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Joss Whedon - About "Serenity" Movie - Theage.com.au Article

Sunday 25 September 2005, by Webmaster

The ladies’ man

Buffy creator Joss Whedon writes about women as if he gets them. He told Luke Benedictus why that shouldn’t seem such an exceptional thing.

When Joss Whedon landed at Melbourne airport he was mobbed by delirious fans, a reception more customary for shaggy-haired rock stars than middle-aged TV directors.

But the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer has grown used to public displays of adoration. There are, after all, more than 1000 dedicated Buffy fansites on the net, which gives some idea of the devotion the show inspired. Intriguingly, however, Whedon does not rate his cult TV series about the karate-kicking cheerleader as his best work for the small screen. The 41-year-old American reserves that plaudit for Firefly.

This ambitious sci-fi western takes place as the human race emerges from galactic civil war. "It felt better than anything I’d done on TV because the experience of making it was extraordinary," Whedon tells Preview. AdvertisementAdvertisement

"I also felt it found itself faster than any other show I did. The way the cast jelled right from the start, working together with this incredible energy; the way the stories flowed; how much fun it was to write; the language. I just thought nothing could possibly go wrong. And then we were cancelled."

Only 11 episodes of Firefly were screened on American TV before the series got the chop. Whedon was devastated. (The fact that 200,000 Firefly DVDs sold in the first four months of release only compounded his bewilderment and rage.)

But appropriately for a man accustomed to working with vampires, Whedon insisted the series would rise from the dead. "It was unbearable and I refused to bear it," he explains. "I said, ’This is not over. These people will play these parts. And I will tell this story one way or another.’ "

Whedon’s stubborn determination gave birth to his debut feature film, Serenity. Loyally using the same actors who had starred in the TV series, the movie adapts the Firefly premise for the big screen as the renegade crew of a battered spaceship attempt to survive on the outer rim of the galaxy amid hordes of Reavers (think rampaging zombies in outer space).

Whedon, who had previously worked as a script-doctor on such blockbusters as Speed and Toy Story, says bringing this film to life was the biggest challenge of his career.

He had to figure out a structure where he didn’t repeat any material from the series, while reintroducing all his principal characters, none of whom he was willing to omit.

"It was a nightmare, quite frankly," he says. "I built the show with nine characters because that’s great for a TV show. All your conflict can come from your characters and their different points of view, you don’t have to have big events and big guest stars that we couldn’t afford. But when you’re making a movie, your agenda is different. You have to have a couple of people to focus on."

There are moments in Serenity that betray the complexity of Whedon’s task. The dense plot at times feels convoluted and time demands mean his morally ambivalent characters do not always get the development they deserve.

Fortunately, Whedon’s super-sharp dialogue papers over many of the film’s cracks. And in River Tam, a psychic teenager with the skills of a kung-fu grand master, Whedon has created another formidable female lead. "Amazing, kick-ass adolescent heroines seem to be a disease of mine," he concedes.

This self-diagnosis is spot-on. Whedon’s next mission is adapting Wonder Woman for the big screen in a film that will explain how the all-American superheroine came to dedicate her life to fighting crime. The film is still in development (it’s scheduled for release in 2007), and Whedon still doesn’t know who could do justice to the role.

"We’re looking for a relatively young, hopefully somewhat tall, unbelievably beautiful, extraordinary actress who doesn’t mind doing stunts with neither elbow or kneepads," he says.

But will she still have the bullet-deflecting wristbands? Whedon’s eyes light up. "Oh sweetie," he says. "She’s going to have the wristbands and it’s going to be bitching. In fact, the wristbands were probably what sealed the deal for me."

Given this profound reverence for superhuman women, who was the dominant female influence in Whedon’s life? "The powerful woman you’re referring to is my mother," he says.

"She was an extraordinary inspiration - a radical feminist, a history teacher and just one hell of a woman. What she did was provide a role model of someone who is completely in control of her life.

"It was only when I got to college that I realised that the rest of the world didn’t run the way my world was run and that there was a need for feminism. I’d thought it was all solved. There are people like my mom, clearly everyone is equal and it’s all fine. Then I get into the world and I hear the things people are saying. Then I get to Hollywood and hear the very casual, almost insidious misogyny that just runs through so much of the fiction. It was just staggering to me."

Whedon, who is married with one young son, insists his ability to relate to female characters is instinctive. A third-generation TV writer (his father penned scripts for sitcoms Benson and The Golden Girls, his grandfather wrote for The Dick Van Dyke Show), Whedon junior’s first job was writing for Roseanne, another show that revolves around dominant women.

"When Roseanne read the first script of mine that got into her hands without being edited by someone else she said, ’How can you write a middle-aged woman this well?’ I said, ’If you met my mom you wouldn’t ask’."

Indeed, Whedon is bemused that his knack for shaping strong but convincing female characters is regarded as so exceptional. "When people say to me, ’Why are you so good at writing at women?’ I say, ’Why isn’t everybody?’ Obviously there are differences between men and women - that’s what makes it all fun. But we’re all people. There’s a lot of good writers who are very humanist, but still manage to kind of skip 55 per cent of the race. And I just don’t get that. Not to be able to write an entire gender? To me, the question isn’t how do you do it? It’s how can you possibly avoid doing it?"

Serenity is now showing.