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Firefly - "Serenity" Movie - Chud.com Review

Russ Fischer

Wednesday 21 December 2005, by Webmaster

STUDIO: Universal
MSRP: $29.98
RUNNING TIME: 119 Minutes
• Commentary by Joss Whedon
• Deleted Scenes
• Joss Whedon’s Introduction to Serenity
• What’s In A Firefly
• Re-Igniting the Firefly
• Outtakes
• Future History: The Story of the Earth That Was

(Note: As with Dave’s Mr. And Mrs. Smith review, these screencaps are watermarked and temporary. Once the retail disc is in hand, we’ll have better images.)

No time to be humble. I’m the ideal Serenity reviewer. I’ve never seen Firefly. I’ve caught only bits of Buffy and Angel, both of which I disliked instantly. I’m as far from a Joss Whedon fan as possible. I am the person Serenity needed to reach. And despite the fact that this movie is a huge, glittering mess, I can’t resist it.

The Flick

Why is Serenity a mess? It relies on a human MacGuffin, a trick that’s nearly impossible to pull off. The Scottish distraction device is River Tam, an outlandishly powerful psychic and badass fighter on the run from the politically dominant Alliance. Firefly fans might know River and her brother Simon intimately; newbies are introduced in a flashback illustrating how Simon rescued her from the Alliance.

The flashback quickly establishes Whedon’s ’western in space’ universe, but does nothing to justify River’s power. It also introduces The Operative, an Alliance assassin played with sad eyes and quiet violence by Chiwetel Ejiofor. The Operative is every bit as absurd a character as River — he’s Karl Rove with a soul, a ninja lawyer who’ll console you on loss as you slide down his sword.

You’re tellin’ me we flew across space to end up in San Bernadino?

River draws the ship Serenity, crew and audience in tow, towards a political revelation that neatly ties up this fictional galaxy. Whedon throws out a few big action setpieces in the hope that we won’t ask too many questions about the girl’s powers, or notice the ungainliness of the plot.

River and the Operative form quite a pair. I don’t think Whedon really believes in either of them. River is frequently sidelined — knocked unconscious or locked up, only to be trotted out for a fight scene. And I can’t believe that Whedon, an obviously smart and worldly writer, would put his faith in The Operative. The wisely ambiguous ending (think Three Days of the Condor. In Space!) is countered by Whedon’s na´ve hope that a man like The Operative might see the light.

So what keeps me wrapped up in Serenity? Captain Mal Reynolds and his crew. Mal is a spiritual cousin of Jack Sparrow, and Nathan Fillion plays him with an infectious humor. He self-deprecates with an offhand fatalism that makes the most clunky and calculated plot contrivance seem irrelevant, and is able to turn compellingly grave in a moment. He propels the film, and makes me wish that I’d been watching the show from the beginning.

No sequel? No sequel.

The rest of the crew meshes perfectly with Fillion. Jayne (Adam Baldwin) and Zoe (Gina Torres) add extra dashes of grim but funny pragmatism. Zoe’s husband, the pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk) doesn’t get much screen time, but you’ll remember most of his moments as highlights.

I’d love Jewel Staite’s mechanic Kaylee, too, if Whedon didn’t insist on giving her the worst his dialogue has to offer. "I ain’t had nothin’ twixt my nethers..."? Yowza. Is there a pill that can cure Appalachian? Whedon’s specific dialogue rhythms are becoming legendary, but sometimes they run rampant.

So I did this and told them they’d be dead in seven days! They bought it!

With more room to play than TV offers, Whedon lets his crew run loose in some big sequences. The effects are scrappy and raw, but that fits just fine with the world they’re supposed to create. A battle with the Reavers (the injuns of this galactic west) crackles with tension and energy. With a fraction of the budget, Serenity outs Revenge of the Sith as a sterile, boring pile of CGI. It’s got a pulse and a will to live that entertains and earns my respect.

7.4 out of 10

The Look

Since Universal sent a lousy screener instead of a retail disc, I’m not going to guess at the video quality. It had better be a sight more impressive than this.

TBD out of 10

The Noise

Since Universal sent a lousy screener instead of a retail disc, I’m not going to guess at the audio quality, either.

TBD out of 10

The Goodies

We expected a bare bones release, but then a Whedon commentary was added, pushing this disc to the top of my list of anticipated releases. But in keeping with Universal’s useless screeners, the commentary isn’t on the disc. When we get a final copy, I’ll update this along with the audio and video sections.

On the Planet of Dr. Caligari.

Fortunately, a supplement to the screener allows me to talk about the other extras.

Fifteen minutes of deleted scenes are included, most cut for very good reason. At best, they add flashes of unnecessary dialogue that will be appreciated by Firefly fans, and this disc is the best place for them. At worst they display Whedon’s worst dialogue tendencies. There is one good line: "I’ve got to go check on the crew, see how the inevitable mutiny’s coming along." The six minutes of outtakes are great. I heart Nathan Fillion. He’s funny.

The featurettes...not so much. Future History runs down the inspirations for the show and movie, while What’s In A Firefly goes into some of the effects in a typically EPK fashion. Re-lighting The Firefly is the expected ode to the film’s very existence in the face of Fox’s disinterest. It might be interesting to people who are coming to the movie cold, but if you’re reading CHUD, you already know all this stuff.

The film’s marketing department was quietly dispatched.

Finally, there’s Joss Whedon’s introduction to the film, which originally ran before the sneak screenings that took place months before the film opened. Call it pandering to fanboys, or call it a heartfelt message to fans. Having watched this once, I’ll certainly never revisit the clip. But it might be cool for the average moviegoing audience to see that movies like this don’t automatically come into being. If that’s the effect, who am I to complain?

TBD out of 10

The Artwork

I don’t have to tell anyone that this movie redefined marketing disaster, and the aftershocks continue to this lousy piece of Photoshop afterbirth. "Experience the Ultimate Action-Adventure"? Why not "Arr!" or "Eat Yogurt"? In comparison, the box art for my screener is a masterpiece.

2 out of 10

Overall: 7.5 (provisional) out of 10