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FireflyFirefly - "Serenity" Movie - Megwood.com Review - Spoilers
Friday 14 October 2005, by Webmaster
You know that old Marvin Gaye song "Let’s get it on"? Why is it that every time I go to work on this write-up, that song pops into my head? In pondering this out loud, I realize I don’t actually have an answer for that. I mean, other than the obvious one, which is that it’s because all five of this week’s Boyfriends, stars of the new movie "Serenity," are total babeamatrons. No, this was really a rhetorical question. I just thought I’d start this write-up off with a complete non sequitur, so you’d know it was really me.
By which I actually mean to say, howdy, everybody! I’m back! And I’m rarin’ to go on a whole mess of write-ups with which to wrap up 2005. I actually would’ve been back sooner, but something happened over the weekend that led to a slight change of plans. (Hmmmm, why does that sound familiar?)
The distraction? Well, it began with my husband’s plan to take me out on a date. Our fourth wedding anniversary was September 30th, and I was out of town for it, so we thought maybe this month, we’d pick a weekend and do something special. But, before we could get the plans in place, a whole mess of OTHER plans fell into place instead. So, the upshot was that we ended up ditching that idea, opting to stay small this year instead and see if we could, at the very least, get our butts out the door to go see a movie.
There were two films we wanted to see. My husband’s first choice was "A History of Violence" starring ex-Boyfriend Viggo Mortensen. The intellectual choice. The serious choice. Of course, I wanted none of that. My first choice was clear — the only movie I wanted to see (and the first movie in a long time I actually wanted to see in a theater, I might add) was the great Joss Whedon’s latest project, "Serenity."
Annnnnd I guess you’ve already figured out which one of us won the coin toss, huh? Except, in reality, there was no coin toss. You know why? Because my husband is the biggest sweetie in the world. (Hi, honey!) Not only did he surprise me when I got home from my recent trip by decking out our dining room table with flowers and chocolates so they would be the first thing I saw when I walked in the front door, but then, merely one week later, he agreed to go see a movie based on a television show he’d barely even HEARD of, let alone knew anything about.
The good news? As it turns out, you don’t actually need to know a damn thing about "Firefly," a TV show that ran for less than a single season a couple of years ago, to enjoy "Serenity," the movie that starts roughly where the TV show left off. In fact, according to my husband, the only thing he wished he’d known in advance was that they were going to curse in Chinese — it would’ve saved him a few scenes where he thought he just wasn’t understanding the dialogue correctly ("What did he just say?" "Uh, he just said ’goddamn it’ in Chinese, I think." "He. . .what. . .CHINESE!?"). Despite this, however, I’m not sure I’d recommend that you pass this info along to your newbie friend or partner when trying to convince them to go with you to see "Serenity." It would sure make ME want to see the movie, but I’m not exactly the picture you see when you look up the phrase "normal person" in the dictionary. It could be one of those quirks that might make some people even more dubious then they already are. They curse in CHINESE? What the heck kind of crazy movie is that?
Answer, in a nutshell: THE GREATEST MOVIE I HAVE SEEN IN MORE YEARS THAN I CAN COUNT. And I can count really, really high, too. Like, to a GAZILLION.
This, THIS, people. THIS is what movies are supposed to be about. They’re supposed to take risks like this movie takes risks. They’re supposed to defy genre classification like this movie defies genre classification. They’re supposed to be original and quirky and crazy and wild like this movie is original and quirky and crazy and wild. They’re supposed to feature actors, not stars. They’re supposed to spend money on scriptwriting not special effects. They’re supposed to stun you into 90+ minutes of rapture. They’re supposed to make you laugh. They’re supposed to make you think. They’re supposed to ENTERTAIN YOU.
And this movie does all this and more. And more. And then some more. When I said above that this is the greatest movie I’ve seen in years, I was not exaggerating. This movie is perfection. This movie has no flaws. THIS MOVIE RULES.
To further support my position (which is, to reiterate: RULES!), here now is a breakdown of everything I loved about this crazy fun "Firefly" flick. Don’t panic, though — I may make a few comments about some very, VERY minor elements of the film, but I will not give a single significant plot point away. This write-up is 100% spoiler-free, I promise!
1. It’s a Western! It’s Sci-Fi! It’s a Western! It’s Sci-Fi! It’s a Drama! It’s a Comedy! It’s Fantasy! It’s Art! Or, Maybe, it’s Just Plain GOOD.
By which I mean this: if you had to pick a genre to use to niche-erize this movie, you’d have to make one up that combined at the very least and most obvious, Westerns and sci-fi. Though one reviewer of "Serenity" (I think it was Orson Scott Card, actually) said he didn’t think it really counts as a Western, I would argue that it’s more Western than half the Westerns I’ve seen, which is saying a lot because I’m what they call a "Big Western Geek." I mean, come on — "Serenity" starts off with a bunch of renegades riding into town to steal the company payroll, after all. You just don’t get any more Western than that. Plus, Mal and Jayne in particular both fit into very traditional Western roles. Jayne’s the kid who doesn’t really understand what it means to be a cowboy — the phrase "all hat and no cattle" frequently leaps to mind while I’m experiencing the self-absorbed train wreck that IS Jayne Cobb. But the captain, Mal Reynolds, is the very epitome of the Western hero. Right down to his squint and swagger.
Additionally, "Serenity" is a movie about good guys versus bad guys — the ultimate Western plot device. In fact, in some ways, I see a lot of parallels between this movie and movies like "The Magnificent Seven." The Alliance is the gang of guys in black hats who have stormed into a town (or galaxy, in this case) and attempted to take control of everyone’s lives. And our heroes? The white-hatted, misfit group of good guys who fight (and win) the battle because, essentially, it’s simply the right thing to do.
The sci-fi part is obvious too, of course. They fly around in space ships. They have a girl on board with ESP who’s been the victim of government brainwashings. There’s a subplot about a research project gone awry.
But about thirty minutes into "Serenity," you start to realize that this is a movie that goes way, way beyond classification. Themes like unrequited love, familial bonds, war, faith, and loyalty litter the film, and even though at times the various elements of the story are familiar — in that you’ve seen them before in other films — the difference here is that they feel more like homages than rip-offs (more on this in a bit). That’s a testament to the writing. To Joss Whedon’s writing. He can take something we’ve seen a million times before and make it absolutely fresh. Make it something we relate to in a completely new way. Make it something that makes us say, "Yeah, I’ve been there. I know what that feels like."
And, of course, it wouldn’t be any fun if he didn’t ALSO make us say things like "Holy co. . . Was that Mal without his SHIRT on? Wait, hold up! Dude! Dude up there controlling the film projector! Yeah, you! Could you just run it back a few seconds and pause the frame? I feel a massive drool coming on. No seriously — you guys in the audience — you’ll thank me for this later. Because did you SEE that? That was MAL WITHOUT HIS SHIRT ON! I think I might actually pass out. Or maybe just swoon melodramatically, we’ll have to wait and see."
Perhaps even more importantly (though, I might argue that nothing is actually more important than Mal without his shirt on) Joss can take that something — that meaningful, relatable, half-naked something — and make it damn funny. Because it’s important to note that this movie is also a comedy, peppered with some of the sharpest dialogue of wit and sarcasm we’ve seen since the days of. . . well, since the days of "Firefly." Even my husband was laughing his arse off, and rare is it he finds the same things funny that I do. Joss Whedon’s scriptwriting is the strongest I’ve encountered in a movie in years. He just puts every other filmmaker today to absolute shame. And yeah, Steven Schpiel-berg, I speak of thee here.
2. A Quiet Audience is an Enraptured Audience.
You know what else I loved about "Serenity"? I loved that even though the seats were almost all filled in the huge theater I saw it in, there was not a peep from the peanut gallery the entire time the film was rolling (aside from collective laughs and gasps, of course). That bit up there in parentheses where I made it look like my husband and I had whispered about the Chinese thing during the movie? I made that bit up. You know why? Because we, like the rest of the theater, were far, FAR too busy having a great time to actually talk to each other.
I quit going to movies in theaters for the most part a couple of years ago, after my husband and I had gone to about six in a row over the span of a few months and encountered, every single time, at least one person being just astonishingly, ridiculously rude. After the sixth time, I simply couldn’t take it anymore. I mean, if you’re one of those people who thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to talk during a movie, answer your phone, or let your toddler race around loose through the aisles (trust me, I’ve seen it), do me a favor and email me to explain just what it is you’re thinking? I’m serious. Because are you thinking, "I paid ten bucks for this, so I should get to do whatever I want"? Because if so, my response to that is, "I paid ten bucks for it too, so SHUT THE HELL UP!"
Wow, you see? This is why I try not to get started on the whole rude-movie-theater-person rant. It always makes me pretty feisty. But my point is that this was one of the best theater experiences I’ve ever had. EVER. We were all there having a great time, laughing together, being saddened together, having FUN together. The energy was amazing. The movie was amazing. We were all amazing! What a vibe. What an experience.
3. No Lame Theme Song!
This is sure to garner me some hate mail from dedicated "Firefly" fans, but I’ve got to say it anyway. Another thing I loved about "Serenity" was the fact they didn’t use A: the theme song from the show which was beyond lame (*duck*) or B: the twangy music that usually accompanied the show and always felt sort of intrusive to me. I can’t explain exactly why I think the music in "Firefly" is terrible. But I think it has to do with my belief that the goal of music in TV shows or films should ultimately be for it not to be noticed at all. This is also why I’m against the growing trend to turn the final five minutes of every single TV show into a little MTV music video. "Crossing Jordan" is a particularly rotten offender in this way, and "Alias" can be too. This music video technique can be effective when it’s used once or twice — or when it’s used the way they’re using the theme song at the end of "Over There" (one of my current favorite FX channel shows, by the way). But when it’s every. single. week. It just really loses it’s impact.
Not that that has ANYTHING to do with "Firefly," but it is with great joy that I report that I don’t even remember if there WAS music playing during scenes of "Serenity." I mean, I’m sure there was, but damned if I noticed it at all. Why? Because all it did was its job — to enhance what you’re seeing on-screen. To sort of affirm your emotional response to something, in case you weren’t quite sure what you were supposed to be feeling. To provide flow. To make for smoother transitions. To add body without adding fluff. The score of "Serenity" was absolutely forgettable — which, in my book, means it was also absolutely perfect.
4. That Homage Thing.
One of the things I loved the most about "Serenity" was its obvious tipping of the hat to the original "Star Wars" movie. There are two scenes that were definite homages to that old flick, though I won’t tell you what they were because one of them would blow a serious plot point for you. And just in general, the whole movie takes us back to the time when sci-fi movies were about story and concept instead of just special effects (primarily because, back in those days, the special effects weren’t all that special). The budget for "Serenity" was much smaller than that for other sci-fi movies (like, say, "War of the Worlds"), but it didn’t matter because the focus wasn’t on making space ships look totally high-fi, but instead on developing characters and stories that we would never forget and that, even better, we would be dying to experience again and again.
More obviously, of course, is the comparison between Mal and that old Star Wars hero, Han Solo. In fact, Mal is almost more Han Solo than Han Solo himself was. Not just cocky, but actually deserving of that cockiness. His crooked smile, his swagger, his tendency to show affection through sarcasm or out-and-out argument. He even dresses pretty similarly to Han — browns and blacks, soft fabrics, well-worn textures. I guess that would make Jayne his Luke Skywalker, or maybe his Chewbacca? Or some combination thereof? I haven’t thought this one out completely, though both Jayne and Luke were big whiners, of course, and both Jayne and Chewie thought they were a LOT better looking than they actually are. But still, a lot of the mood and style of "Serenity" reminded me of "Star Wars." As did, of course, the sheer giddiness that it made me feel as I walked out of that theater and realized what it was I had just seen (see above, re: RULES!).
Let’s see, what else? Well, of course, there are the actors. I could talk about them for DAYS, so maybe I shouldn’t even get started. Suffice it say, they were all incredible. And what IS it about Mal’s nose that makes me want to. . .well, this is sort of embarrassing. . .makes me want to LICK it? It’s just the most lickable nose I have ever seen, and that’s including the highly, highly lickable nose of Adrien Brody. My god! I’m a NOSE LICKER! It’s right about now my parents are probably wondering just where they went wrong with raising me. Their nose licker of a daughter. Ach!
Anyway, anybody who was a fan of the original "Firefly" TV show knows just how completely dedicated this set of actors was to making the movie a success. And they did such a magnificent job of it too. Plus, there’s the fact that the movie itself is the li’l underdog that could. This movie would never have been made were it not for the legions of fans who bought a gazillion copies of the "Firefly" DVDs as soon as they came out (incidentally, I didn’t own them myself until this past weekend, but after we left the movie theater, we both knew there was no resisting THAT purchase any longer). Everybody was just blown away by how successful the DVD sales were, and while that wasn’t enough to make a network pick the show back up, it was enough to get Joss the funding he needed to make "Serenity."
Which brings me to the final scene of the movie, actually. It ends with a scene in which Mal is talking to his copilot about the secret to continuing to get their old bucket of bolts off the ground. It doesn’t have anything to do with technical, mechanical, or engineering wizardry — nope, instead, what keeps Serenity flying is LOVE. And if that doesn’t perfectly sum up exactly what got this movie itself into the air, I don’t know what does. This film shines not just because it is so good, but because of what we all know it took to get it made. It took so much dedication and LOVE to get this thing done. Not just on Joss Whedon and the actors’ parts, but on OUR parts. If we’ve learned anything from this, it’s that fans can make things happen.
So, everybody, do me a huge, gigantic, ENORMOUS favor? Go see this movie for me. Pay the money and see it in a theater. Let’s show the movie execs and television networks that this is a set of stories we want to keep being told. If the movie is a smashing success, maybe the Sci-Fi Channel will stop just playing the reruns of the first season and actually consider funding a second season as well. Or maybe some other network will realize the vast potential here. Or, at the very least, maybe some movie exec will hand Joss a check for making a sequel. This is movie-making and story-telling at its very best. At its purist. I know you will like this movie, even if you’re not a fan of Westerns, sci-fi, comedies, dramas, love stories, war stories, chick flicks, action films, or, heck, even Japanese animation. There’s something in it for everyone. Right down to the scene where, and again, I need all-caps for this, MAL TAKES HIS SHIRT OFF.
As George from "Seinfeld" would say, "SERENITY NOW!"
MacGyver Factor Score: 99.9999% Why such a high score? See above, re: RULES! Incidentally, you may have noticed I haven’t even bothered to identify any of the five actors pictured at the top of this write-up. Know why? Because in case you hadn’t figured it out yet, this write-up isn’t really about them, so much as it’s about their characters and the world in which those characters live. I guess if you want to get technical, the Boyfriend this week is actually the movie itself. I’m in love. I’m in loooooove. With a couple of reels of film! Ooh, baby, let’s get it on! (And if you want to learn more about the five guys themselves, use the links below, most of which contain biographical info and pictures for each fella.)