Tuesday, 29 November 2005

Serenity: A Review

So, I finally got to see Serenity. They had the OV on at the Megaplex in Linz on Monday. Serenity, as I'm sure you all know, is Joss Whedon's movie based on the pre-maturely cancelled TV show Firefly. Also, I'm sure the regular readers of this site know I'm a Joss fan verging on fanboy. I've got all of Buffy and Angel on DVD and I know which lines he wrote in the X-Men and, of course, I have watched Firefly five or six times on DVD.

That said...

Serenity, eh? Just an overblown two-parter really. You could tell Joss only directed for TV before because of the way he kept cutting to Kaylee (Jewel Staite) for reaction shots.

Nah, just kidding. It was good, bordering on great and, without hesistation, about twice as good as all the good bits from the recent Star Wars movies put together. It had the dark version of Captain Mal Reynolds, played to great effect by Nathan Fillion, last seen in the Pilot episode of Firefly (and, briefly, in War Stories), some fine work by the rest of the cast (though not enough Kaylee, in my opinion, even if she had lost a little too much weight) and it had Joss's almost-trademarkable witty dialog.

It also had Joss's hackiest ever plot. Two of the fun things about previous entries in the Whedon oeuvre was that he, and his other writers, invariably found ways of confounding your expectations of the way the plot should go and the seemingly effortless way that he would give viewers, to paraphrase Joss himself, what they needed rather than what they wanted. Here it seemed that he had a big checklist of "beats" that he had to hit and he hit them with a crisp regularity. The beats included a long loving ship flyby (OK, I loved that bit), a fight over a big spinning thing (didn't Galaxy Quest kill this off?), the big device that reveals everything (They Live and countless others), shock death of a beloved character (twice, perhaps two and a half times, Simon even got a deathbed speech), robot sex doll (Buffy, repeatedly), an unstoppable Boba Fett-like character (Objects in Space, OK so ripping off your own finest moment is not necessarily a bad thing seeing as that episode never got aired) and the Big Inspirational speech (didn't he get tired of these after Season 7 Buffy) all made an appearence.

Still, it had Mal as an occasionally nasty, opinionated, curmudgoenly, bad tempered, out-of-his-depth rogue (but, you know, loyal, lovable and honourable) and if that was the only twist on the usual space opera that Whedon thought he could get away with on his first movie then maybe it's enough. The slightly warmed-over feeling of the plot was more than compensated for by the characters, anyway. Though there wasn't time to dwell on more than Mal and River, the cast as a whole seemed to have an ingrained knowledge of their characters and how they would deal with things and none of them sounded a false note. They each had their moment to shine and that was all you could expect with such a large ensemble.

So, yes, I enjoyed it. I laughed, I may have cried, I wandered round the Megaplex looking for Serenity posters to steal. Here's to a sequel.


Peter said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Peter said...

Great review with nothing much to add. OK, so here's nothing much:

Let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed "Serenity" - I would even go as far as to say that it was one of the best films I've seen in the cinema this year. In this comment I will not go into details concerning the characters and the narrative of the film - Paul already did that a lot better than I could ever have done, therefore I will only add a few personal thoughts and will address things that haven't been mentioned in his review.

Given the nature of the format Whedon had to stray from his usual storytelling-style and delivers, within the limited running time of the movie, a well rounded and surprisingly straight-forward science-fiction tale that still leaves enough space for in-depth character-development - a feat sorely missed in so many other films these days. The only real gripe I had with the film was that occasionally Joss wanted to cram too many events into the 2-hour-running-time (as opposed to roughly 16 hours of story-telling a full 22-episode-season would provide), obviously being fully aware that he had to finish the overall story and tie up the loose ends that had been left dangling in the air when the series was prematurely (and undeservedly so) cancelled by Fox, as he might never get the chance of making a sequel.

While people with no prior knowledge of the series will have no problems understanding the basic plot and do get enough opportunities to get to know the main characters and the setting, they will have some troubles getting the full picture without having seen the series, as there are a lot of references only viewers who are "in the know" will fully understand. So, if you haven't been exposed to "Firefly" prior to watching "Serenity", a little head-scratching and puzzled looks to the geek who's sitting next to you will definitely happen.

While the movie version of "Firefly" is not entirely consistent with the style established in the TV-series, it is still a more than worthy continuation that should not disappoint any "Browncoat". Of course one can nitpick, as the "Western"-elements have been considerably toned down, the score is more orchestral, more traditional movie-fare, with a distinct lack of the trademark steel-guitar prominently featured in the series, the getting rid of the "no sound in space"-rule established in the series and the Reavers not being as much of a threat as they used to be, but these are just minor details that can easily be overlooked. Especially if you look at "Serenity"'s strengths - and strenghts there are a plenty.

Apart from the aforementioned strong characterizations of especially the three main players, Mal Reynolds, River Tam and "The Operative", "Serenity" has the, for Whedon typical, witty dialogue and humour, and a well thought-out plot going for it. The characters are mostly true to their TV-versions and kudos has to be given to the powers that be for sticking to the original cast from the series. The SFX, while not entirely up there with the likes of "Revenge of the Sith" qualitywise, always have a purpose and are never used to show off - something that may be due to budgetary constraints, but nevertheless an approach a certain Mr Lucas could learn from (let alone the quality of the writing, but that's a topic far too complex to deal with in this comment).

Ten-Bob Dylan said...

You guys should really get out more

Paul said...

Get out more, Ten-bob? It's possible, I guess, but my liver wouldn't thank me.

Peter said...

Hmmm ... get out more? Well, that's what we did. We went to the cinema and enjoyed "Serenity".

Also, there's a lot of truth in Paul's comment concerning the liver ...