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Joss WhedonJoss Whedon - About "Serenity" and Hollywood - Guardian.co.uk Interview
Wednesday 5 October 2005, by Webmaster
’Everyone thought I was out of my mind’
Buffy creator Joss Whedon tells Gareth McLean about his plan to shake-up Hollywood
Wednesday October 5, 2005 The Guardian
Joss Whedon, and Nathan Fillion with Adam Baldwin in Serenity Vision of tomorrow’s Hollywood ... director Joss Whedon, and a still from Serenity. Photographs: Murdo MacLeod/PR
Joss Whedon is big on personal responsibility. It was one of the major themes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer - standing up for what you believe in, fighting your demons and accepting that nothing comes for free. It’s there again in Serenity, the writer-director-producer’s big screen adaptation of Firefly, a western-in-space series that was cancelled after half a season in the US.
Serenity’s universe is a dark place. Under the captaincy of Mal Reynolds, a motley crew travel through space eking out a living wherever, and however, they can. While they smuggle, cheat and steal to survive, these are noble thieves, existing under the rule of an apparently benign galactic government which reveals itself as less than lovely. There are no wrinkly-browed aliens to intervene with magical technologies, no polished spaceships or pristine uniforms, no quick fixes in a brutal sky.
Article continues "Aliens inevitably distance you from what I really wanted to do," says Whedon. "I wanted to come back down to earth in space, show that no matter how much advanced technology we create, we’re still going to be us - flawed, conflicted people with the same problems we’ve always had. And although that sounds depressing, it’s what makes us human. And what happens when you try to do that? Well, there’s a clear statement in the film about what happens."
After taking on two fugitives, Reynolds’s crew find themselves the focus of the government’s attentions, at the centre of a sinister universe-wide conspiracy, and the prey of the diabolical Reavers who will "rape us to death, eat our flesh and sew our skin to their clothes. And if we’re very, very lucky, they’ll do it in that order."
Serenity might share the dubious honour of being a film born of a cancelled TV show, but Star Trek it ain’t. "I love this idea of the future because it’s one in which you have to make everything you have," says Whedon. "You make your family, your choices, your ethics. It’s a hard life. It’s not in any way a passive life. It’s pioneering."
The appellation of genius is issued too often, but, as creator of Buffy, Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Toy Story, comic-book scribe, musician and lyricist, Whedon is, by any standard, at the very least brilliant. The third generation of TV writer in his family (his father Tom wrote for Benson and The Golden Girls, his grandfather John for The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Donna Reed Show and Leave It to Beaver), he started his career writing on Roseanne. As well as credits for Toy Story, Alien Resurrection (a script he reportedly said had been ruined by the director) and Titan AE, he also worked on Speed, Waterworld, Twister and X-Men, though how much of his work remains in the finished films is disputed. Apparently, only two of his lines remain in X-Men while much of Speed’s dialogue is his. Whedon is familiar with the machinations of Hollywood and was prepared for a slog in getting Serenity made. In fact, it was "unexpectedly easy".
"At first, everyone looked at me like I was out of my mind," he says. "I wanted to make a movie out of a show that had just been cancelled with a cast of unknowns. But then Universal stepped in and said they’d pay the rent."
This ease perhaps has something to do with the much-discussed death of the blockbuster, the failure of the likes of Stealth and The Island to deliver returns on their mega-budgets. Serenity cost $40m to make, which is not an insubstantial sum, but it’s a world away from The Island’s $120m budget. "We’d like to shake up the Hollywood paradigm of first weekend, big name, get-’em-in-quick, shock-and-awe marketing and go back to the era of making a smaller movie where you believe in the story. There have been some decent summer movies recently but, by and large, they’ve been pretty soulless. If you’re dealing with a smaller budget and focusing on the people instead of what you can afford to do with CGI, it’s much more exciting."
Serenity is a compelling story - the one that would have been told had the series not been cancelled - very well done. The rise and rise of DVD will also have persuaded Universal that Serenity was worth a shot. At a time when studios make five times more on home entertainment than on cinema tickets, and theatrical releases increasingly act as tasters for release on DVD for smaller budget films, films such as Serenity are simply a better bet than something involving Michael Bay. Even if it doesn’t pay off, you haven’t lost $100m. "DVD is changing everything," Whedon nods. "It’s scaring a lot of people. I think it’s nifty. Fear is good. It’s healthy. It keeps you strong."
Speaking of strong, Whedon is in the early stages of writing the script for the upcoming Wonder Woman, due in 2007. He’s having, he says, the time of his life. After some unfortunate experiences on other big studio films, he’s made sure he and the studio are singing from the same hymn sheet. "I’ve explained exactly what I thought the movie was, and Warner Brothers agreed. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing it. I was able to find a lot of what made her tick and they responded to that. There’s so much to explore with her."
So, in the grasp of the creator of Buffy, Wonder Woman is in safe hands? It’s quite a responsibility, but Whedon’s big on that. "Oh, I’m sticking with all the important stuff. The bracelets. The invisible plane. The magic lasso. I will find a way of not making it cheesy."
Returning to the subject of his new film, Whedon explains that although science fiction is often derided it holds a mirror up to reality in a way only genre films can. As Serenity unfolds, it addresses contemporary concerns of deceitful government while its people are distracted by consumerism. The personal becomes political.
"Serenity is about the kind of people who believe they can’t take what the government feeds them - and in our country right now, that’s important. People get fed an enormous amount of lies and anyone who points that out might be deemed unpatriotic. It seems to be less and less acceptable to care about where information comes from and what our government’s doing."
Having said that, Whedon continues, his film isn’t partisan. "Everything in America right now has a big line drawn down the middle, and you’re either on one side or the other. This movie isn’t that. It’s not about one government being bad, or more or less government being the right thing. It’s about how the machinations of politics affect the little guy."
· Serenity is released on Friday.