Yak Attack

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Monday, October 03, 2005

[Finally!] My review of Serenity

I had the pleasure of seeing Serenity a week ago, thanks to Universal Studios’ Blogger Bonanza. One thing, however—I’m dreadful at keeping a secret; I don’t mean to blab, truly. When I get excited, though, it kind of all tumbles out and I’ve spoiled the surprise party. Because of my inherent flaw, my desire to review Serenity weighed heavily on me. How could I do this without spilling the beans? Even when you include well placed**** spoiler alerts****, some schmoe always decides to perform a speed-reading skim of your review, and stumbles upon that which he did not wish to know.

Since I also have a huge aversion to knowing a spoiler before seeing a movie, I’ve hesitated to prematurely review Serenity. My hesitation has given me time to process the movie, and that gnawing impression that something wasn't quite right. Each time I sat down to work on my review, I’d stare at my blank computer screen, unable to corral my thoughts.

Serenity is the first offspring from the TV loins of Joss Whedon’s Fox series, Firefly. Whedon, who wrote and directed the movie, gathered up the whole crew to fly the skies again in Serenity. Captain Malcom “Mal” Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), once a captain in the scrappy, but defeated, Independence forces, now leads a crew of innovative malcontents aboard his Firefly class starship, Serenity. Normally, the atmosphere aboard Serenity leans toward warm, but when Mal agrees to transport two fugitives sought by the galaxy’s governing force, the Alliance, the ship’s atmosphere careens toward extreme heat.

Both the TV show and movie begin with Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and his prodigy sister, River (Summer Glau), seeking refuge on Serenity. Simon organized River’s kidnapping from an experimental, covert government program. While Whedon recaps nicely for newbies how the Tams end up part of the crew —without overdoing it and boring long time Firefly fans—there is a bit of contention about how the kidnapping scene is fudged from the original series scenario, to facilitate the coagulation of the movie’s plot.

Serenity delivers lots of slam-bam special effects, snappy dialogue and intensity. The original cast is still strong, dynamic, funny and, at times, personable. During the viewing, I sat on the edge of my seat, waiting eagerly for the next surprise. The keys for a great movie are all present. There was something, though, that didn’t set well with me.

After spending a week ruminating over the movie, I arrived at the realization that Serenity has all the right stuff but the timing is off. The comedy bleeds into the rough moments; the fight scenes are cleaned up in too tidy a fashion. Mal and Inara (Morena Baccarin) aren’t allowed to explore their attraction further. Kylie (Jewel Straite) is too cutesy.

****Spoiler Alert**** Reigns were placed on the production from some lofty vantage point, and unfortunately, Serenity is not the best movie it could be. The liberty perspective of the TV series is muted within the movie, even with the surprise revelation of the Reavers’ origins—they’re a defect birthed from the Alliance’s grandiose notion of what creation and civil society should look like and what rate will be used to purchase government illusion. Whedon casually points toward the destructive force of government meddling and cover-ups with this major development, but after a quick nod toward the liberty reality check, he shifts directly into a space battle scene.

Second-in-command Zoë (Gina Torres) provides both strength and ethical guidance for the captain and crew. Pilot “Wash” (Alan Tudyk) offers comedic sunshine in the darkest moments. Jayne (Adam Baldwin), tough-guy mercenary, radiates strength and action, along with snappy comedic timing; he supplies a much-needed balance to Mal’s more measured approach to the crew’s dilemas. These three characters prop Serenity up and provide the most proximity to the innovative brilliance of Firefly. Unfortunately, Whedon chose to kill off Zoë’s light when Wash dies in the climactic Reaver attack.

Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) also meets his end in Serenity, closing one avenue for Captain Mal to explore his humanity. By closing this door on Mal, and not opening another one for him, Whedon dooms Mal to a sort of two-dimensional existence through out the movie.

As a Firefly fan, I hope that Whedon’s just warming up his chops with Serenity. Fireflies and Buffy fans know his work and grasp what he is capable of. Can he do it effectively on the big screen? I think the answer is yes. He needs to adjust the timing belt, so the production engine purrs smoothly in the next installment. It should be noted that while it’s a low budget long-shot, Serenity came in second at the box office its opening weekend, against hit homerun champ Jodie Foster and her new flick, Flightplan. That bodes well for Universal Studios’ unusual marketing projects, like multiple early bird screenings and utilizing blogs to get the word out. It is my expectation that Serenity will hold its own in next weekend’s box office returns and give the crew a chance to fly the skies once more, in a second film. There is enough good stuff in the movie to hook virgin viewers and spawn a whole new generation of fireflies.

Remember, the future is worth fighting for. Even though Serenity isn’t the best it could be, it’s still a fine film and worth seeing. An entertainment vehicle can sometimes be more effective at alerting people about critical matters. I can’t think of anything more serious than the destructive properties of intrusive government.


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