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Firefly - "Serenity" Movie - Shinyshelf.co.uk Review - Spoilers

Sunday 11 September 2005, by Webmaster

Serenity Out Now (US)

WARNING! Article contains spoilers!

’Serenity’ is Joss Whedon’s long awaited first film. For all his script work on others, this is his feature directorial debut. And it shows. Whedon is undeniably a great TV director, and a great writer, but the transition to the big screen doesn’t quite work. In fact the film falls between two stools: it is neither a great film in its own right, nor something which will please all fans of the original TV series (’Firefly’) on which it is based.

The plot is relatively self-contained, with an excellent opening sequence which explains a big chunk of backstory neatly and gives us an immediate idea of three of the characters - Simon and River Tam, and the Alliance’s Agent - and the themes of the film. It differs from the TV series here but that’s utterly unimportant because it’s there to serve the film. The main story is well plotted, coherent and interconnected although there is one moment at which Mal (Nathan Fillion), the anti-hero of the film, does something purely to ensure the plot continues. The way in which the Reavers - essentially evil space zombies - are built up is very good with Whedon following the principle that a half-glimpsed terror is more convincing than any amount of realised gore. When the crew of Serenity reach the planet Miranda, where River’s increasing insanity has led them, the place is shot almost whited out rather than the expected usual dark corridor horror. The deliberately misfocussed zooms and lens flare which characterised the TV series - and made it a very effective counter to the polished cleanliness of other TV SF - are reduced. It’s a shame, but a logical and sensible decision - the rough-and-ready aesthetic of the series would not work on the big screen. And, with more budget to play with, the special effects have been ramped up.

Unfortunately, the thing which has been lost in the translation is one of the very things Whedon is best at as a writer: characterisation. I was aware that these were cut down versions of the characters that had gradually been revealed over 13 episodes. With the exception of the deliberately one-note Jayne, all the others are painted more broadly and quickly. I do not have a problem with the darker Mal as that was clearly the intent with the character originally. But Wash and Zoe’s loving marriage - something strange and beautiful in the series - is barely registered on the screen. Simon and Kaylee’s never-quite-happening romance is indicated more by a crashing gear change into romantic music than by anything they say or do on screen. This isn’t the fault of the cast, all of whom are excellent, but because the characters have been made subserviant to the plot. This may, obviously, be one of those criticisms which anyone who hasn’t watched the series will not have with the film.

Another thing cut back on from the tv series was the complex blending of Chinese and American cultures: whilst it is there, it is trimmed back on until the culture is ’American with Chinese elements’. I miss my Mandarin swearing! As with the characterisation, there is the suspicion that this is due to the time and money constraints of the film form.

’Serenity’ is a decent enough film but by raising the ideas up to the big screen, a little something that made ’Firefly’ the great television it was has been lost.

1 Message

  • Speak for yourself buddy. I can assure that more than 90% of Firefly fans are extremely, hugely, passionately pleased and delighted with Serenity. Just look ate the boards! Serenity rocks between Firefly fans, there’s no doubt about that.