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Firefly - "Serenity" Movie - Smh.com.au Review - Spoilers

By Richard Jinman

Friday 30 September 2005, by Webmaster


Written and directed by Joss Whedon

Rated M Cinemas everywhere

Joss Whedon has seen the future and it looks ... familiar. Five hundred years from now many men will still be emotionally unavailable and many women will continue to find solace in small oscillating devices.

As a female mechanic called Kaylee says in Whedon’s debut feature film, Serenity: "For a year I ain’t had nothing twixt my nethers that didn’t run on batteries."

It is exactly the kind of tart, witty retort you would expect from the creator of the Zeitgeist television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Whedon’s characters may inhabit supernatural worlds or, in the case of Serenity, speak in archaic Wild West accents. But we can always relate to them - they seem very human, very real.

Serenity is based on Firefly, Whedon’s television series about a rag-tag group of outlaws who inhabit a universe controlled by an Orwellian federation called the Alliance. It was cancelled by Fox TV after only 11 of its 14 episodes had gone to air, but its memory was kept alive by a band of devoted fans.

Whedon has rewarded their loyalty by enlarging Firefly’s genre-splicing mix of science fiction and Western into an exciting, thoughtful big-screen adventure that employs most of the same characters and actors as the television series.

Serenity is a decrepit spaceship inhabited by a gang of outlaws led by Mal (Nathan Fillion). A former soldier who hides his obvious decency behind a thin facade of cynicism and selfishness, Mal is guided by a mysterious svengali called Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) and distracted by the gorgeous courtesan Inara (Morena Baccarin). His crew includes the troubled young telepath River (Summer Glau), the macho, foul-mouthed mercenary Jayne (Adam Baldwin), and the nerdy, anxious pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk).

Mal and his gang are petty criminals. They spend their days carrying out rather inept bank heists and keeping one step ahead of the law. But when they are targeted by an Alliance assassin called The Operative - played with the sinister charm of a self-help guru by Dirty Pretty Things star Chiwetel Ejiofor - they realise one of their number is hiding a dangerous secret.

None of this is startlingly original, of course. The director Michael Crichton successfully spliced the sci-fi and Western genres in 1973’s Westworld, which cast Yul Brynner as a rampaging robotic cowboy. Whedon also plunders Star Wars, Alien, Mad Max 2 and Blade Runner, as well as an entire video store of classic kung-fu flicks, zombie movies and spaghetti westerns.

Odd, then, that this endlessly referential film feels like a breath of fresh air in a genre in which characters and story usually play second fiddle to meretricious computer effects. Compared with the kind of ciphers that prop up films such as Resident Evil - or the more recent Star Wars films, come to that - the depth of Serenity’s crew seems almost Shakespearian.

"We’re going for a ride," says River early in the film and, just for once, it’s well worth buckling up.