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FireflyFirefly - "Serenity" Movie - Way, Way Out West
By Jim Ridley
Thursday 6 October 2005, by Webmaster
Cult sci-fi TV show makes a reasonably successful transition to big screen in Serenity
Resurrection devices don’t exist in movies-only in real life, where Hollywood freakonomics can give a network-TV casualty like Joss Whedon’s space Western Firefly a big-screen comeback, via the elixir of DVD sales. Yet even with the blood-oath loyalty of Whedon’s fans, the best Universal could come up with for the film version of Serenity is a Sci-Fi Channel budget and a chintzy two-hour running time. The result often seems rushed and cramped, especially in early scenes that cram a series’ worth of exposition into narrative shorthand. But more money might have scuttled the show’s scrappy strengths: a cast of fresh unknowns, a plausible low-tech look, and the plain-dirt grounding of ambitious ideas in humble genre origins.
The movie joins the scurvy crew of the transport ship Serenity in mid-flight, as hard-bitten captain Mal (Nathan Fillion, a Han Solo with Dudley Do-Right’s mug) shelters the ass-kicking Goth-chick telepath River (Summer Glau) from the evil Alliance and its plot to dose the unruly universe with weapons-grade Zoloft. (Viewers who see the movie without any knowledge of the show may want to score some for themselves.) Caught between the rhymed threats of hell-bent war-crazed “reavers” and cold-blooded hyper-evangelical “believers”-aren’t we all these days-the Serenity crew tries to evade the Alliance’s suavely confident assassin, played wittily by Chiwetel Ejiofor as a riff on Orson Welles’ Harry Lime from The Third Man. The gambit proves unexpectedly resonant when Whedon turns the character into something more like Joseph Cotten’s deluded naif.
Though shot by Clint Eastwood’s longtime cinematographer Jack N. Green, the movie doesn’t have a style to match the distinctive oddity of Whedon’s dialogue, a deep-space Old West patois that could pass for David Milch translating Klingon. But if Whedon the writer is more adept at dreaming up worlds-and spinning pop mythologies out of junkshop parts-than Whedon the director, the movie creates a quirky, lovingly imagined milieu nonetheless. Think of this sci-fi oater as the Star Wars cantina of post-boomer cinema history: a place where Glau’s post-prom Carrie (or Buffy the Vampire Slayer) rubs shoulders with Gina Torres’ James Cameron-esque tough gal, Adam Baldwin’s scuzzy Peckinpah outlaw and Alan Tudyk’s [insert wry sidekick here]. For those dismayed by reports of a key character’s death, I have seven words of comfort: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.