Tuesday, October 9, 2012


I only saw one episode of Joss Whedon's short lived TV series, Firefly, when it was being broadcast on Fox. It had to do with a train robbery, but there were space ships and Nazi-like soldiers and lots of old-school western themes. I was totally confused and I never watched another episode again. It was cancelled after only 11 episodes.

When the series was released on DVD I read a lot of glowing reviews online and I was a little intrigued. As it turns out, Fox didn't know what to do with this show that was a western set in space, so they played all the episodes out of order, and broadcast the pilot episode as the series finale when they cancelled it due to low ratings. So I decided that since I liked Joss Whedon's other TV shows (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel) I'd give it another chance and buy the set. If I hated it I'd just sell it on Ebay.

I watched the pilot and I thought it was amazing. It was entertaining, funny and had a cast of great actors playing some awesome characters.
The series was about the crew of the Serenity; some are ex-military, some are passengers, some are just personnel like engineers and pilots. One is a hooker. It turns out that one of the passengers is smuggling his gifted sister away from the clutches of the Nazi-like Alliance, the government of the future, and the crew takes it upon themselves to stick it to the man and keep her safe. We never really found out why the Alliance wanted her when the series was cancelled, only that they had done something to her that made her crazy.

Well, the series was awesome. Every episode was well written, superbly directed and wonderfully acted. It's a shame that Fox didn't let Whedon finish at least one season to see where the main plot would lead, but the fates wouldn't have it. Apparently the DVD set sold through the roof due to rabid fans and great word of mouth, so Universal bought the feature film rights and gave Whedon $40m to translate the series into a feature length movie. Serenity is the end result.

While I was simultaneously anticipating and dreading this flick I have to say that it totally delivers on the promise of the source material buffed up to motion picture status. It is also the best film I've seen this year so far.
I know you’re going to say that I'm a fan boy and I was going to like it no matter what. Wrong. I can be the harshest critic when it comes to something I am fanatical about. Be it Star Wars, Star Trek, video game movies or remakes of films whose original versions I love. Don't forget I loathe the Star Wars prequels, and one of the most beloved films in the Star Trek motion picture series, The Voyage Home, is one that I think is pretty lame.

So why is this film so damned good? In a word-- character.

You can have all the CGI in the world, all the pyrotechnics and flashy action scenes you can ever want in a film; if the characters aren't interesting its wasted effort. The characters are first and foremost the focus of this film, and because of that all the CGI and action and pyrotechnics seem so much better.

The movie picks up a number of months after the series ended. Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) has left the crew to join a missionary colony on a mining planet, and Inara (Morena Baccarin) has decided to take a position teaching at the Companion Academy (Ho school). Meanwhile, Mal (Nathan Fillion) has begun taking River (Summer Glau) on the crew's thieving runs, much to her brother Simon's (Sean Maher) chagrin, because her psychic powers seem to come in handy. At the same time, the Alliance has hired an Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to hunt River down and kill her before she unlocks a secret that's hidden away in her subconscious that could bring down the government.

I'll not go into the plot any further, but by the time the movie is over all the major questions the fans have had on their minds since the series ended have been answered. And in spectacular fashion I might add.
Joss Whedon has said that he condensed all that he had planned for the show's second season into this film, and even though the film is dense with information and plot developments it doesn't feel rushed and it flows seamlessly from one scene to the next. There's never a "what the?!" moment, and even though having the knowledge of the series will allow you to enjoy the movie to it's fullest, you don't have to have seen a single episode to enjoy all that this flick has to offer. There's a little something for everyone here; romance, action, drama, comedy. You name it. It all combined into a perfect movie.

Each and every actor is given the chance to strut their stuff on screen, and boy do they milk it for all they can. These actors seem to have genuine chemistry together off-screen, which translates into amazing chemistry on-screen. I could watch these actors play these characters all day long and not be bored. Even though a handful of them get the shaft when it comes to screen time, they tend to make the most of the time given to them.

Joss Whedon's direction is great. He lets the actors do their thing while making the film dark and moody and surprisingly funny at the same time. This universe he created where the human race has moved ahead technologically, but has moved backwards as a society is intriguing and entertaining. The whole sci-fi western setting might throw some for a loop (I know it did me when I first saw it), but it grows on you and in a strange way makes sense. Dude's a genius, but he also has a tendency to drown his characters in needless dialogue. I like the fact that he came up with a hip way for his characters to speak (western lingo with Chinese curse words), but he throws so much of it at the audience in such rapid fire succession that it’s hard to keep up with the conversations at times. He needs to step back and let his characters breathe once in a while.
The FX are cool, nothing to write home about, but they get the job done. In fact they're the one thing I'd flag as a detractor. Some of the FX are lackluster at best, but like I said before the film isn't about CGI. I can let it slide.

In the end what we have here is a near perfect film that successfully combines a wide range of genres and styles and makes it seem effortless. When the credits rolled I had a big grin on my face and an immediate need to go home and re-watch the series again.

Fuck Star Wars. THIS IS THE SCI-FI EVENT OF THE YEAR! Ultra creamy goodness!

OK, I'm done sucking this flick's tit. Just go see it!

4.5 out of 5

*written 9/30/05

No comments:

Post a Comment