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FireflyFirefly - "Serenity" Movie - Sfgate.com Review
Tuesday 20 December 2005, by Webmaster
Serenity. Universal Studios Home Entertainment. Rated PG-13. $29.98 "Serenity" is the movie version of "Firefly," a 2002 television series so spectacularly unsuccessful that only a handful of episodes aired before the Fox network canceled it. If longevity is the criterion, Hollywood should have produced films based on "Fastlane," "Murder One" and "After MASH" years before this project arrived at a theater near you.
Yet as challenging as it must have been to pilot Joss Whedon’s space opera from the TV junk pile to the big screen, the finished product is a triumph.
"Serenity" was clearly written by someone who grew up worshiping at the altar of Han Solo and the space marines in "Aliens," but this genre picture is still a thrillingly original science fiction creation. The writing is as good as in the best "Star Trek" episodes, while offering a thoughtfully bleak vision of the future that brings to mind "Blade Runner." After his decade of solid work as a television and movie writer specializing in sci-fi and fantasy, this could be the accomplishment that puts Whedon’s face alongside those of James Cameron, Ridley Scott and Sam Raimi on the geek Mount Rushmore.
Whedon wrote and directed "Serenity" using many of his signature "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" moves. Mal (Nathan Fillion) and his crew are introduced in a long steady-cam shot, which sweeps by each character during a comically unstable entry into a planet’s atmosphere. The fight scenes later in the movie are kinetic and brutal, but also infused with witty dialogue. And even though antiheroes abound, the audience never has to wonder whom to root for when the action begins.
But as a matter of production design, "Serenity" is a bold and complicated movie. Since his TV series was canceled, Whedon seems to have invested most of his time in guessing what our society will look like in 500 years. There are very rich planets and very poor ones, and the inevitable tensions have resulted in a war that didn’t go very well for those without means.
Cameras are everywhere, and the Internet has progressed to the point where video of that trip you made to a bar on Planet X five years ago is as easy for the public to access as this movie review. The scruffy-yet-capable Mal, captaining a ship that seems to be held together with baling wire and paper clips, tries to avoid a CIA-like government operative while dealing with a mysterious mind reader who leads him toward secrets the government doesn’t want exposed. This universe includes no space aliens, but the good guys also must fear the Reavers, a cannibalistic clan of zombie-like humans who hunt in packs and rape and then kill their prey.
For "Serenity" to succeed, Whedon had to overcome even more obstacles than he faced three years ago. While "Firefly" was a high-budget TV show, "Serenity" almost certainly cost less than the last Sandra Bullock comedy.
Potential Problem No. 1: Arguably the movie’s biggest star, Sarah Paulson, arrives in the form of a hologram that lasts for a minute. The next most recognizable actors are the black detective from "Barney Miller" (Ron Glass) and the Baldwin who isn’t one of Alec’s brothers (Adam Baldwin, as the ship’s muscle, essentially returning to his "My Bodyguard" role).
Potential Problem No. 2: You’ve seen trick-or-treaters with more complicated costumes than those of the Reavers.
Potential Problem No. 3: After receiving generally unfavorable reviews for "Firefly," Whedon brazenly revives many elements that got him criticized in the first place. Some of the Serenity crew still carry weapons that look as if they were made in the 19th century, and almost everyone talks as if auditioning for "Bonanza." ("Kaylee’s been missin’ you sumpin’ fierce," Fillion says, and the syntax isn’t supposed to be funny.) But it’s clear that this time, Whedon’s new sugar daddies at Universal Pictures sat back and let him make the movie his way. And somehow, it all comes together. The last half of the movie is particularly satisfying, as Whedon repeatedly paints himself into corners and then writes his way out, in a series of action sequences that just keep getting better.
If "Serenity" isn’t the next "Matrix," it will at the very least become this generation’s "Highlander." Mass audiences may ignore "Serenity" the way they did "Firefly," but the comic book convention crowd will still be hailing this film 30 years from now.
— Advisory: This film contains violence, gore and profanity.