green screen-o-rama and SERENITY’s subtlety. Like the show, exterior shots dart around and go out of focus, as if we’re watching actual aerial photography. Nothing and I mean NOTHING in this film screams CGI.

This is River’s movie, no doubt about it and Summer Glau is just amazing. She shimmers in this role and I fully expect her to become a household name before too long. In one shiny moment: she gets a Buffy-esque reveal shot that had the entire audience cheering. Great stuff.

The same goes for Nathan Fillion. Though I think Whedon hardened Mal a little more than I would have liked, and didn’t show enough of his softie side, Mr. Fillion does his best work to date in this film. Adam Baldwin (looking mighty trim) is a joy to behold as Jayne. Ron Glass is phenomenal as Book but oh how I wish he’d had more screen time. His role here is great through and critical to the plot. And finally the humor. I complained last time that the film wasn’t as light-hearted as the TV series. In point of fact, that is very true. It’s a heavy, serious and sometimes shocking film. But there is also some of Whedon’s funniest stuff in here and some of River’s facial expressions alone are worth the price of admission. Several weeks of reflection have brought me to a different place re: the film’s tone. Last night I completely embraced its darkness and loved every minute of it.

Now for the bads. The opening sequence re: Simon and River left me somewhat uneasy last time. Last night, I liked it better. However, I’m still not crazy about Simon’s character in the film. SERENITY’s Simon is a far cry from the frail and uppity Simon of Firefly. He doesn’t have too much to do in the film, but the dynamic between him and the rest of the crew is just different. I don’t want to say bad (granted we’re in the "bad" section of this review), because it worked in the film. And it doesn’t hurt the film. It’s just a mild shock to the system when you’re used to him behaving a certain way and SERENITY casts Simon in a different light.

Wash and Zoe. Last time, I thought one could leave the film and not even know that these two were married. After last night, I think my criticism still applies, but to a lesser extent. I picked up on some dialogue and body language I had missed last time. But it’s subtle. Their marriage on Firefly was a perfectly crafted thing. The fighting, the love, the need for each other. That’s not as evident in SERENITY, but it’s there if you know to look for it. The same could be said of Inara. Blink and you might miss her. Which is unfortunate. There is however one great (albeit brief) exchange with Mal that was pitch perfect. I’m really hoping we get a sequel because Mr. Whedon has shaken the chess board and the players are now arranged quite differently. I really want to see where we go from here.

In closing, I think SERENITY is perhaps Whedon’s finest hour(s). This film is at times hilarious, at times brutal but there was not a single moment I wasn’t captivated and entertained. And in the end, isn’t that what it’s all about? Mr. Whedon is asking, "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!" Yes sir. Completely sir. Bravo! “Darth Homercles” says: “I drove for four hours to get to the Aventura Mall and gladly drove for four hours back home. This movie was well worth the trip!”:

I just returned from the Miami screening of SERENITY. I drove for four hours to get to the Aventura Mall and gladly drove for four hours back home. This movie was well worth the trip!

I’m sure you’re getting flooded with other reviews, and in the interest of not repeating past reviews, I’m going to try to keep my reaction short and sweet.


This movie is funnier than I thought it would be. There were one-liners and reactions that absolutely had me floored. None of the humor was cheap or stupid, however. It was all within character and it never took away from the drama and suspense of the film.

Nathan Fillion kicks ass! He reminded me of a harder edged ndiana Jones in this movie, if that makes any sense. He takes a licking and keeps on ticking! Much humor and angst was provided by one Mal Reynolds. I think Fillion is going to get a lot of film offers after SERENITY is released.

Summer Glau really shined in this movie. She could be frail and scared and also stone cold and deadly. She balanced both well. And River vs. the Reavers . . . *wow*

The plot wasn’t anything mind blowing, but FIREFLY was never about plot: it was about characters. And each and every character has at least one moment to shine in this film. No one was left out in the cold. They all had their place and served their purpose well. I especially liked Jayne and Kaylee in this movie. I especially wish that there was more Kaylee!

This movie isn’t built around action, but it has plenty of it. The fights were quick and dirty. The chases fast and furious. Everyone takes a bit of a beating in this film, which made the stakes seem all the higher. A couple of times during the film I turned to my buddy and wondered aloud if anyone was going to make it out of this movie alive!

The antagonist assassin guy was cool and calculating. He and Mal were like two sides of the same coin. Except Mal has a conscience whereas the assassion guy doesn’t. "I don’t murder children." "I do." Yikes. What I really liked about him was that, even if you didn’t agree with his actions, you could understand his perspective on things and see why he was doing the terrible things he was doing. This wasn’t a black hat. It was a black hat with shades of gray, which I liked.

The visuals for the most part were up to snuff. I noticed a couple of off kilter shots towards the end, but I figure it’ll be fixed come release time. There wasn’t much of a music score, so I can’t comment on that.

BTW, did I mention the REAVERS?!


I thought Simon should have been a little more prominent than he was, considering his relationship to River and Mal. I don’t know if there are any extra scenes lying around that can beef his presence up a little (especially in the middle section), but maybe something can be reinserted. Also, I think the tether between him and Kaylee needs tightening a little. It’s a bit oose and I can see where someone who isn’t familiar with their history can get a little confused.

Speaking of history, there was a little history rewriting in this movie. Not a big deal, it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the movie, but purists may scratch their heads. I think Whedon pushed a little hard for a happy ending. There’s a gag at the end, while funny, that should probably be cut so the film ends on more of a dramatic note. Also, the gathering at the end to lay some fallen soldiers to rest could have been a bit more prominent. It was there, it served its purpose, but it didn’t really carry the weight it should have. The loss of life should be more than acknowledged. It should be felt.

The plot concerning Miranda, while not bad, didn’t exactly wow me either. It was interesting, and probably would have made for some good TV, but as a big reveal in a movie . . . not so much.

Maybe the fact that we didn’t really see any effects of the incident afterwards plays a part in my feeling on this. We’re told some stuff, bla bla bla, but we’re not shown. It doesn’t feel like victory. It’s more like a small win. Maybe it is. I don’t know. It just didn’t seem like much of a climax.

Don’t let my last sentence fool you: the climax of this film is pretty thrilling and suspenseful. It’s just that the importance and the effect of the Miranda plot didn’t really hit home. It could be a case of diminished expectations regarding River’s story, but it seemed odd to me that the primary reason the Alliance was after her was because of a piece of info she had locked in her brain. The fact that she was lobotomized and turned into living weapon seemed to have no bearing. I hope this can maybe be addressed before the final release. It’s not enough to sink the movie, but it’s a bit of a headscratcher.

Finally, the editing seems a little loose, especially in parts of the middle. Actually, the first act seems a little too tight; there’s not much breathing room. I wouldn’t mind a couple of minutes of getting our feet wet in the first act to help keep the different environments and people straight.


Okay, so I have a wacky definition of "short and sweet," but I tried. Overall, I would give this film an A-. The weak points I listed above are questions and concerns I had coming out of the movie, but none of it is enough to sink the movie for me.

If some of those concerns are addressed I’m sure this very good film could become a great treat. I have no clue how this is going to play to the uninitiated. I had a blast because of my knowledge of this universe and the people in it. I don’t know if much of the humor and drama would work without knowing a little history beforehand. I hope I’m wrong. I want this movie to be a success. I really enjoyed it and any fans of FIREFLY should. Let’s just hope the rest of the country agrees!