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AndytheSaint - The Patron Saint of Bloggers
Movie Review: Serenity (2005) 
5th-Oct-2005 07:48 pm
Serenity bad guys
I like the colours and overall look of this poster, but there's no excuse for putting Mal in the background

Serenity (2005)

Starring: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass, David Krumholtz, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Directed By: Joss Whedon

Based on the short-lived, but excellent, television show Firefly, Serenity joins Star Trek and Naked Gun in the strange realm of short-lived television series to get the big screen treatment. The show was set up to fail by FOX, airing episodes out of order on Friday nights, but managed to get a big enough following on DVD to warrant a resurrection (hmmm... I think that's happened with another FOX show). I'm one of those post-DVD converts, having borrowed the series after learning of the planned film release, and enjoyed it immensely.

The big question when it comes to a film with such a cult following is if it's a fans-only film, or if it plays well to people unfamiliar with its Firefly past. To that, my answer can only be... damned if I know. I'm a fan. I know the Firefly history. Hell, I even knew the story between the last episode and the movie as told in the Serenity comic book. So if you're unfamiliar but are interested in seeing the movie, I really can't tell you if you'll follow it or not. But there are other reviews out there by unfamiliar parties that seem to suggest that you can.

What I can tell you is that Serenity is an action-packed, involving, fun, tense, and funny thrill ride that is the sci-fi movie that neither the Star Wars nor the Star Trek franchises have been able to make in years. You may have needed to see Firefly to completely understand the film, and to completely appreciate it, but you don't need to be a former fan to enjoy this movie. You don't need to be a Joss Whedon fan either. You need to be a space opera/sci-fi fan, or looking for an action adventure flick. If you enjoy space opera movies, then I can't see how you wouldn't be entertained by this flick (unless you're really particular about special effects quality. With a budget of only $40 million, the film looks a little clunky at times, which for fans, only makes it feel more authentic and personal). In short, this is the best future/sci-fi/space opera movie at least since 1997's The Fifth Element. It's a refreshing take on the genre, with it's space western motif, that delivers the thrills and themes one has come to expect from the genre.

At the heart of the film is Nathan Fillion's Captain Malcolm Reynolds, who exhibits the roguish charms that Han Solo used to have before George Lucas digitally altered things so Guido shoots first. When thinking about how much the Star Wars prequels all sucked, I realised that they focused on the wrong character and had wished they'd have shown a young Han Solo before he wound up in the Mos Eisley Cantina. Cause who wouldn't want to see Han flying around in the old Falcon, smuggling things and avoiding the Empire? If that sounds like a movie you'd like to see, then watch Serenity, and you'll be pleased.

For fans, the movie is the culmination of the promise of those first 14 episodes, playing very much like the series finale it never got. There are fantastic fan moments, and many dangling plot threads from the series are resolved. The actors slip back into their characters pretty well, with only a few awkward fits in the translation to the big screen (personally, the relationship between Mal and Book didn't feel quite right to me. Also, Zoë and Wash don't get enough time to flesh out their relationship, mostly due to the breakneck pace of the film). The movie is a little glossier than the dust and dirt tendencies of the show, but makes up for it with the bigger scale that the silver screen allows. The movie gives a better sense of the size of the Serenity universe, and not having to deal with network broadcast standards allows the movie to show more of the brutality of the Reavers.

A big worry I had as a fan going into the film is that it would repeat much of what I already knew to acclimatise new viewers. I understood the necessity of opening things up for new viewers, but at the same time, didn't want to sit through re-hashed stories. Whedon is able to find a happy middle ground here, giving the necessary exposition in the beginning of the film, while showing all new moments at the same time. The focus of the movie is the story of River Tam (Summer Glau) and why the Alliance has been in pursuit of her since the Firefly pilot when her brother Simon (Sean Maher) rescued her from the Alliance. Fans of the show knew the story of Simon rescuing River, but until now, had never actually seen him do it. So, the movie shows fans what we'd never seen before while at the same time explaining the story to new viewers. Perfect. It also helps that the expositionary opening half of the film is the best filmed portion of the movie.

I thoroughly loved the movie, and was at the edge of my seat throughout. Once the film gets going, it doesn't stop going until the final moments. It's as tense and exciting a film as was this summer's War of the Worlds, only without the cop-out ending. My one complaint would be that as great as the film was, it would've been better as a five episode arch on the series. There are huge moments in the film that aren't given the time they deserve to truly observe the impact behind them (Whedon really packs the film full of story, so much so that the movie doesn't take any time for an opening credits sequence). Also, most of the characters besides Mal and River are under-featured, an unavoidable consequence of having such a large ensemble (still, I would've preferred a bit more funny out of Adam Baldwin's Jayne Cobb).

Still, I'll see it many more times after this, and am begging for a sequel. Or, better yet, a new TV series (just not on FOX). If you're a fan of Firefly, then I can't imagine you'd be anything but pleased by the movie. If you've never seen the show, but are interested in the movie, I'd suggest you go ahead and watch Serenity now, and if you like it, go back and discover Firefly.

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