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Firefly - ’Serenity’ Movie - Fosteron Film Review - Spoilers

Monday 27 June 2005, by Webmaster

Serenity (2005)

Continuing the story of the spaceship Serenity, previously told in the short lived TV show Firefly, roguish Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), first mate Zoe (Gina Torres), her husband-pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk), insane psychic River (Summer Glau), her doctor-brother Simon (Sean Maher), plucky engineer Kaylee (Jewel Staite), and violent Jayne (Adam Baldwin), all return as outlaws trying to survive in the outer planets. But the Alliance Government is frightened of River and sends The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to capture her. It is up to the crew of the Serenity, and old friends Shepard Book (Ron Glass) and the courtesan, Inara (Morena Baccarin), to keep River out of government hands, and finally discover why they want her so badly.

Thanks to the good folks at Escape Pod (actually, I believe "folk" is more accurate), I took my seat at the June 23rd pre-screening of Serenity. Popcorn in hand, for this is most assuredly a popcorn kind of flick, I watched the screen light up, but not with opening credits. Instead, I was greeted by the Charlie Brown-like face of writer-director-vunderkin Joss Whedon, who delivered a funny and moving monologue on why the film was made and the importance of the fanaticism of Firefly’s fans. Much of what is good in Serenity could be seen in his little chat. The creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and writer of Toy Story is a master at mixing humor with emotion and is probably the finest dialog composer working. I assume this opening will be missing in September when Serenity has its wide release. The strangely round head vanished and the film began.

This was a rough cut of the movie, but how rough I couldn’t tell. The end credits were missing, and occasionally, the editing was uneven and color correction was flawed, but those last two may be a chosen technique to produce a gritty feel. Might there still be changes to the story? I hope so, as this is a good film that should have been great.

Whedon put a lot of effort into making the movie stand on its own, and in some ways he is successful. In two opening scenes, a flashback of River being experimented upon, and a brilliant, dialog-heavy introduction to the Serenity’s crew in comical crisis, the universe and characters are economically spelled out. I doubt if anyone who missed the TV show will have difficulty understanding what is happening. However, Whedon does not establish the emotional connection to these people that he needs to. When he does horrible things to them-and he does-fans of Firefly will gasp, but newcomers will shrug. Only Mal and River engage the audience’s sympathy purely from this film. The movie, like the show, is not interesting because of its plot or theme, but because of its characters, so, while Whedon and Universal Pictures may claim this is a film that anyone can enjoy, it really only works for the fans of Firefly.

So, for you fans, will you like it? Yes. There’s some prime humor, excellent fights, and a bit more spectacle than you are used to from the show. But with so many characters, some are left aside. The plot belongs to River and the character development is all Mal’s. Jayne gets the best lines, but if you are primarily a fan of Kaylee, Zoe, Wash, or Inara, you’ll be disappointed. No episode of the show forgot so many characters so completely. And Book is hardly in the film. Replacing a few of the close-ups of Mal displaying his unhappiness with a bit of interaction between the rest of the crew would bring some needed balance to the movie.

The story is interesting and twisted, answering questions about the world and River, but it doesn’t make a lick of sense. For Mal’s late-in-the-film plan to work, space has to be a lot smaller than it is (massively smaller). We also have to accept a computer nerd with a hacking complex the size of a small planet and that Reevers, who lack the intelligence to speak and the emotional control to avoid attacking anything in sight with a spear, somehow maintain a fleet with impressive firepower. But plot is minor in a Joss Whedon production, and these flaws don’t detract a great deal from the film.

What does detract is several poorly executed attempts at building tension and making the events in the film appear important. I won’t go into detail as that would involve serious spoilers. Suffice it to say, Whedon makes major changes to the Firefly universe during the film that pull much of the fun out of it without supplying any meaning or emotion other than irritation.

Even with the flaws, this is still an extension of Firefly, so it can’t help but be worth watching. It has a group of excellent actors delivering first class lines. But I expect more from a feature than I do from an episode of a TV show, and I didn’t get it. Serenity isn’t at the bottom if I were to compare it against each of the weekly shows, nor is it at the top. Out of Gas (where Serenity breaks down and a dying Mal must fix it) and Objects in Space (where River is hunted by an eccentric bounty hunter) both have more emotion, more development, and more humor than Serenity. Plus, the feature borrows too heavily from Objects in Space.

Yes, you should plop down your quarters to see this picture, but not before you pick up the DVD of Firefly. And if you can’t do both, buy the series.