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Firefly - "Serenity" Movie - Amnews.com Review

By Charlie Cox

Wednesday 12 October 2005, by Webmaster

Review: ’Serenity’ - Why stop the signal when it’s this good?

Faithful readers of The Advocate-Messenger may remember a column I wrote two months ago about my experience at an advance screening of "Serenity," one of many set up by Universal Pictures to generate positive word of mouth on the project. I’ll admit it: In the column I gushed a bit, begging movie-goers to take a chance on the film and displaying my affection for the material.

But that was the fan side of me speaking - or Browncoat, depending on your level of understanding for the "Serenity"/"Firefly" universe - and now, two months later, I’ve seen the film from the point of view of a critic, the one from which the review will be given. Ultimately, though, you might find that both voices strike many similar chords because, in all honesty, "Serenity" is a darn fine film, excellent even, and one that certainly should be seen.

The film takes us 500 years in the future, when the human race has grown too large for "Earth that was." Over time, we’ve expanded, finding a new solar system and cultivating dozens of planets to have the same conditions as our former world. Along the way, the universe has been under the governmental rule of The Alliance, a big-brother type authoritative body whose need for complete control of all planets in the system sparked an inter-galactic Civil War between themselves and the Independence freedom fighters, known as Browncoats. After the smoke cleared, The Alliance stood victorious, leaving the few Browncoats to scurry about the universe.

Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) was a leader in the resistance, and now is captain of a rickety Firefly-class ship named Serenity. He leads a crew that includes Zoe (Gina Torres), who fought with Mal side-by-side in the Civil War; her husband and Serenity’s pilot, Wash (Alan Tudyk); cuddly-cute mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite); muscle-for-hire Jayne (Adam Baldwin); as well as "Companion" Inara (Morena Baccarin), whom Mal secretly holds a torch for. They’re looking for jobs, honest or not, trying to make ends meet and hide off The Alliance’s radar.

Mystery surrounds Serenity’s two newest passengers, Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and his seemingly unstable sister, River (Summer Glau), as The Alliance becomes hot on their tail. Deployed by the parliament is The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a lethal assassin who will stop at nothing in finding and capturing the young River who, because of her psychic capabilities, may hold many of the Alliance’s top secrets.

In the aforementioned previous column, I gave a pretty complete rundown of Serenity’s unique journey to the big screen. Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: "Serenity" is based on Joss Whedon’s short-lived - as in 11 aired episodes - but much-beloved - as in one of the most dedicated followings this side of George Lucas - Sci-fi/Western hybrid TV show "Firefly," which aired on the Fox Network during the fall of 2002. Fox, apparently not knowing how to handle a show that doesn’t involve marrying a millionaire or people making fools of themselves singing in front of Simon Cowell, aired episodes out of chronological order and cancelled the show in December. Long story short, the cult following "Firefly" spawned was enough to propel DVD sales of the show to great heights. Universal Pictures decided to take a gamble, purchasing the rights of the material from Fox and giving Whedon the green light to write and direct a "Firefly" feature film.

And because Whedon is basically sci-fi geekdom’s equivalent of a rock star from creating "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel," and "Firefly," it’s easy to forget the fact that this is Whedon’s debut as a feature film director. Whedon’s directorial transition to the big screen goes superbly, giving us some thrilling action sequences and innovative, character-driven scenes. Note the expert staging of the first shot aboard Serenity: It’s a single shot lasting around four minutes, which creatively introduces us to the entire ship and every member of the crew.

Speaking of the crew, all nine of the main cast members from "Firefly" (including Ron Glass as Shepherd Book) reprise their roles with great ease and fun. Fillion is a movie-star in the making and this will be his launching pad. He’s got the uncommon ability to turn from dead serious to comic on a dime. As Jayne, Baldwin, an actor known for serious roles, shows his considerable comedy chops as well, providing many of the film’s laughs.

As a newcomer to the "Serenity"/"Firefly" universe, Ejiofor makes a considerable mark as The Operative, a clich-defying villain who, while well aware that his actions are evil, believes with absolute conviction that his job is necessary to create a better world, or worlds, in this case. The combination of Ejiofor’s effective performance and Whedon’s characterization makes The Operative one of the most interesting villains of any film this year.

Amidst the considerable action and laughs in his whip-smart script, Whedon manages to make some socially relevant political messages. One of the underlying themes in "Serenity" is the right for people to know the truth, which is especially valid in our current times. Unusually thoughtful for a sci-fi adventure, isn’t it?

But then again, "Serenity" is anything but run-of the mill. It’s fast, fun, and refreshingly original. It’s a triumphant piece of magical moviemaking, which works on every level and is destined to, at some point, be imbedded in our culture with "Star Wars." However, judging by last weekend’s slightly underwhelming box office opening, it may take some time for "Serenity" to be embraced by the mainstream, sad as it might be. But, to quote a character from the film, "You can’t stop the signal." And why would you want to when the signal is this good?