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From Seattlepi.nwsource.com


Witty and futuristic, ’Serenity’ is an old western at heart

By Sean Axmaker

Saturday 1 October 2005, by Webmaster

Can Joss Whedon, creator of the whip-smart cult hit "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," find a new life for his short-lived television series "Firefly," a science fiction western, on the big screen?


DIRECTOR: Joss Whedon

CAST: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, David Krumholtz, Chiwetel Ejiofor

RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes

RATING: PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, and some sexual references


For those unfamiliar with the series, Whedon recaps the premise, the back story and the characters in a clever series of narrative jumps on an energetic prologue.

The story proper opens on Captain Mal (Nathan Fillion, whose bumped-around face gives him the look of a real survivor) and the rough-and-tumble crew of his second-hand ship, Serenity, heisting a bank in an Old West town with space-age upgrades (all suitably roughed up and worn out). Their secret weapon is spacey psychic River (Summer Glau), a waifish little-girl lost, half mad from her years as an experimental subject in a government lab.

When she becomes the object of a galactic manhunt (led by soft-spoken but ruthless agent Chiwetel Ejiofor), the crew finds itself caught between the government fleet, the cannibalistic berserkers known as Reavers and a secret the Alliance will kill to keep hidden.

Whedon’s years in TV have helped him hone a clean, efficient, entertaining style grounded in character and camaraderie.

The big-screen imagery is less confident and at times awkward, and his characters’ third-act conversion from moral mercenaries to underdog idealists feels rather sudden, as if the script were a condensation of an unfilmed epic run of TV episodes.

The film’s strength is compelling character relationships and Whedon’s trademark dialogue, a smarter version of the cliched action-movie barrage of wisecrack under fire, only better executed, laden in personality, and enriched with evocative western colloquialisms of a frontier culture.

The characters may ride spaceships and fire lasers, but this is a true frontier western, set in the wake of a polarizing civil war and driven by heroes for whom family and community are synonymous.

Whedon fans (and I am one myself) have embraced the film. Whether it can reach beyond is really a matter of connecting with Whedon’s askew sensibilities. This colorful adventure makes a good introduction.