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Whedon’s "Serenity" Screenplay - Aintitcool.com Review

Wednesday 9 June 2004, by Webmaster

What are you worried! What resides here is a reasonably spoiler-free review. But feel your eyebrow make a run for your hairline as you read that there’s “a compelling and heretofore unheard reason for why the Alliance wants to track down River Tam (Summer Glau) so badly.” And which of the regulars is so busy he or she had to settle for a reduced role in the movie?? “Firefly,” for those who enjoy Coaxial News boilerplate, was the brilliant, short-lived starship TV series created by Joss Whedon, who created the perhaps even more brilliant “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” TV series. “Serenity” is the big-screen "Firefly" sequel, and marks Whedon’s feature directorial debut. Here’s “Miranda” with a review of the film, which began shooting on Monday. After reading the New York Times article in which Joss Whedon compared the spoiler junkie websites to bullies who beat him up and stole his lunch money, you sort of had to ask yourself: who’s the asshole that’s going to run out and write a review of Serenity before they’ve even had a chance to finish shooting the damn thing? After receiving a script for the Firefly movie from a buddy of mine who works “in the industry,” as it were, the answer becomes clear: that asshole would be I.

But considering that the good folks on the Serenity set have only just now started filming, and considering that the film doesn’t come out for almost a year, and most of all considering that the movie will be way, way cooler if you know as little about it as possible, I’m going to give as close to an entirely spoiler-free review as I can. I won’t mention any plot points or characters not already widely reported in the trades and the more respectable internet sites, and frankly I hope that the rest of the Firefly fanbase will do likewise should they have a chance to get their mitts on the script (was Joss Whedon joking when he said that Mal dies? Do you wish you knew for sure? Wouldn’t it be cooler to actually find out in the theater?).

I’m not sure how recent a draft of the screenplay I have - there’s no proper title page to it, and the Serenity title is only listed some thirteen pages in (for security reasons, I presume), with nary a written-by credit or a draft date anywhere to be found. There are a couple of scenes that seem in need of a polish here and there, but for the most part it reads like a pretty complete and close to shoot-ready script.

First off, to allay some fears: every member of the original cast is back, and for the most part none of the characters seem short-changed in the screen time department. Though the central character is clearly Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), there’s plenty of time spent with the other crew members, and certain sub-plots from the series have carried over very naturally to the big screen version. Only one cast member has notably fewer scenes than the rest, and I almost wonder if there wasn’t a rather severe scheduling conflict that necessitated that person’s absence from much of the filming.

The first ten or so pages of Serenity are a lesson in graceful screenwriting - Whedon manages to set up more or less the entire Firefly universe, from Earth-That-Was to the Reavers to the War for Unification to River and Simon and right on down to the ubiquity of the Chinese language all in a concise, folding-flashback format that should prove intriguing to new viewers even as it offers faithful fans of the series some expanded information that hasn’t been explicitly covered before. Afterward we meet The Operative (recently announced as being played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), and following a cool little sequence in which we’re given a compelling and heretofore unheard reason for why the Alliance wants to track down River Tam (Summer Glau) so badly, we get introduced to the film’s titular ship and her recently-truncated crew as they prepare for their latest job.

And that’s as much of a plot description as I’m gonna give.

Perhaps the single most impressive aspect of the script is how it manages to maintain just the right balance between giving those familiar with the T.V. series plenty of new material to chew on even as it draws in complete newbies to its world. My buddy had never seen the show before he procured the script, but after reading it he immediately went out and bought the DVD box set - and actually thought that the movie played better without having seen the series first. The script seems to err generally in favor of the new viewer, which is as it should be, even while it reads like Firefly through and through. Whedon resists the Star Trek temptation to put in a bunch of distracting fan in-jokes, and the story is all the stronger for it.

There aren’t an over-abundance of set pieces to the film, but if those that they do have play out right, Universal should have a profitable little franchise on their hands with a very promising direction for future films to take. The action sequences are unique and engaging, and more so than in the series you really get the sense that Mal used to be a soldier, and a good one at that. There are also moments to Serenity that are supremely creepy, and I note with interest that they’re obviously looking at a PG-13 rating for the film - some of these scenes are just going to be too gruesome for anything else, and not all the swearing is in Chinese.

You also have to give Whedon props for not merely sticking with the series’ theme of losses of faith and how you deal with them, but on going out of his way to expand upon it. The character arc that Mal Reynolds began in the first Firefly episode doesn’t quite reach its climax here, but it certainly progresses further than it ever did on the small screen.

And of course, there’s the trademark Joss Whedon dialogue:

WASH: Yeah well if she doesn’t give us some extra flow from the engine room to offset the burnthrough the landing is gonna get pretty interesting. MAL: Define “interesting.” WASH (calm suggestion): “Oh god, oh god, we’re all gonna die?”

As far as weaknesses in the script go, there are a couple: though The Operative is an interesting character with an intriguing worldview that serves as a nice counterpoint to Mal’s, he’s still one good Agent Smith human-beings-are-a-virus monologue from being the truly memorable badass that I think Whedon wants him to be. Getting Ejiofor to play him is a stroke of brilliance - anyone who’s seen Dirty Pretty Things or Amistad can attest to the intensity and depth that he can bring to a role, and it’ll be nice to see him playing against his good-guy type here - but you kind of end up wishing that the script would give him a little more to work worth. Hopefully, this problem was rectified before shooting commenced. The other (slightly larger) problem is the film’s mid-point confrontation, which read a bit hokier to both my friend and I than it should have - it was the only scene in the entire script that seemed like T.V. writing. At exactly the moment that the tension should be ratcheted up, Mal is cracking wise and dressing in an inappropriately comedic manner. (Also, and just to be anal-retentive here, Whedon on occasion seems to use the words “galaxy” and “solar system” interchangeably in some of his descriptions, though I trust that’s a problem that’ll be worked out by the f/x boys long before post-production time.)

One of the biggest criticisms of the Star Trek: The Next Generation movie franchise that Paramount managed to run right into the ground was the fact that they never really felt like movies - they were just over-glorified episodes of the series, in which nothing really changed afterwards. Sure they blew up the Enterprise, but you knew they’d have a new one next week. Sure they killed Data, but they set up the means of his return so obviously that they needn’t have bothered. Sure they married Riker and Troi, but honestly - does anyone give a fuck? The difference between those Star Trek movies and Serenity is that by the end of this script, you feel like things have changed - both personally for the characters and in the universe of the story at large. If there’s a sequel to this film it won’t be just another interchangeable episode of their lives. It will build inevitably upon the foundation laid here, and I imagine it’ll be a much bumpier - and even more interesting - ride. Here’s hoping.

I am a leaf on the wind, Miranda

P.S. Isn’t it about time that somebody leaked the Whedon version of the X-Men movie script online? I mean, seriously

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