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Firefly - "Serenity" Movie - Hsx.com Review

Wednesday 28 September 2005, by Webmaster

Joss Whedon (JWHED) and company are at their best creating quirky, intensely likeable characters, and the work in Serenity (FRFLY) is no exception. Fans of the original TV series will be more than pleased to spend 119 minutes with their old friends, but newcomers will be less satisfied with the pedestrian plotting and small-screen sensibility.

For those unfamiliar with the underlying history, this film had its birth from Firefly, a hard-luck TV series that had the misfortune to occupy a timeslot Fox wanted to use for 2002’s Major League Baseball playoffs. Cancelled before even a full season was aired, Firefly was rescued from obscurity by excellent DVD sales, thanks to word of mouth from admirers of Whedon’s prior work.

Fillion lays down the law More of a Western than true sci-fi, Serenity follows the adventures of a cast of renegades who prefer a roguish life of freedom on the frontier to that offered by the monolithic Alliance. Extreme trouble crops up when two of their chance crewmates turn out to be holding secrets that could imperil the careers of some of the government’s most prominent leaders. These shadowy figures dispatch an assassin, exuberantly played by Chiwetel Ejiofor (CEJIO), who chases our heroes about the galaxy, looking to capture or kill the pair.

Ejiofor’s character “The Operative” is intelligent, gentlemanly, thoughtfully philosophical, and completely ruthless in the pursuit of his goals. Ejiofor does a marvelous job portraying a deeply spiritual man who clearheadedly performs the most sinister acts of evil, all in the name of a greater good. His performance is so compelling that I could not help but wonder how much better Episodes II and III of the Star Wars saga would have been had he been cast as Anakin Skywalker instead of Hayden Christensen (HCHRI).

But then, the screen is crowded with interesting, well-drawn characters, from Nathan Fillion’s (NFILL) Captain Mal to David Krumholtz’ (DKRUM) Mr. Universe. So crowded, in fact, that it would have been nice to see the cast pared down a bit so that more time could have been devoted to their development and interaction. Characters such as Ron Glass’ Shepherd Book and Morena Baccarin’s Inara were peripheral to the plot, and could have easily been written out. As I write these words I can almost hear the wail from the show’s fans, who would be miffed if one or more of their faves didn’t appear in the film.

No doubt this is one of the complexities involved in doing a film adaptation of a TV show. What characters do you feature, and which do you leave out? How much of a character’s background information do you assume the audience is familiar with? At several points the screening audience laughed when I was completely in the dark, so I have to figure that Whedon was assuming a fair bit.

Summer the Barbarian The masterful ease with which Whedon spins out character after character is awe inspiring, but his plotting and tempo shows that he is still uncertain with work in film. For example, the crew of the Serenity must navigate their ship past a gauntlet of cannibalistic space barbarians. After a bit of camouflage, they sail past a thin line of ships. Sweat breaks out on the brows of the heroes, and an enemy spotlight shines on them! But the moment passes, and they are through. The whole scene lasts two minutes at most. Das Boot, it ain’t.

It also struck me as odd that Whedon aimed his plot at the grand, sweeping epic rather than the personal. So much of Serenity seemed to revolve around its personal relationships that there was little need for grand, societal issues to motivate its characters into action. When we think of pioneers, we think of people who are looking to make their own societies, free of the constraints of the place they came from. The frontier is where you are supposed to find freedom and experimentation, not reform.

But let’s remember that this is Whedon’s directorial debut, and despite my carping, gives a fine, enjoyable ride. I can’t wait for Wonder Woman (WONDR)!

Serenity opens for wide release on September 30.