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Firefly - "Serentiy" Movie - Varsity.co.nz Review

Deb Mudie

Sunday 13 November 2005, by Webmaster

Film: Serenity

Dir. Joss Whedon
119 min
Rated M

Opens Nov 10 in New Zealand

If you’re a fan of Joss Whedon’s work (Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Firefly), then chances are that you’ve already made it to a preview screening of Serenity; that you know the ‘Can’t Stop the Signal’ catch-phrase; and that you can quote more than one line from the trailer.

If, on the other hand, you have no idea who Joss Whedon is, what Serenity is about, or why the fans are so excited, then you need to read on, my friend.

Serenity, despite the name, is not a ‘chick-flick’, an art-house film, or a movie about finding peace and quietude. Well, it’s a little bit about the latter, but mostly it’s about outwitting the law and avoiding assassins. Oh - and it’s set in space, and in the future. But before you lose interest, that doesn’t mean it’s all Star Wars techiness and futurism. In this ‘verse, it means dusty terraformed planets on the Rim, with people scratching a living on the outer planets or in raggedy ships that run on luck and brilliant mechanics.

The basic starting plot is thus (and without even spoiling any of the movie for you): River Tan has been sprung from an Alliance-run ‘academy’, and with her elder brother Simon and the help of the crew of Serenity (who were first encountered in the short-lived series Firefly) they’re avoiding the law, and probable death. River’s young, a genius, and quite, quite crazy. The rest of the crew isn’t much saner.

Serenity has a large cast, and Whedon deftly introduces them to viewers who have not had the pleasure of seeing the television show Firefly. There’s Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), who lost his faith when the Browncoats were defeated in the final battle at Serenity Valley; his second in command ZoŽ Alleyne Washburne (Gina Torres), Amazonian woman married to pilot Hoban ‘Wash’ Washburne (Alan Tudyk), he of the Hawaiian shirts and plastic dinosaur collection. Then there’s grease-monkey mechanic Kaylee Frye (Jewel Staite); single-minded gun-man Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin); ship doctor Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and his sister River (Summer Glau). Finally, there’s Shepherd Book (Ron Glass), and the beautiful Companion Inara Serra (Morena Baccarin) - both of whom left the ship pre-movie but still have significant roles.

There’s also a new character introduced to everyone - The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor). He has no name, no file, no ID card. What he does have is a) clearance from The Parliament to hunt down and kill River Tam, b) a sword, and c) a whole mess of Alliance soldiers at his beck and call. And if the danger to the crew of the Serenity from one direction isn’t enough excitement, then there are the Reavers, believed to be ‘men gone mad on the edge of space’.

“They’ll rape us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skins into their clothes. And if we’re very, very lucky, they’ll do it in that order.”

There’s a plot, of course (Whedon excels at those), and plenty of excitement. Chases, swords, grenades, thievery, cursing in Chinese, traps, and trickery. Most every character has enough screen-time for the audience to build empathy for them. And, being Whedonesque, not a one is safe from potential harm - and there are times when it looks like not a single member of the crew will make it to the closing credits.

There are also moments that are signature Whedon. Summer Glau’s feet get a lot of attention, lighting is subtle and ship-oriented, there’s a geek with a love-bot and a buffy-esq girl with a weapon in her hands. Keep an eye out for the scene long one-take shot as we meet the crew, as it’s simple to miss if you’re concentrating on the introductions. And as a fan service, allow me to mention that at the end of the final credits an instrumental of the Firefly theme music is played, so it’s worth staying in your seats.

Serenity is already out in the States and Australia, but opens in New Zealand on November 10th. So avoid those spoilers, book your seats, and - afterwards - borrow Firefly off a friend and see what you missed.